Voters who tuned in to the Republican presidential debate on CNBC last week were treated to an unabashed display of media bias as interrogator after interrogator asked questions that were condescending, inaccurate, belittling and rude.
Until, that is, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz used his allotted time for one in a series of really stupid questions to go on the offensive rather than meekly submit to the attacks. Following the example set by Cruz the candidates rose up and called out the CNBC hacks for what they were. The backlash against the network ranged from the audience booing the questioners to the Republican National Committee severing its ties for further "debates."
But you don't have to wait for another national political event to see examples of media bias; it is all around us and in myriad formats.
Take for instance the race for First Selectman in Stonington, Connecticut where former Congressman Rob Simmons is the Republican candidate, facing incumbent Democrat George Crouse. Simmons, who has decided to continue his lifetime commitment to public service by serving his hometown, was endorsed by The Day newspaper as a man who can get things done locally and in the state Capitol.
But after receiving the endorsement from the largest newspaper in the area, Simmons was subjected to a scathing commentary from a reader in the newspaper's digital edition, which lead off by accusing Simmons of war crimes when he served in Vietnam a half century ago. Aside from the obvious veteran bashing, the accusation is a rehashed attack that was launched at Simmons by then incumbent Congressman Sam Gejdenson back in 2000, when Simmons successfully challenged Gejdenson for Connecticut's 2nd Congressional District seat.
At that time Gejdenson initially claimed his campaign had no connection to the attack on Simmons' credibility, but ultimately had to publicly apologize. Simmons served two tours in Vietnam, and then returned as an operative for the Central Intelligence Agency for an additional two years. He ultimately retired from the US Army Reserves as a Colonel in Military Intelligence.
Simmons has amassed a distinguished military and political career, and has been a lecturer at Yale University and the University of Connecticut as well. He was never accused of war crimes in any forum outside of gutter politics, yet the libel that was aimed at him remains in the commentary section of The Days digital edition.
Although most reputable news outlets require that readers identify themselves and refrain from launching unsubstantiated attacks on candidates in the last campaign days leading up to the election, The Day appears to have made no effort to remove the libelous commentary.
Apparently, racist, sexist, profane or otherwise unsavory commentaries are scrubbed from the website, but scurrilous libelous attacks on distinguished veterans are allowed to stand. The commentary was signed by the pseudonym R. O. Thornhill, who the Simmons campaign believes is actually a close adviser to the Crouse campaign.
Meanwhile, the town of East Hampton, Connecticut, home of the late Gov. Bill O'Neill saw its own version of media bias erupt this past week. The weekly newspaper Rivereast ran a front-page article on the local school board chairman, a Democrat, deciding to prohibit any town official from doing business with the school system.
This after the chairman "discovered" that nearly 18 months ago, Republican Mark Philhower, a member of the local Town Council who owns a Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning firm called Tech Unlimited, had done some work for the schools. The sudden announcement came in the form of a motion that was not part of the regular agenda for last week's school board meeting, just a week before the election.
The reason for the hasty action is, according to the chairman, because he had only just discovered this egregious violation of … something, although we're not sure exactly what … and had to act immediately lest it be repeated.
The problem with the coverage hits many buttons. First the chairman's point of view dominated much of the article, before Philhower's response is noted in the final graphs, half of which were on the jump page. More important, after contacting Philhower, I learned that two essential matters he had told the paper's editor were left out.
First, he isn't the only office holder who has done work for the town, especially for a department over which he has no control. For instance, the owner of a school bus company which has held millions of dollars worth of contracts with the town, also served on the local zoning board. Philhower could not recall the local democrats raising any issue about the propriety of this arrangement, especially in the days just before an election.
Second, the work Philhower did for the schools was of an urgent nature, amounted to about $6,000 and took place in February, March and May of 2014, mostly in the coldest part of the winter. Both of these items should have been noted, and Philhower's response should have been much higher in the story, rather than the supportive but not especially detailed comments from school board Republicans.
Obviously, on-line commentaries, libelous though they may be, and cheap political shots by small town politicians don't rise to the level of national news personalities attempting to sway a presidential election. But the principle is the same.
Our system of government springs from local politics and the people who take the time to serve on local boards and commissions deserve just as much consideration as should be given to national level office seekers. The local media has just as much responsibility to act ethically as the national and international media should … regardless of the less than stellar example set by what is called the Mainstream Media.
Otherwise, as Philhower noted, the cheap attack on his credibility and his business, exemplifies "why good people don't want to run for office."
Or, as Sen. Cruz said during CNBC's political debacle, ""The questions asked in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media."