Saturday, November 1, 2008

Confessions of Campaign Reporters: Tales of Heartbreak and Unrecquited Love

John McCain: Why don't you kids come over for dinner? Cindy and I will throw some steaks on the grill... Arizona style!
Reporters: We love youuuuuu John.
(Photo courtesy of, captions by Cindy Yeung)

With only a few days left on the trail, reporters have decided to spill their guts of their side of the story.

Michael Hastings, a Newsweek reporter, revealed an extensive reflection of his campaign coverage in a recent Men Style GQ ten page article,
"Hack: Confessions of a Presidential Campaign Reporter." He depicts his sorry experience of being used and abused by campaign officials and candidates, which then led to his resignation during the primaries.

It was an abusive relationship between Hastings and candidates. From the love-hate for Rudy to his dreams of Huckabee to "learn [his name]...whom the candidate addresses on first-name basis," Hastings was so addicted and attached to their love and attention; he could only kiss ass and hope for the best:

The dance with staffers is a perilous one. You’re probably not going to get
much, if any, one-on-one time with the candidate, which means your sources of
information are the people who work for him. So you pretend to be friendly and
nonthreatening, and over time you “build trust,” which everybody involved knows
is an illusion....For the top campaign officials and operatives, seduction and punishment of reporters is an art. Write this fluff piece now; we’ll give you something good later. No, don’t write it this way, write it that way. We’ll give you something good later.

Maeve Reston depicts similar symptoms of attachment with McCain in his LA Times article. From summer barbecues in McCain's Arizona cabin to talks of his honeymoons, Reston explains that McCain had "created a sense of intimacy with the reporters who traveled with him." Months later, the love was gone. McCain stopped answering his phone calls and threw away all those fond memories that they shared.

He would only be ignored by McCain: "The man who once asked me about my wedding date returned my gaze with a stare, shook the hand of the strangers to the right and left of me and continued out the door."

Reston seems almost heart-broken as he explains that McCain had a rare openness in the beginning of the trail but, "now, as the campaign plunges into its final days, that intimacy -- real or imagined -- is gone."

Clearly, these journalists have been stepping on a fine line on the rules of neutrality and professionalism in the
ethics of journalism (see A2.24 - Keeping Our Detachment, Favoritism) by developing personal relationships and favoritism towards candidates. But are these measures necessary for an investigative reporter to dig deeper? Or have journalists simply forgotten their true objectives of ACTUAL reporting as they are cleverly seduced by candidates? A smack to the head for journalists everywhere who are reading these sorry accounts.


M. Dery said...

Fascinating stuff. You unearthed some excellent, light-fuse-and-run tell-alls. Would have been great to hear you set these in the context of classic accounts of covering campaigns such as THE BOYS ON THE BUS, Hunter Thompson's writings about Nixon in '72, TRAVELS WITH GEORGE (a documentary, actually), and THE SELLING OF THE PRESIDENT. Historical context adds depth. But have the reporters in question really been overstepping the "fine line" between "neutrality and professionalism" and partisan bias? Aren't they arguing that objectivity is a fiction? That campaigns try to spin the media, and reporters try to play gotcha with candidates in unguarded moments? And that seeing the candidate's mask slip enough times, revealing his or her true self, inescapably prejudices a journalist?

Anonymous said...

You know, i definitely mentioned Boys on the Bus before i edited it out for some reason.

i feel like i'm rediscovering the definition of the ''fine line'' because i do agree that campaign parties like to point fingers at the press for being biased. it's what theyre good at. and it's what i want to focus on in depth for my second assignment.