Members of the Fourth Estate:
It’s one thing to have ignored the fact that Representative Rehberg called Pell Grants welfare—one could argue that was a simple gaffe, though it wasn’t. It’s understandable that the media would let Rehberg claim he supported efforts to reduce elder abuse even though he voted against it, because sometimes you have to cut corners—and that might have been a relatively minor story in the scheme of things. To be fair, it’s even understandable that you occasionally miss stories, given cutbacks in the media and increasing pressure to produce in multiple forms of media.
I understand that pressure, even if it frustrates me. [pullquote]If we want better elections and more substantive discussions about policy in this country, it’s not better candidates we need; it’s a better press, simply doing its job to provide unbiased information so voters can make informed, rather than superficial choices, based on the records of the candidates, not 30 second commercials message-tested in Washington, D.C[/pullquote]
The latest incredible Rehberg tale, however, can neither be dismissed as a gaffe nor simply inside politics about a relatively small issue. The Montana media has chosen to ignore the fact that Representative Rehberg not only pushed through, but wrote, an amendment that the Food and Drug Administration, American Cancer Society, American Association of Pediatrics and American Heart Association all say will reduce public health and even jeopardize lives.
This amendment is a profoundly important policy question, one that not only reveals Representative Rehberg’s priorities, but which demonstrates the kind of Senator Montanans will have representing them if he is elected in 2012—and the kind of Representative doing it now.
The media and others are wont to decry the increasing superficiality and personality-based politics of modern campaigns, but only the media really has the power to stop it—by spending the appropriate amount of time covering policy issues. The average Montanan simply doesn’t have time to read insider D.C. publications or to follow the voting records of their members of Congress; she relies on the media to provide information about important votes. This is one such issue, and the failure of the Montana media to even acknowledge it, despite extensive national coverage, is a shameful abrogation of their responsibility to inform the electorate.
Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black said it most directly, when he wrote, “The Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to bare the secrets of government and inform the people.” No one is asking the relatively small newsrooms of Montana to launch full-scale, Woodward and Bernstein style investigations, but is it too much to ask them to report on a publically available vote by our sole member of Congress? When that vote could actually risk our health?
If we want better elections and more substantive discussions about policy in this country, it’s not better candidates we need; it’s a better press, simply doing its job to provide unbiased information so voters can make informed, rather than superficial choices, based on the records of the candidates, not 30 second commercials message-tested in Washington, D.C.
It’s up to you. If newspapers want to remain relevant and maintain their vital role in a functioning democracy, they’ve got to report about that democracy. Please let us know what our leaders are doing, so people don’t have to turn to blogs and television ads that never tell the truth.
P.S. Who thinks this is an important enough issue to discuss? To name a few:
- The Hill
- The Los Angeles Times
- The Washington Post
- US News and World Report
- Consumer Affairs
- The Sacramento Bee
- The Huffington Post
- The National Resources Defense Council
- OMB Watch