Unicorn sighting: politician who loves journalists

Suzette Standring
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Unicorn sighting: Imagine a former member of the U. S. House of Representatives who embraces the Fourth Estate and finds journalists vital.  Below is the kind of no-nonsense, straight talk from Lee Hamilton who now serves as Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University.  His talk was aimed at columnists who attended the NSNC conference in Indiana during his 6/27/15 program, Columnists and Elected Officials: The Times They are a’Changin’ – Lee Hamilton.

(I was typing as quickly as he spoke, and his comments below are excerpts, not his entire speech.)


Lee Hamilton said, “I want to see representative government strengthened. The country has doubled in size and is much more diverse. Indiana is known by demographers as a homogeneous state, but that has changed. The minority is now the majority.

“Our system of government depends heavily on discriminating judgment about politicians and policies.  Without information, the system would not work.  Good information is essential to good representative government. The media holds people in power to accountability.

“I hope you expose unsavory practices, companies, organizations, and government.

“I know you help set the public agenda.  You have enormous influence.The better you do your job, the better the American citizen can exercise discriminating judgment.

“It bothers me that our media are owned by corporate conglomerates

“There is the risk that it will avoid reporting…

“There is a shrinkage of traditional  news outlets.

“I applaud efforts to save serious journalism.  We will best be served by the survival of a few large organizations

“Six media giants provide 90% of content, and I’m uneasy with that.

“I want to find good examples of journalists who report fearlessly, honestly and grounded in facts.

“I want you to tell the stories, to ask the tough, uncomfortable questions, I want you to encourage us to do the right thing.  To be a check on power.  To seek the truth and let the chips fall where they may.  I want you to hold tight to accuracy, intellectual honesty, rigorous reporting and fairness.  I hope they never go out of style.

“In  a tough world, I want you to be compassionate and fair.

“I am disturbed by the blending of news and opinion

“Pack journalism is like blackbirds on the telephone wire, one comes and the others follow

as they hop from Bagdad to Beirut and play to the short attention span of the American public.  There are too many two-day crises, too many ‘defining moments.’

“Local officials as well as federal officials need someone looking over their shoulder.  Media spends too much time looking for winners and losers.   It’s easy to report on the politics of the story, but tough to report on the complexities of policies.  There’s a  drift toward celebrities and salaciousness.

“Too many want to be pundits not journalists and the lack of accountability of pundits bothers me. They are rarely accountable for their predictions.  They are overrated.  I want to see a system evaluated and graded.  Obsessed with interviewing one another.  In times past the media unified the country.  Now it appears to be another source of division.

“You need to combat government manipulation of the press.  The White House tries to manage to the image of the president.

“Public officials should defend policy and the implementation of policy.  The whistleblower plays an important role in getting us information that government doesn’t want us to have.

“Members of Congress don’t see much use in oversight, so we have to depend on journalists.

“Ben Bradlee (former executive editor of The Washington Post) said, “Journalists should be lie detectors.’

“The unknown for me in the role of the media world is social media and digital journalism.  Young people are getting much of their information from social media, not traditional newspapers.

“Kids think about jobs. In my day we never worried about jobs, but took courses we wanted to take. I wonder if these young people are interested in real news.

“Polls say that one in five of young people read newspapers.  There is much less time available to dig deeper into a story.

“I treasure journalistic independence. I’m not yet convinced these new forms do that.  I’m yet to be persuaded.

(Note:  Lee Hamilton said so much more, but that’s the extent of what I caught with my rapid fire tapping — Suzette)