Accuracy in Media

Last Saturday started, perhaps, what could become a vendetta between CNN reporter Don Lemon and the presidential campaign of Michele Bachmann. The Iowa Straw Poll didn’t help much in building a cordial relationship between Lemon and Bachmann, and the coming year and a half will likely only bring more intensified political coverage.

The defining incident that set off Lemon against Bachmann apparently occurred when he was covering her speech at the Iowa State Fair. He reported that he was elbowed and shoved into a golf cart by Bachmann aides and her husband, Marcus. Moreover, viewers have noted that in the video clip, Lemon’s comments are audible but the shoving is not visible. According to a CNN article, Lemon said:

“There were other reporters and cameras there. And I asked her very respectful questions: ‘How do you think you did in the debate last night?’ and ‘How do you think you’re going to end up in the Ames Straw Poll?’ And her two campaign aides started elbowing me.  I told them, asked them not to elbow me. And then her husband Marcus started doing the same thing. And then he elbowed me into the cart. And I said, ‘You just pushed me into the cart.’ And he goes, ‘No, you did it yourself.’”

Lemon went on air to report this as national news in the video below. He was obviously personally disturbed by the matter.

The Bachmann Campaign Press Secretary, Alice Stewart, responded to the incident saying, “Our number one priority is the safety and protection of Michele Bachmann. It was just too crowded. We were just trying to get her out in order for her to go to other events at the fair and that’s what we were doing.”

But was this even a newsworthy event? People get shoved, elbowed and tossed in crowds just like the one Lemon was in and while it may be unfortunate, it is hardly unusual. As one can witness in the video, Lemon was barging in with his microphone on a moving Bachmann convoy that obviously was not stopping to take questions, yet this did not stop Lemon from trying to insert himself upon the convoy. One might even take Lemon’s actions as unnecessarily intrusive and that he was possibly even angling for an incident. For those surrounding Bachmann, namely her aides and husband, crowd control became part of the job.

Lemon defends his reporting as newsworthy in his “No Talking Points” segment in which he lambastes Bachmann for sticking to talking points and conversely praises Palin for doing the opposite, saying:

“In Iowa, many of us tried to get direct answers from Michele Bachmann. Instead we got caught up in media scrums where we were pushed and jostled. It happens. But when campaign staffers and family members do the pushing it becomes newsworthy. Why? Anyone familiar with politics tells you it’s an indication of how the campaign could conduct business once the candidate is in office and the voter should be made aware.”

Lemon based his criticism on assumptions and by not taking into account certain realities.

  • The reality was trying to move Bachmann from one location to another, across a very crowded fairground and Lemon chose to step in the way. Her aides and husband who were surrounding her were forced to act like a security detail to keep her moving, as she was clearly not taking any questions at that point.
  • His comment, “That this is how the candidate could conduct business once the candidate is in office” is an unwarranted assumption, based on what is visible on the video of the incident. How can one translate an isolated incident that circumstantially does not seem out of the ordinary into how one would conduct leading a country? The correlation is lacking and appears to be more of a personal feeling of an irritated reporter than a national newsworthy event voters should be wary about.

Lemon’s segment, “No Talking points,” which was aired two days after the event and after Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll, rails on Bachmann for sticking to talking points and not answering questions directly. The people who regularly listen to Bachmann (such as reporters) may get tired of hearing the same thing over and over again, but it should be understood that it is inherent in the process. For countless interviews and media appearances, talking points are a standard operating procedure so that it is possible for a person to do hundreds of interviews.

In the end, the public should decide if they are impressed with Bachmann’s speeches and words by hearing her comments and answers in context, instead of through the words of a political reporter with an agenda and maybe even a grudge.





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