I just can’t hate Shaun Sutner, despite the fact that I continually misspell his first name. (I also can’t hate anyone who tweets that people should call him with news tips. I also can’t hate Ke$ha. Take from that what you will.)
However, I’ve got some issues with what he’s discussed so far.
I thought his discussion about whether Margot Barnet should be called a doctor was kind of bizarre. The T&G’s style sheet would say no, because she’s not an MD. However, the T&G continually refers to Craig Mello as a “doctor” even though he has a PhD (not an MD) and (according to their style sheet) should be referred to as “Mr.” Perhaps when the T&G decides to follow their own guidelines, I’ll take this kind of commentary more seriously.
[Full disclosure: I’ve met Margot Barnet twice, both in the context of REC Earth Day cleanups. The first time, we discussed the history of God’s Acre. The second time, I gave a short, off-the-cuff speech at City Hall about those cleanups and she complimented my public speaking skills. Everyone knows I’ll say something nice about anyone who so much as smiles at me. Disclosure over.]
A couple of days ago, Sutner discussed various politicians having TV programs on WCCA; he said, “While it is their First Amendment right to do so, it often looks like they’re usurping the role of journalists when they’ve clearly got their own political interests at heart.”
My take is that it’s more “Is the TV station giving one candidate more free exposure than the other?” Konnie Lukes isn’t on WCCA to further a political agenda (beyond keeping her face out there). I’d be interested to see if any commenters have a different take on this.
Continuing his quest for questionable conflicts of interest, Sutner notes that a 13th Worcester State Rep debate series will have three panelists: Martha Akstin, a former WoMag editor and columnist, who is also a “longtime aide to Bob Spellane”; Gary Rosen, who needs no introduction; and Dianne Williamson, “the only real journalist of the group.”
So all the time Akstin spent as a journalist is — in some way — not real? Or is it just not current enough for Sutner?
Perhaps working for Bob Spellane would be enough to disqualify her…if he were running in this race, or if he’d endorsed someone. Perhaps her involvement in community politics (Sutner mentions Paxton Housing Partnership and the aforementioned work for Spellane) would disqualify her from being a panelist if it were a touch more partisan (towards or against a specific candidate). But Sutner mentions her “stake in other local issues” as if it were on par with leprosy. Shouldn’t you want a panelist who’s familiar with the issues in the district and involved in her community?
(I totally agree with Sutner on Rosen. He came out early showing more than a modicum of favor towards Smith. But I don’t think anyone thinks he’s a capital-J journalist any more than they consider Jordan Levy or Peter Blute or any other politician-turned-on-air-scold to be a journalist.)
Also, Sutner implies that Dianne Williamson would be more impartial than either Akstin or Rosen. While this might be true, Williamson is a columnist, which is a flavor of journalist that is allowed a good degree of bias and partiality. [Full disclosure: Dianne Williamson was nice to me recently.] Let’s not pretend that any journalist is completely unbiased. There are always going to be politicians and journalists who enter into mutually beneficial relationships, there are always going to be journalists who end up working for politicians, and there are always going to be politicians who “retire” from public service but remain in the public consciousness through radio, print, and — yes — public access TV.
Where do you draw the line at who can serve on a panel for a debate? If someone must only be a journalist at the moment, we’ll have pretty slim pickings. Should we restrict it to someone who’s made no campaign donations for so many years? Someone who’s never volunteered for a campaign? Someone who’s never served on a board or commission?
There comes a point when you have to accept that sometimes people are politically active because they want to make a difference in their community, and that their political activity wouldn’t necessarily preclude them from being fair during a debate that will last a few hours.
If we start excluding everyone with some sort of political activity from serving on these panels, pretty soon the only debate panelists will be sixteen-year-olds who spend their Monday nights watching Gossip Girl.