Bad journalism? You decide (Part four)

Do you remember the interview conducted by CNN political analyst Gloria Borger with U.S. Representative Ron Paul on his campaign for President. In this interview, published on December 23, 2011, Ms. Borger asked Mr. Paul about his stances on the budget, foreign policy, and last but not least – his reaction to some controversial newsletters that he allegedly wrote about two decades ago. This article is aimed at analyzing whether the way Ms. Borger handled the interview was good or bad journalism, not whether Ron Paul is right or wrong on the issues. Good journalism in this article is defined as asking relevant questions in order to receive a clear response from the interviewee who in this case is Ron Paul. Bad journalism is anything beyond that.

Gloria Borger did a very good job at the beginning of the interview. She managed to get a clear answer from Congressman Paul on his stance on the issue of payroll tax cuts and the federal budget deficit by asking him questions about not just where cuts should be made but also about how members of the two parties behave thus leading to what Ron Paul referred to as a “gridlock.” That’s all that was needed as a response to this issue. Further asking him about it would not generate more information but will get U.S. Representative Paul to repeat himself at best which is a waste of air time on asking him other questions, and suggests a political agenda or bad journalism by focusing on one specific and narrow issue substantially more than on other issues.

However, Ms. Borger did a poor job asking Congressman Paul about the negative ads. “Would you be willing to stop running those ads?” and “Why?” after receiving a negative response were stupid questions because it was (and still is) very unlikely that Congressman Paul would give a different answer from the likes of “No” and “Because they represent the truth” respectively. Therefore, these two questions suggest that either Gloria Borger and CNN have an agenda to portray Ron Paul as a weak candidate, or/and both are bad journalist and enterprise respectively. A better question – one that voters and analyzers are more interested in knowing a candidate’s answer’s to – is “Why do you focus on negative ads so much, and not focus on ads about yourself?”

What I couldn’t help but notice was Ron Paul’s frustration at these two questions by saying that “if the media won’t [show the positions the other candidates have been on], I should do it.” In other words, he suggests that not only are his negative ads good for the primary race, but also that he is doing the job that journalists and media like Gloria Borger and CNN are supposed to do. Thus he gives the viewers the impression that there is no use of the mainstream media which the media are the least interested in being portrayed as – good for nothing. The question that I suggest would likely put the interviewee in a position to talk about themselves and not about the interviewer or their employers

On super PACs (Political Action Committees) and campaign expenditure, Gloria Borger did a good job. There are two sides of this debate. One of them argues that campaign expenditures should be limited so that poor contributors and voters who can’t afford to contribute, or can make nominal contributions, have more equal voice in government to their rich counterparts who have allegedly formed these super PACs. After all, it is easier to get a single $1 million contribution by talking with a millionaire, a small group of rich people, or a small group of people who represent them, than it is, for example, to try to convince 200,000 people, more than 99 percent of whom don’t know that candidate personally, to give a $5 contribution. On the other hand, opponents of campaign contribution limits are also right – that rich people should also be able to lobby their government the way they deem right, meaning by contributing as much as they think is worth contributing. The notion is that people should be free to spend their money as they want to spend it. Apparently Ron Paul supports the latter,as long as there are no financial incentives after the election, as he expressed that view on the interview. I give Ms. Borger credit for getting this information from Mr. Paul because nowadays the state of the economy and the affordability of health care are way more salient issues than the election process, and most journalists are focused on these in particular instead of a fundamental question in politics such as campaign contribution, which allegedly leads to bad policy making.

On foreign policy, Gloria Borger did a good job as well. While her claim that “someone in the back of the room… was asking a question about… would we be safe under a Ron Paul administration” might turn out to be a lie, she presented a good challenge to Congressman Paul – in what circumstance would a military force be used on Iran. After Mr. Paul’s answer – “If they attack us” – Ms. Borger showed great skills as a journalist by asking him about Israel, a U.S. ally, since it is very popular in the United States to believe that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States or the U.S. national security, and by reminding him of 9/11 (“We were attacked.”) – thus revealing to the viewers more about Ron Paul’s stances on foreign policy and the U.S. involvement in it.

On the newsletters published under the “Ron Paul Report,” Ms. Borger did a terrible job as a journalist. This is the part of her interview with the Texas politician that I call bad journalism. It is legitimate to ask such a serious question – one that might be a turning point in an election. However, she asked the same questions several times – even after Ron Paul apparently expressed disapproval of CNN’s approach on that issue (“When are you gonna wear yourself out”) after having answered them more than once. Notice how Gloria Borger kept flipping two questions: one is about whether he ever read the newsletters and the other is suggesting that he made money off of them. This is a sign of bad journalism. It looks like she was either looking for sensational news on her own – which is usually part of journalists’ job – or she was instructed by CNN to keep asking the same questions until Congressman Paul loses it, so to speak. Notice also how Ron Paul started touching his jacket button in what appears to be his intention to unbutton it and try to get rid of the microphone that had served for the interview. Apparently this wasn’t noticed by Ms. Borger or at least didn’t impress her enough in case she was not interested in such an end to her interview. She kept asking the same questions over and over again even after Ron Paul answered them one more time. Such a behavior from a journalist suggests bias toward the interviewee or even pushing an agenda by the journalist or her employers – two features that journalism should not be about.

Therefore, my conclusion is that Gloria Borger’s interview with Congressman Paul was an act of bad journalism – particularly when asking him about his negative ads and the newsletters published under his name. What do you think?

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