The Northeast section of Philadelphia is predominately white and predominately conservative.
The population in this one section of America’s fifth largest city, according to Census figures, is a quarter million less than the entire population of the state of Alaska.
One City Councilman represents a large swatch of Philadelphia’s Northeast section.
This Councilman, Brian O’Neill, has a compelling story beyond the extraordinary feat of this Republican serving since 1980 in the legislature of an overwhelmingly Democratic big city.
The son of a Philadelphia policeman, O’Neill attended college and law school in his hometown area. O’Neill chairs the City Council’s Technology Committee plus holds membership on several Council Committees including Ethics and the Disabled.
Despite never holding the post of Philly’s Mayor or City Council President, O’Neill has served as Presidential of the National League of Cities and President of the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities.
Now, if by some stroke of fortune a presidential candidate selected Councilman O’Neill as their running mate wouldn’t news media reporting on the record of this elected official little known outside of Philadelphia constitute legitimate coverage?
Reporting on who City Councilman Brian O’Neill is and what he’s done would at minimum be a public service for the news media.
The American public would deserve information about a nationally unknown City Councilman selected for White House consideration as much as they deserve information about a nationally unknown Alaska Governor elevated to a presidential ticket.
Current cries by conservatives and others that the ‘liberal media’ is inordinately subjecting GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin to unfair coverage – if earnestly asserted – evidences a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the news media in America’s democracy.
One of the news media’s fundamental missions in American democracy is that informing the electorate role. This informational role essential for vitalizing the political process is a key pillar of the First Amendment Press Freedom protection. Informing the electorate goes beyond simply repeating compelling stories from a candidate’s biography.
The first Article of the American Society of Newspaper Editors Statement of Principles instructs that “The primary purpose of gathering and distributing news and opinion is to serve the general welfare by informing the people and enabling them to make judgments on the issues of the time.”
Conservatives always so quick to spout off about ‘strict construction’ of the US Constitution certainly understand the media’s informing-electorate role. Thus, this recent round of GOP media bashing is yet another flurry of attempted intimidation from that Party’s notorious arsenal of Weapons of Mass Deception.
Governor Palin’s mere selection as Senator McCain’s VP merits news coverage.
The fact of Palin having scant personal history with McCain whose candidacy she refused to endorse earlier this year is news in and of itself. The fact that professed ethics-reformer Palin enters the presidential race arena under the cloud of an ethics investigation in her home state is ‘news.’ So is the fact that Palin’s actual governing record contradicts claims Palin’s made about that record since becoming the GOP VP candidate.
Addressing the specious criticism of Palin’s media coverage, Philadelphia Daily News columnist Elmer Smith recently noted, “This is not about whether a woman can be president. The question is whether this woman is ready to be president.”
Not surprisingly, those screaming about harsh media coverage of Palin are silent on the harshly brutal police assaults on non-mainstream media journalists in St. Paul during the GOP convention, inclusive of secret-police-like raids backed by federal law enforcement personnel.
These assaults by police shredded First Amendment protections for press freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly.
Apparently McCain and Palin care more about off-shore drilling and corporate tax cuts than contesting violations of constitutional rights. In fairness, Obama and Biden were silent on these censorship enabling police assaults.
If the news media is as liberal as GOP convention speakers repeatedly claimed why did the corporate news media ignore a compelling story rich in dramatizing the hypocrisy of GOP claims about racial inclusiveness and being pro-small business?
The GOP convention that pumped a projected $150-million into the economy of the Twin Cities back-handed black owned businesses in that area by excluding them from convention related contracts. This stiff arm even extended to reneging on pledges to post minority businesses on the convention’s website as preferred vendors.
Only the black-owned Minnesota Spokesman-Reporter newspaper reported on this blatant exclusion. “None of that convention money trickled down. We have significant businesses that could have benefited that didn’t,” stated Spokesman reporter Charles Hallman, who authored the August 20th article “Republican Convention Host Committee overlooks Black businesses.”
The corporate media that conservatives castigate as sickeningly liberal overlooked the deliberate exclusion of black owned businesses during the 2000 GOP confab in Philadelphia — a convention themed around racial inclusiveness. Only Philly’s black owned media reported that economic apartheid.
Those decrying alleged sexist media coverage of Palin, including 1984 Democratic VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro, voice no criticism regarding the dearth of corporate media coverage about the history making candidacy of a female in this presidential election cycle.
The Green Party’s 2008 presidential candidate is former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, the first African-American female to head the ticket of a viable political party. The media ignored Winona LaDuke, the respected female Native American activist, who served as the Green Party’s vice-presidential candidate during the 1996 and 2000 elections.
Pushing third party candidates into the margins of coverage is certainly not a high-point of corporate news media fulfilling its fundamental informational function. A media liberal as charged would certainly provide fairer coverage to minority party candidates including those candidates who are racial minorities.
Sadly, the GOP will continue its farcical attacks on news media liberalism; the corporate media will continue shirking its responsibilities for probative political coverage; Democrats will remain silent about these subversions and public cynicism will fester. None of this bodes well for democracy already under assault from eight-years of the Bush presidency.
Linn Washington is an Associate Professor of Journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia.