DYCHE | The Sonka Incident and "Newspinion"
By John David Dyche
Kentucky's political press cannot abide a candidate who refuses to kowtow. This state's Fourth Estate is so accustomed to politicians bowing and scraping before them that they are outraged when one dares to defy the magisterial media.
Thus, the torrent of righteous indignation that has rained down on U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell after his staff excluded Joe Sonka, an editor for LEO, from a campaign press conference. Sonka has long been critical and hostile toward McConnell, as is his right.
At least Sonka is open in his anti-McConnellism. Others profess objectivity, but bias, be it intentional or only subconscious, may lurk behind their façades of superficial fairness.
Some reporters who moonlight as opinion mongers predicted that the incident would hurt McConnell. One such fact/opinion centaur said it had "alienated other reporters."
How would we tell? Can the press really be much harder on McConnell than it already is? The average person probably respects the senator for showing common sense and standing up to the press, which polling shows the public widely distrusts.
It is not as if McConnell avoids the press or keeps his views secret. He is more accessible and answers more questions than most Kentucky politicians.
Much of McConnell's media interaction is with the best and most tenacious national questioners, like David Gregory of Meet the Press, Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday, and congressional correspondents who grill him regularly in the Capitol's corridors. Nobody need wonder where Mitch McConnell stands on the day's important issues.
Meanwhile, Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat running against McConnell, remains a veritable Greta Garbo when it comes to press access and substantive statements. "She vants to be let alone," and obligingly is.
After this columnist tweeted about that double-standard, Sonka responded, "I guess this also means you'd have no problem with a Democrat you've criticized trying to arrest you, right?" Actually it means that no media member has a right to attend or ask questions at private events to which they are neither invited nor welcome.
Some in the offended pack suggest that the Sonka incident somehow undermines McConnell's credentials as a First Amendment defender. But a private campaign event does not even implicate the First Amendment.
McConnell remains the nation's foremost fighter for freedom of political speech. He leads the battle against government limits on political activity and communication that some monopoly-seeking liberal media companies want to impose on others in order to increase their own influence.
The press says sunlight is the best disinfectant for everyone else in the political system, but resists shining similar light on itself. Reporters may say that their only bias is for a good story, but can they credibly claim to completely divorce their personal political opinions from their professional work?
Most do not maliciously misstate the facts in a way that might expose them to legal liability. But there are myriad other, more subtle ways of shading and slanting factually accurate reporting to produce desired impressions in the popular mind.
This applies with particular force to reporters who also write opinion columns. During the week they are presumably purely objective, but on weekends they let their opinions run wild, reining them in again come Monday.
These purveyors of "newspinion" supposedly have the superhuman ability to prevent their personal political views from influencing their reporting even infinitesimally. They may try to separate the two when covering the news, but is it realistic to believe anyone can carry out a complete internal divorce?
Yet they resist disclosures that would help the public decide if their opinions are infecting their reporting. For example, they will not divulge for whom they vote.
It would be quite useful to know if the reporter/pundit hybrids now criticizing McConnell voted for Jack Conway in the 2010 U. S. Senate race, Steve Beshear in the 2011 Kentucky governor's race, and Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election. Can any who played this Democratic trifecta really be fair in covering McConnell?
In their columns and at other forums these elite compound journalists offer their opinions on all aspects of politics. Why are they reluctant to reveal their ultimate opinions on whom they believed to be the best candidates so the public can include those facts into its evaluation of their work?
Some try to get by with divulging their registration, especially if it is independent, or by saying that they have voted Republican in the past, or by telling tales of Democrats whom their work once displeased. None of that is nearly as helpful as knowing for whom these influential participants in the political process actually pulled the lever.
These dual purpose pontificators should come clean. It would be liberating, and their audience would respect them more, not less, for their candor.
Kentucky's political reporters, including Sonka, are good, honest, likable, smart people who do important work generally well. But some of them should consider being as open about their own views as they demand McConnell and other politicians be about theirs.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.