Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Partisan Press

In this interest of full disclosure, there’s something I need to confess before I begin this editorial. If you’ve been watching television at all this week, you’re certainly up to date on the most pressing issue facing our nation right now – and before any accusations fly, I must tell you that I am NOT the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby. Whew- I feel so much better, and now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can proceed to other manufactured news.

A big manufactured news story in NH this week came from the Sunday Union Leader. The headline read, “Critics rap Shea-Porter over calls.” It seems our new district one Congresswoman has actually been returning calls to her constituents. Allison Scammon of Stratham (daughter–in-law of the GOP Scammons, who hosted Bush at their home in 2004) had called Congresswoman Shea-Porter twice a day. She was annoyed at the story about Shea-Porter’s staff serving cider to anti-war protestors in front of their office. She is annoyed about Shea-Porter’s stance on the war. Mrs. Scammon and the other woman in the story, Gail Giarrusso (a member of the Stratham town GOP committee) serve as greeters at Pease, greeting service members flying to or back from Iraq. Both had called Shea-Porter’s office. Rep. Shea-Porter actually returned those calls, despite the fact that these women obviously didn’t vote for her, or share her feelings about the war. This led to a big story in the UL, where Scammon complained that Shea-Porter was “trying to intimidate me, to stop my freedom of speech.” Poor, poor Mrs. Scammon. Where I come from, we consider returning a phone call “good manners.”

The Union Leader, a GOP mouthpiece, leaped all over the story, as one would expect. It was sad to see other papers just pick up the UL’s story and run it as if it were gospel. There is no investigative journalism going on in any mainstream NH publications. What is and is not reported in this state is done on a very selective basis. It was “news” when Shea-Porter’s staff served cider to anti-war protestors who were in front of her office. Somehow, it was not news on any number of occasions when protestors stood in front of former Congressman Jeb Bradley’s office, calling on him to take a stand to protect Social Security or to change the privatized Part D drug plan to actually be a real benefit to seniors. It was not news when a Social Security birthday cake was delivered to Bradley’s office last August, celebrating 71 years of protecting seniors from poverty. It was not news when a large group of protestors stood out on a very cold day in December, to protest the priorities in the president’s budget in 2005. Bradley’s staff made coffee and served it to those protestors. Oddly enough, the media was invited to every single one of those events – but somehow those weren’t deemed newsworthy. I know, because I wrote the press releases, and I was there for every single event. Apparently it is an outrage when a Democrat extends courtesy to the people standing in front of her office, but it’s not even news when a Republican does the same.

As regular readers know, I had plenty of criticism for former Congressman Bradley over the years. I made calls, I sent emails, I sent letters. I stood in front of his office. I asked him questions at the countless town hall meetings I attended. He never called me to discuss any one of the issues I was concerned about. As you may recall, he had his people write letters to the editor a few times in what could be regarded as an attempt to intimidate me and stop my freedom of speech. I mentioned the last letter in my October 5, 2006 editorial. Oddly enough, the UL was not interested in a Congressman working so hard to discredit a small town writer. But, a Congresswoman returning a phone call – now that’s real news – in the land of the partisan press, anyhow.

It’s pretty hard not to be offended, when that is your goal. Mrs. Scammon and Ms. Giarrusso had every intention of being offended by Rep. Shea-Porter. They were offended that she ran against Jeb Bradley, and even more offended when she won. They wanted to be offended, and they wanted everyone to know about it, so they called the Union Leader, a paper they knew would be only too happy to spread the news of their outrage, far and wide. They are very fortunate to have a partisan press to call. Those of us who aren’t Republicans don’t have a statewide paper (or any other paper) to call.

I can tell you with certainty that Congresswoman Shea-Porter was polite and respectful to those women. I’ve had the good fortune to know CSP for a couple of years now, and I’ve never seen her be rude to anyone. We met while attending Bradley’s town hall meetings, and she was unfailingly polite and friendly to Bradley – even though he was often reluctant to answer her questions. She’s a social worker – so she knows how to listen, and she knows how to talk to people – all kinds of people. We should be thanking our lucky stars every day that we actually have a congresscritter who is willing to listen to all of us – not just campaign donors and partisan pals.

By winning the election, Rep. Shea-Porter put a target on her back – that’s no surprise. Jeb Bradley plans to run again, and we’ve seen how nasty he can be in the past. Most of you will remember those nasty, sexist TV ads he ran against Martha Fuller Clark in 2002. We can expect to see more of the same – and worse as we lead up to the 2008 elections.
Most of the NH media will not challenge our critical thinking skills. It’s easy to find a media outlet that will tell us exactly what we want to hear. The real challenge is to try to filter through everything we read and hear, and discern the truth as best we can. We can also be aware that everything we read is not really news, that some of it is just manufactured partisan blather, or celebrity splooge. By November 2008, we’ll know a lot more about our new Congresswoman. We may even know who the father of Anna Nicole’s baby is.

“Not every bit of news should be published. Rather must those who control news policies endeavor to make every item of news serve a certain purpose.” Joseph Paul Goebbels

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