Russ Mitchell

The Mitchell Report

Russ Mitchell is editor of The Dickinson County News. He has been in Spirit Lake since January 2010 and began in journalism in 1997. The Mitchell Report can be about anything and everything. Comments are invited.


The media would have you believe

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

I'm familiar with a regional lawmaker who recently concluded an update to constituents with the following:

"The media and many others continue to criticize the governor and the response taken by the state of Iowa," the update said. "The facts tell a story that Iowa is on the way to recovery."

I sure could do without that first part the "media and many others continue to criticize" part, even if the lawmaker wasn't talking about us specifically.

Both things can be true, incidentally. Iowa can indeed be on the way to recovery and the governor can indeed be deserving of criticism (closing the state for too long or not keeping Iowa closed down long enough, in fact). But you don't hear that from the lawmaker.

What you hear from the lawmaker is "the leader of my party is right and the people who question him or her have an agenda. But, look, here are the facts I handpicked to be convenient to my party's argument. Don't trust 'the media.'"

At this point I need to toss in an aside, dear readers: Truth be told, and if you can't tell already, your local community print journalists hate being generalized as "the media" especially when the phrase has an overt "biased media" connotation attached to it. I'm sure the local broadcasters don't like it either.

The regional lawmaker isn't alone in the overgeneralization, by the way, so let's help that person out.

One of the five candidates for the 4th District GOP nomination for Congress tossed the same misleading media red meat during a May 11 debate in Spencer. And they did it with the same negative, media-would-have-you-believe implication.

The congressional candidate's comment was interesting because "the media" specifically Randy Cauthron of the Spencer Daily Reporter organized the debate and this low-in-name-recognition candidate got a free platform to boost his profile. The only attacks that night came from fellow candidates, but tell us again about the terrible, biased media.

So, yes. Being generalized as "the media" is a pet peeve of mine. Another pet peeve of mine is columnists who don't acknowledge the other side of the coin.

I think there is a need for more political balance in some of the state's largest news outlets. I think there are pockets in newsrooms staffed with progressives in their 20s and 30s who are just wiping their feet in Iowa before they walk into the room they really want to be in. I think there are questions at the governor's daily COVID-19 briefings that are more confrontational in tone than they need to be (emphasis on "tone" because our leaders should be challenged by reporters). I also think there are moments when a governor from the Democratic Party would be given the benefit of the doubt in coverage decisions. Iowa is a purple state, but the loudest media voices don't always sound purple.

As a result, we all get the "media and many others continue to criticize," treatment in a column they want us to share with you here in the red part of the state. A check of Facebook tells us some of you are inclined to lump us in with the Hannitys and Ingrams, or the Maddows and Cuomos depending on the topic.

Summing us all up as "the media" simply doesn't work.

And, I sure could do without that part.