2012 Election Coverage Preview: “Objective” Interviewing Technique, Mainstream Media Style

CNN’s Carol Costello: Democrat, Obama defender, Journalist? No.

I watched deposed biased and unprofessional CNN morning show host Carol Costello, subbing for current CNN biased and unprofessional host Soledad O’Brien, interview bumbling GOP Chair Reince Priebus yesterday in disbelief. It was the most blatant example of a network news interviewer shameless stepping into the role of a partisan defender of the President that I had since the stunning 2oo9 spectacle  of CNN reporter Susan Roesgen angrily debating Tea Party rally participants on the virtues of the President’s policies and pronouncing the anti-Obama demonstration as “anti-CNN.”

I have been patiently waiting for a full video of the interview but cannot find one; the full effect of Costello’s partisan contempt can only be fully appreciated by observing her smug smirks and sarcastic tone. In the absence of the video, however, the best I can show you is the transcript, and I’m sure some of you—those who can’t detect left-leaning media bias because it just seems like the honest  truth to you–will say Costello was just doing her job. All I can say to that is: you are dead wrong.

We all know that the vast, vast majority of journalists are liberals, progressives and registered Democrats, disproportionately to the political mix in the country at large. The professional, ethical journalists, and there are still some, can be tough and fair interviewers without their performance a) being guided by the desire to “win” for their side, b) making it obvious with every question where their own sentiments lie, and c)  showing obvious disrespect for their guests.  “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert met that standard routinely (current host David Gregory does not). Doing so takes restraint, skill, respect for the role of journalists and ethics. Costello showed none of these, and in an earlier era, where journalistic integrity had not become a casualty of ratings and competition, I have no doubt that a disgraceful performance like Costello’s would have led to a suspension or a one-way ticket to the local news in Palookaville.  Now it is very close to the norm. and as the mainstream media circle the wagons to protect the candidate it helped elect in 2008, we should expect more of the same, and worse, in the coming months.

And if you think this is fair, responsible, or healthy for democracy, you are dead wrong about that, too.

Here is yesterday’s transcript, which aired on April 5 on CNN’s Newsroom at 9:05 a.m. EDT, with some annotations by me.

(Video Clip)

MITT ROMNEY, Republican presidential candidate: President Obama’s comments to President Medvedev are deeply troubling. That incident calls his candor into serious question. He doesn’t want to share his real plans before the election, either with the public or with the press. By flexibility, he means that what the American public doesn’t know won’t hurt him. His intent is on hiding. You and I are going to have to do the seeking.

(End Video Clip)

COSTELLO: Good morning. Mr. Romney is not mincing words. Is Mr. Romney accusing the President of deliberately misleading the American people? [ COMMENT: Mitt Romney is not the first, nor the only one, to suggest that the President’s open microphone goof in which he suggested to the Russian president that he would have more “flexibility” on missile defense issues after the election was both a foreign policy error and an admission of deceit. Good reporting would dictate that the issue not be framed as merely a Mitt Romney attack: it is more significant than that, no matter how one feels about it.]

COSTELLO: Well, Reince – Reince [COMMENT: Where does Costello get off calling the GOP Chairman by his first name? She does not call the Democratic Chair “Debbie.”] , for Democrats and some Republicans, that’s an interesting road for Mr. Romney to travel, because he himself has been accused of saying anything to get elected. I mean here’s Newt Gingrich saying it. Listen.

(Video Clip)

NEWT GINGRICH, Republican presidential candidate: I mean some people talk about making pledges that are in stone, but the idea that a Romney pledge is on Etch-A-Sketch, this would just resonate, I think, to remind everybody in the conservative movement why they are very worried about a Romney presidency and about a Romney candidacy. And it really makes you doubt – it makes you wonder about his sincerity.

(End Video Clip)

COSTELLO: So how does Romney overcome these kinds of attacks when they’re coming from fellow Republicans, you know, once we get to a general election? [COMMENT: Way to change the subject, Carol! The topic, as you announced it, was Romney’s criticism of the President’s comment, which has real foreign policy implications and calls aspects of Obama’s candor and  integrity into question. Shouldn’t we examine that just a little bit before slipping into the ethically fallacious argument that Obama’s comment should be excused because of what Romney (actually a Romney aide) said about political campaigns? If Romney’s positions can’t be trusted, does that mean it’s acceptable for the President’s positions and statements to be untrustworthy? Is she arguing the every other pundit and columnist and Obama critic except the man who will be running against him for President is entitled to raise this very valid issue? Here is what Costello is doing: changing the focus of the interview  from a critique of the President to month old gaffe by a Romney aide, to protect her favorite candidate.]

PRIEBUS: Well, the same way that Obama withstood the attacks from Hillary Clinton for six months. I mean the fact of the matter is we’re going to have a unified Republican Party. And I would say, you know, it’s one thing to modify a position that you have over a period of time. But it’s another thing to tell the American people that you’re going to cut the deficit in half, you’re going to curb spending, you’re going to bring jobs under 6 percent if you pass a trillion-dollar stimulus package, and you don’t even attempt to do it. I mean Nancy Pelosi couldn’t get Obama one single vote on his budget. [COMMENT: Incompetent answer. Mission accomplished, CNN.]

COSTELLO: Yes, but you’re not really answering my question –

(Crosstalk)

PRIEBUS: I mean, I just – hey, come on. He’s the President of the United States, he’s got a responsibility here.

COSTELLO: Let’s go back to my original question. Mr. Romney is accusing President Obama of misleading the American people to get re-elected. Newt Gingrich accused Mitt Romney of the exact same thing. So how does he overcome that? [ Comment: Tactic—total obfuscation. Newt Gingrich is treated like a buffoon on CNN most of the time, and now, because it suits Costello’s agenda, he’s suddenly the Voice of Authority. The man wants to colonize the moon, is running out of spite, can’t be believed about the color of the sky, and is a zombie candidate. Who cares what he said at this point? The topic of the interview was the President’s troubling statement (that he thought was private) to the Russians, and now Costello has successfully made the interview about two Republicans attacking each other.]

(…)

COSTELLO: Well, let’s talk about the economy, because you were saying that President Obama doesn’t have a plan to turn the economy around. But there are signs the economy is getting better. I mean the private sector added 209,000 jobs in March. Car sales are up 12.7 percent. Even the return from the TARP bank program swelled to $18 billion. So now the American people are actually making money on that. So you can’t say that – can you really say that President Obama’s overall economic plan has been a dismal failure? [COMMENT: These are Democratic talking points, facts infested with unstated spin, qualifiers and opinion, and absolutely not what an objective journalist should be repeating, unless she also gives the other side. Some of her “facts” are also wrong: I’d agree that TARP was a good deal for the country and a necessary move, but it was a Bush measure continued by Obama, and not part of “his” economic recovery plan. Nor has the Treasury been paid back; the public is not “making money on that,” at least yet, and maybe never. This is the kind of thing we expect Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden to say—half-truths, with partisan spin. Yes, there are signs the economy is getting better, but it is still the slowest recovery from a recession ever. Yes, jobs were added in March, but unemployment is still well over 8%, and the President assured the nation that it would not be. The housing market has not recovered, and the Administration’s effort to forestall foreclosures was a failure. And the President’s plan has resulted in an unsustainable, unconscionable and unaddressed increase in the national debt, which threatens the recovery and the future. I don’t expect Costello to argue the case against Obama’s record and policies, but she is not practicing ethical journalism by arguing only one side of the issues. She’s being a partisan hack.]

(…)

COSTELLO: And just a final question. You know, as far as Mitt Romney’s economic plan is concerned, what one thing will he do that will turn the economy completely around, that will make that unemployment rate go down? What one single thing – most important thing will he do? [ COMMENT: Outrageous. 1) She didn’t give Priebus a chance to address her previous comment. 2) This is the most incompetent, unfair question I have heard in a long time. “What one thing will he do that will turn the economy completely around”? There is no one thing Carol, and either you know it, and it’s an intentionally unfair question, like “when did you stop beating your wife?”, or you don’t know it, in which case you are too ignorant and naive for your job. Which is it? And that is a fair question.]

PRIEBUS: Well, first of all, I’m not speaking for the Mitt Romney campaign, but I can tell you that all of our candidates believe that we ought to make it easier for small businesses to hire more people, to have less regulation, to have an energy policy that makes sense.

(Crosstalk)

COSTELLO: And they’re signing the jobs act today, right? So they did that. [COMMENT: A naked partisan response. “But look at all they’re doing! How can you say that!” This was what Roesgen ended up resorting to  when she lost all composure arguing with the tea partiers. Costello at this point is simply defending the Administration, and has given up any pretense of doing otherwise. She’s not questioning or probing, or illuminating. There is no journalism here.]

PRIEBUS: Wait a second.

COSTELLO: Okay.

PRIEBUS: Do you want me to answer your question, Carol, or not?

COSTELLO: No, I just want to – I do. Please do. [COMMENT: Costello is looking exasperated here, signalling to her audience that Priebus is the jerk. He, however, is doing his job; she isn’t.]

PRIEBUS: Okay, well, then, you know, if you ask a question, you ought to at least allow the guest to answer. The last regulation –

COSTELLO: I’m just trying to get you off your talking points but go on. [COMMENT: There’s nothing wrong with that, but Costello has not, does not and will not do the same with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the Democratic Chair, who infamously answers questions with prepared talking points even if they are not remotely related to the question asked, or David Axelrod, or David Plouffe. If you interview partisan mouthpieces like Priebus, you get talking points. A good journalist corrects whoppers and misrepresentations, but does not take the opposite partisan side….and treats both parties the same.]

PRIEBUS: Well, you’ve been reading the Democratic talking points for the last seven minutes, Carol. [COMMENT: He is 100% right]

COSTELLO: If you say so. [ COMMENT: Snotty, unprofessional and disrespectful. He was correct. She was the one out of line. She didn’t give him a chance to answer. She did recite Democratic talking points. Her proper response was “I apologize.”]

Eventually, many media commentators and such observers as Bill Clinton and Tina Brown admitted that the media was unfairly favoring Obama in 2008, both in his contest for the nomination and in the last election. Several neutral studies demonstrated it, not that it wasn’t obvious at the time. A respectable profession with  integrity and a serious approach to its societal obligations of objectivity and independence would look at its own performance, recognize that it was flawed, and resolve to do better in 2012.

Clearly, that isn’t going to happen

13 Comments

Filed under Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Professions

13 responses to “2012 Election Coverage Preview: “Objective” Interviewing Technique, Mainstream Media Style

  1. Michael Boyd

    I agree Costello is an idiot. However, I don’t agree that this is the slowest recovery ever.

    “Yes, there are signs the economy is getting better, but it is still the slowest recovery from a recession ever. ”

    Reagan’s first 3 years went backwards as well, according to the congressional record on March 26, 1984. And if people can blame Carter, they can blame Bush.

    • The economy hadn’t recovered, but it was in better shape. All projections I’ve seen show the slowest recovery yet, assuming no new disaster.

      My point was that Costello was only giving one point of view, and that’s not journalism, but advocacy. Both sides have their validity.

  2. Bill

    How does Jim Lehrer rate with you?

  3. Eeyoure

    Let’s figure out how to promote a “We want more Tim Russerts” campaign.

    • Dwayne N. Zechman

      Well, if we can have Zombie Candidates, why can’t we have Zombie Journalists, too?!? Zombie Tim Russert would still shamble rings around most of today’s so-called journalists.

      –Dwayne

      • What NBC gave us was Nepotism Tim, Russert’s son Luke, who was catapulted into a plum role in the News division without mush to distinguish him other than his name, and IOUs from the brass to his late Dad.

  4. Joshua

    Have you been able to find a full video? I have looked and have been unfortunately unlucky. I would love to see this video.

  5. I guess Preibus is getting used to this sort of thing by now. He ought to be! But his weakness is that he’s a nice guy, even when faced with this sort of thing. Nevertheless, he wacked her with the observation that she’d been spouting Democrat talking points right down the line. Her lame response must have been noted even by the most partisan of viewers.

  6. Like Bush v. Gore , and Skull and Bonesman John Kerry’s dismal showing in 2004 ( even though he technically won Ohio ) Mitt is set to lose this election by Design. IMHO Both parties are playing parts to give us an ‘illusion’ that we have some sort of say in outcome of our politics and policies. I agree with you, this “reporter” or “News reader” as they are more truthfully descriptive name is way out of bounds here.

    But what is the MSM? It’s a tool for an agenda, nothing more – or CNN thought causing this shiznit storm would increase their ratings. the “Truth” of why this particular reporter did this probably has nothing to do with her beliefs or her own agenda.. it was a scriped from above.

    Not to rip on the Republicans, but it is a fact that none of the Republican govenors or lawmakers elected in 2010, Scott Walker in particular, ever mentioned their agendas when they were running. They rolled out a coordinated effort Nationally to suppress union Collective Bargaining negotiating abilities, be it Teachers, Police, or the Post Office, with “Poison Pills” of legislated debt to kill off the last remaining Say of labor and their ability to hold sway in their fate. It’s all a part of the plan to Kill off the middle class – Darwinistic Capitalism as Obama put it.

    Just because it’s legal, and you can implement a hidden agenda, doesn’t make it right OR ethical. The “G”OP never once mentioning this tactic as a intrical part of their campaigns.

    So why should we trust anything the GOP Chair has to say anyway? It’s obvious their only way to get their way is by deception and manipulation – it certainly isn’t with the truth, no matter how nice Mr Priebus seems to be.

    • Really, BBH–that’s just silly. There is no “right” to extensive collective bargaining by public unions, nor should there be. I think the position that there should be no public unions at all is persuasive—they are a perversion of the union concept, though a lucrative one. I do believe people should know who they are voting for, but pinning “hidden agendas” on Scott Walker more than every other candidate is unsustainable. Gee, I never assumed that President Obama would never pass a budget, or massively increase the national debt, or intentionally seek to divide the nation by class, race, gender, age, and political party after swearing to be a healer. I’m disappointed about all this, but hardly surprised. Betrayals by elected officials are the rule, in both parties. I’d say Walker was, in fact, more candid about his intent than most.

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