Sunday Political Brunch: Is the Press Too Depressing?—June 18, 2017

Sunday, June 18, 2017


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There was another flurry of news coverage this week over the Russian-U.S. election connection (Hey! That’s not a bad turn of phrase!) This time it was Attorney General Jeff Sessions before Congress. It got me thinking about news coverage of various political scandals and investigations over the years and how it has changed. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Watergate Waterloo” – Watergate marked a new era in American journalism. The scandal was broken by The Washington Post, which was head and shoulders above other media coverage. A lot of the daily network television coverage was guided by what the Post did. Much of the other media mimicked the coverage. At key moments of the Watergate Congressional hearings, the networks would interrupt the daily game shows and soap operas, as they did these past two weeks. It was 1973, and there was no such thing as CNN or any 24-hour cable news outlet.

“Iran Contra Conundrum” – In 1986, the Iran-Contra investigation broke. Much like Watergate, so many questions focused on “Who knew what, and when?” But there were a couple of new players. Cable News Network carried a lot of the hearings live, as did another new face – CSPAN. The TV networks seemed to spend less time on this, and certainly less time breaking into paid programming and losing commercial revenue. CNN was finding its niche.

“Lewinsky Lamentations” – Fast forward 12 years to President Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Not only was CNN thriving, but Fox News Channel and MSNBC both launched in 1996 and were still trying to “find their sea legs.” The Clinton impeachment was a bonanza for all. CNN had clearly found during O.J. Simpson’s trial, that daytime legal coverage could be far better than any soap opera script. The salaciousness of the Clinton allegations, and the media’s willingness to chat about previously taboo television topics was groundbreaking.

“The Bias Battle” – On the heels of the Vietnam War coverage, many Americans felt there was a strong media bias against the military, conservatism, and Republicans (the last item odd, since most of that war had been overseen by Democratic Presidents and Democrats in Congress). Be that as it may, the accusations of media bias against Republicans was only exacerbated by Watergate. People argued that President Nixon had received the worst press coverage in U.S. history. I would disagree. Nixon was hit hard by the daily newspapers and the evening network news. But when CBS, ABC and NBC were done at 7 p.m., it was over. By contrast, Bill Clinton’s impeachment was covered 24/7 by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CSPAN, and endless talk radio, day and night. In terms of raw coverage hours, Watergate was a mere shadow by comparison.

“Tweeting Trump’s Troubles” – In 1998-99, I covered the entirety of the Clinton-Lewinsky mess in Washington, D.C. I did not think it was possible for any human being to get worse news coverage. It was relentless. At the time, email and the Internet were in their relative infancy. There was no such thing as social media as we know it today. Yes, there were Internet discussion boards and chat rooms, but that’s just a light rain shower compared to this social media hurricane of Facebook and Twitter, that exploded by 2008.

“Trump ‘Trumps’ Clinton” – By the time this is all over, President Trump will surpass Bill Clinton (and way surpass Richard Nixon) in terms of negative press coverage. Just the mere mention of Trump and Russia by some obscure social media poster (whether the content is true or not) will prompt hundreds of thousands of likes, comments, objections, memes, and the list goes on. Imagine if “going viral” had been a phenomenon during Watergate and the Clinton-Monica mess.

“For Better; or for Worse?” – I raise these issues because as journalism has evolved and expanded with new technologies, I worry about the declining quality of the industry and its product. We can now reach more people and faster, and solicit their input in real time. I consider these potential advantages, but also worrisome liabilities. Average people and reputable reporters are suddenly on something of an even playing fiel
d. The temptation is to publish first and verify second - to opine first and fact check later. Trust me. The pressure to “tweet” a lot in the news business these days is a real concern. When CNN launched, the phase “breaking news” came into the lexicon. The pressure was to “be first” with the news, and often accuracy was the first casualty. The fact that the President is a prolific tweeter only exacerbates the problem although I get that he wants the ability to fight back.

“Why All of This Matters” – This is my 40th year in radio and television. I love what I do, and want many more years on the air. But I am concerned about the eroding quality of what we do. Mark Twain famously said, “A lie gets halfway around the word, before the truth gets its shoes on!” I worry that speed leads to more mistakes, and a lack of balance and objectivity. We feel more inclined to ‘tweet” because that’s what the new “cool kids” of journalism are doing. Make no mistake; I love social media as a tool to supplement and promote good journalism. But it’s damn hard to give real, detailed, comprehensive coverage when you are handcuffed by a system that gives you just 140 characters.

What are your thoughts on the quality of news coverage given the pressures of social media? Just click the comment button at


Related Slideshow: RI Democrats React to Trump Withdrawing from Paris Climate Agreement

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Gina Raimondo

RI Governor

I am deeply disappointed that the President has decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize that the Paris Agreement is about so much more than climate change. It’s about opportunity, stewardship and America’s standing as a global leader. 

President Trump’s action will not deter Rhode Island from taking necessary steps to address climate change. Our action at the state level will create new jobs and attract new investment in the green economy. 

We’ve set a goal to secure 1,000 MW of clean energy resources and double the number of clean energy jobs by 2020. Ocean State families and businesses are on the front lines fighting climate change. I will continue toward with the General Assembly and partners in other states to protect our environment and advance clean energy alternatives, while creating new opportunities for our workforce in the process. 

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Jim Langevin 

U.S. Congressman

President Trump’s ill-considered decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement puts the future of our entire planet at risk. The withdrawal represents an abandonment of pledges to protect our environment and risks undermining the entire accord, which includes nearly every country on earth. In addition, the President’s action cedes Unites States leadership and means losing a seat at the table to negotiate global agreements in our country's best interest.

The Obama Administration made significant progress toward slowing the rapidly warming climate by negotiating the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions on a global scale. Unwinding these commitments represents another assault by President Trump on the health of the public and the planet. His Administration continues to deny climate change despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that shows this is an ongoing human-caused crisis.

Rhode Island is on the front lines of sea level rise, and our citizens will ultimately pay the price for inaction today. Communities like my hometown of Warwick are particularly vulnerable to the storms and floods that come with climate change. Warming seas have chased our traditional catch out of our fisheries and threaten to decimate our beloved Ocean State coastline. Abandoning the Paris deal, the culmination of a multi-year effort by world leaders, is an abdication of our responsibility to leave the world a better place for our children.”

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Sheldon Whitehouse

U.S. Senator

“Donald Trump and his children said just a few years ago that climate change was ‘irrefutable’ and its consequences ‘catastrophic and irreversible.’ They were right. There is no denying the growing threat of rising seas, warming global temperatures, and melting glaciers and ice sheets. 

But we can still avoid the worst if we quickly reduce carbon emissions. That is why ignoring reality and leaving the Paris Agreement could do down as one of the worst foreign policy blunders in our nation’s history, isolating the U.S. further after Trump’s shockingly bad European trip. 

Trump is betraying the country, in the service of Breitbart fake news, the shameless fossil fuel industry, and the Koch brothers’ climate denial operation. It’s Sad. 

America’s biggest corporations and investors urged the President to stick with international efforts to address the climate threat. They and all of us will now have to proceed with a seriousness of purpose commensurate with the threat, knowing of this President’s grave defects. 

If you haven’t joined an environmental group, join one. If your voice needs to be heard, get active. If you are a big corporation with good climate policies that has shied away from engaging politically, it’s time to engage. And if you’re a university that teaches climate science, it’s time to stand up for your scientists. Whoever you are, help end climate denial and take action.”

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Jack Reed

U.S. Senator

“President Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris climate agreement is a blow to the environment that makes us a less secure nation. Our military, which spends every hour of every day thinking about how to protect Americans says climate change is a problem and a real threat multiplier. Indeed, climate change is an established part of the military’s threat and risk assessments.

The United States should continue to be a leader when it comes to protecting the planet; instead, the President is abdicating this responsibility. President Trump is unwisely putting the United States alongside Syria and Nicaragua in declining to be part of the Paris agreement. 

The American people deserve better.” 

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David Cicilline

U.S. Congressman

The President’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is a terrible mistake. It will diminish American leadership in the world, undermine our ability to create good-paying jobs, and contribute to the further degradation of our environment. 

It is very disappointing that we now know, without question, that the President of the United Sates is a climate change denier. His decision today ignores the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding the serious consequences failing to address climate change. 

The only thing President Trump will accomplish by this decision is to set the United States and world back decades in this fight. I have no doubt that future generations are going to wonder what the hell we were thinking today”


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