Journalists must shed their "pretense of neutrality" and become more political in their reporting, Robert Scheer, the reporter who interviewed President-elect Carter for Playboy magazine, said last night during a panel discussion at the Science Center.
Scheer told the crowd of more than 200 the media tailed to successfully cover the presidential campaign this year because reporters were unwilling to ask probing questions.
"The press used to have interesting journalists--ones whom they could sic on the candidates. But now when reporters try to ask serious questions we feel like we're in the way," Scheer said.
Tom DeFrank, Newsweek's Ford campaign correspondent, said the media basically ignored the significant issues of the campaign.
"The hot items in the campaign were Carter's sexual fantasies and Miss Lillian's fish pond. That's pretty thin gruel to run a campaign on," he said.
Robert Shrum. former Carter speech-writer, said he thinks the problem of unsatisfactory press coverage originated when the candidates could not find a dominant issue on which to focus during the pre-election months.
"All the issues were complex and both the candidates and the media were at a loss as to how to evaluate them in a comprehensible way." Shrum said at the debate sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Democratic club.
He suggested that the media should have a core group of journalists to cover a campaign instead of just one or two reporters.
"The media should have someone who specializes in each of the issue areas" to eliminate the media's tendency not to confront the candidates with complicated questions, Shrum said.
A Horse Race It Ain't
The three panelists agreed that the media treated the presidential race as a sports event rather than as a conflict over pressing issues.
"The reporters approached each aspect of the election with a horse race philosophy--that it was a competition to be won or lost," DeFrank said.
"Too many journalists ended up with the attitude that whomever they were covering was their guy; that their candidate's career was their career," he added.
The audience responded to the speakers with frequent laughter and occasional applause.
Shrum cited the second Carter-Ford debate as proof of this "win-or-lose" philosophy.
"The press set up the debate for Carter to slaughter Ford, and that's they way they reported it," he said.
DeFrank said he can foresee "journalists in 1980 wringing their hands over the same problems," adding he sees "no prospect for the media to do a better job on the next campaign."
Shrum said he believes it is up to individuals involved in the media to "provoke some passion over the issues.
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