Table talk at NC SPIN

Published July 18, 2013

By Tom Campbell

Spin Small150x89By Tom Campbell, July 18, 2013

People often ask what conversations take place before we tape NC SPIN and I tell them the talk around the table before taping and during commercial breaks is often as interesting and compelling as what goes on the air. I have decided to share some of this table talk with you in hopes you will enjoy it also.

This week the table talk started when one panelist told about moderating a panel discussion  and the fact that Governor McCrory came into and became part of the panel discussion, even to the point of taking questions from the audience. One panelist opined that McCrory didn’t, however, take questions from the media, either during or after the appearance.

That led to a discussion about how other governors have responded to the media. Another panelist remarked that Jim Martin was always willing to talk with the media, remembering a talk he made to the Cary Rotary Club. Afterwards, the panelist asked the Governor if he might be willing to answer a few questions and related that Martin went to his car and sat with him in the car for an interview.

Panelists remarked that neither Bev Perdue nor Mike Easley were so inclined, contrasted by Jim Hunt, who would actually seek out the media to ensure he was able to convey his positions.

I started thinking about the role of the modern media and how it has changed in the time I’ve been involved in political coverage. When I first started covering politicians and leaders from other sectors it was assumed these were honorable people who had knowledge you didn’t possess. We trusted these leaders to be forthcoming who would answer questions honestly and fully….understanding our role was first and foremost to report the who, what, when, where, why and how of a story. A reporter’s own personal biases or opinions were neither welcomed nor allowed in news stories. Opinions were segregated to Editorial pages or in broadcast editorials.

There has always been and likely will always be officials who are corrupt, untrustworthy and working for their own interests, but in the main we believed that public servants were truly interested in serving the public and gave them credit for trying to do the right thing for the most people.

That all changed with Watergate, when the media and the public learned that public officials were not always to be trusted to tell the truth. That began an evolution in the role of the media.

The media philosophy changed from trust to skepticism, then, in too many instances, to outright adversarial postures seeking to dig out the lies, self-dealing and deception. Today, journalists too frequently start with an assumption or bias toward an official, story or issue, then work to prove that assumption correct, searching for any indiscretion or questionable action regardless of when it took place, who it affected or what impact it might have on current situations. Media types deny this happens but it does with too much frequency.

Today, it is assumed that whenever a politician, business, religious or any leader speaks to the media the journalists are being “spun,” meaning the leader will present only the best slant to the issue. Unfortunately, this is also true, despite their protests to the contrary. With this adversarial atmosphere leaders grew hesitant to speak to journalists, especially those on the Republican and conservative end of the spectrum. They believe, and is too frequently true, most media types are liberal Democrats who won’t be give them any benefit of doubt or honest reporting. The unwillingness to submit themselves or their families to an adversarial media keeps too many good people from offering themselves for public service…a loss for us all.

So here we are at a time when the media doesn’t trust politicians and other leaders, the leaders don’t trust the media and the public doesn’t have a high level of trust in either. It is a sad commentary on our current state and one for which there doesn’t appear to be a solution.

July 18, 2013 at 8:04 pm
dj anderson says:

Interesting perspective, a bit disney perhaps, in that the politicians promise carries about as much credence as "Honest John's" used car used by grandma only on Sundays. Both have become jokes. There was Honest Abe who was honest, but did put 25,000 reporters in jail for going against him. Should I even bring up the myth of Washington and the cherry tree?

My personal first "lie" from government was Ike saying on TV that we didn't spy, just before Gary Powers was shown alive after the USSR shot his U-2 down over Russia.

Before that, my father & grandfather said FDR lied in his 1939 campaign when he claimed he didn't want to enter WWII. The press hid his wheelchair.

Moving ahead in time, still in the past, JFK was cozy with the press, had favorites, and gave out easy stuff easily, but practiced "news management" otherwise. The press kept his private affairs private - a gentleman's agreement. Kennedy made the one-on-one interview a practice, and yes, it favored one media person over the other, winning favor. JFK managed the news. JFK flat lied to reporters (and public) before & after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. JFK lied again during the Cuban missile crisis. The current kinder image of JFK is selective memory, and I'm including the press.

As for the blog reference, the 1:1 interview is a tool used against other press. Kennedy didn't wear a hat or a t-shirt. My father pressed hats. I digress. Kennedy gave TV a big boost over newsprint. Something starts to stink when a "selected" reporter gets face to face information from a government leader. You can bet the public is going to get some SPIN and the favored reporter is going to play by the 'rules' and tread lightly.

LBJ lied about the war in Vietnam, repeatedly. Unlike chummy JFK, LBJ tripped and stumbled over reporters.

Nixon lied. Ford & Carter, well, I trusted them as being decent people, if lacking guile and scheming skills needed in world domination.

Reagan was either forgetful or lied.

Clinton was a lair with the level of ease that he could pass a polygraph. If his lips were moving...well, he was far & away the best public speaker I've ever heard with or without a teleprompter. He was amazing.

Bush and is the same.

As for the media, look at NC Spin. There's a reason the show is called SPIN. That's what it deals with and tries to decode for us. Chris Fitzsimmons is a real pro, very good, never lies, but relentlessly spins always using talking points cleverly in his party's favor. Tom Campbell is harder to predict. Tom's likable, even jovial, gets lots of respect and as a moderator can herd cats. John Hood is consistent, serious but has a good time, and uses winning logic. I listen when he speaks. Joe Mavretic, well, should I go on digressing? I'll leave someone out and call the ladies pretty.

I get lost in my logic, losing my direction, but doesn't everyone spin? Is the politician going to tell you what you want to hear or what he wants you to hear. The reporter is the politician's medium. Suppose there was a new conference and no one came? The liar and the honest man will use the same words. Plus, there is little factual truth in politics, just opinions. Each of us has one of them among other things.

Reporters are wrong to assume a cozy trusting relationship with politicians. Politicians should mistrust reporters. Do we need to list the tricks done by the major networks?

Personally, I favor the old style news conference. Obama is over-controlling to the point I get nothing from his press conferences and pay no attention until I read the next day.

I guess I'm countering Tom in saying, let's keep it on the table, and keep the cameras rolling, and raise an eye brow to one on one relationships between press and politicians.