That Which Spurs Media Challenges

Another point that struck me about the Mendonca-Calkin Newsmakers episode from this past weekend had to do with the topics and associations on which journalists challenge politicians.

Hosts Tim White and Ted Nesi wanted Republican Representative-elect Kenneth Mendonca (Middletown, Portsmouth) to elaborate on his thoughts about President-elect Donald Trump and insisted he go on the record with respect to his own belief in climate change. Democrat Senator-elect Jeanine Calkin (Warwick) faced substantially less pressure, contributing to the impression that Democrats’ beliefs and associations are self-evidently positive while Republicans’ are always suspect.

I don’t think this is conscious bias on the part of these two journalists in particular, but their entire industry — in what is taught in the relevant college courses, in what sorts of stories receive industry awards, and (conversely) in what sort of topics or questions produce criticism from other journalists — sets boundaries and terms for the handling of topics generally. Ted went farther than other journalists might have by pressing Calkin about Clinton v. Bernie friction, but an obvious area in which follow-up questions would have been justified was Calkin’s self-identification as a progressive and involvement with the “Stop Hate” movement.

It is relevant what Mendonca thinks about Trump and climate change, but then why isn’t it relevant to ask Calkin whether she thinks moving to the suburbs is “white supremacy“?  Why shouldn’t she be asked whether she agrees with her peers’ threats of “resistance” and the emotional declaration of Democrat Representative-elect Moira Walsh (Providence) that we have “to prove that we can be better than our racist grandparents”?

Indeed, in her front-page article treating Walsh as some sort of “fearless” hero (a term also applied, incongruously, in a recent editorial about John Glenn), Providence Journal reporter Alisha Pina turns to Walsh’s ally Michael Araujo for more adulatory comment. Yet, Araujo’s speech at the same event as the “grandparents” comment was arguably racist and unambiguous in its implicit violence.  (“Comrades, are we going to shut this mother f***** down?”)

Ted, Tim, Alisha… if you read this… what is the standard that makes these matters of no concern to your readers and viewers when you’re interviewing or otherwise reporting on progressive legislators? Those readers and viewers should start asking such questions themselves, and not only in comment sections.

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