By Tim Hayes
We are experiencing a national disgrace. It’s embarrassing to me, as a taxpayer, a voter, and an American citizen. The level of discourse on display during this presidential primary season has been so lacking in depth and seriousness, as to be shocking.
What’s worse, the level of journalistic diligence and doggedness has been absolutely appalling.
Case in point: A few days ago, Republican candidate Donald Trump appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program to be interviewed. According to news reports, before going on the air, Trump said to host Joe Scarborough on a hot (open) microphone, “Just make us all look good,” to which Scarborough replied, “Exactly.” Then Trump said to co-host Mika Brzezinski, “Nothing too hard, Mika,” followed by her response, “Okay.”
Could this be chalked up to idle chitchat in the final nervous moments before the cameras go live? Maybe. But there are plenty of doubters, even among fellow members of the media, like CNN and The Washington Post, which have expressed ongoing skepticism of Trump consistently getting preferential treatment when appearing on “Morning Joe.”
This is not to pick on Trump, or to make any comment on his politics. He is not the only candidate being let off the hook too many times during this campaign season, in my opinion. It’s become an epidemic, and by the media reporting on the campaign less on the issues and more on the petty, superfluous, childish, and ultimately meaningless insults candidates fling at each other, it hurts the process in the long run.
It reminds me of the time, many years ago, when I was helping a chief financial officer prepare for what promised to be an uncomfortable news conference about sizeable loans that all went bad. Drawing from my days as a newspaper reporter, I put together a document of potential questions and suggested responses. This mock Q&A held nothing back, including some “killer” questions – the ones you hope never get asked – all with the goal of helping this CFO survive the news conference with his, and his organization’s, credibility intact.
He took the document, read it over a few times, then threw it across his desk at me – his face becoming 50 shades of deepening red – and shouted, “Change the questions!”
Unfortunately, unlike Mr. Trump on MSNBC, the CFO’s questioners the next morning took no mercy on him. They sure as hell didn’t change the questions.
Then we have all of the so-called “debates.” Good heavens, what a misnomer that has become. In a true debate, strict rules and time limits apply. You state your case, a rebuttal from an opponent comes next, then you have time for a summation. What do we get instead? Shouting matches, barely controlled and certainly not contained, with outrageous claims going unchallenged, and name-calling seemingly encouraged. Shameful.
Friends, this isn’t “Survivor.” This isn’t “Chopped.” This isn’t “The Housewives of DC.” This is a presidential election. It should never have devolved into what we have now – a half-baked freak show, the primary goal of which is to be as bombastic, extreme, and disgracefully contemptible as possible, to garner high TV ratings from the lowest-common-denominator viewer.
Come on, journalists. Do your job. Can we put on our big-boy pants, please? Hold these people to account. Don’t let anybody get away with unqualified, unsubstantiated, or untrue declarations. Make them uncomfortable. Make them sweat. Make them earn the respect of voters by insisting that they respect the office they seek. All of them.
Politics has always been a dirty, vicious, blood sport. I get it. I’m not naïve. But can’t there at least be some minimal standard of accountability? Of pride? Of integrity?
As an old, long-retired executive I used to work with memorably and forcefully used to say, when calling out someone he thought was slacking off – in a statement that applies to both candidates and journalists today – “You’re not…doin’…your job!” We deserve, and should demand, better.
Copyright 2016 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting