Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Journalism of Personal Destruction

We've heard from commentators and journalists for many years about the acrimony of Washington politics and the politics of "personal destruction".

For years they've told us how destructive these negative comments can be, and how politicians need to be more focused on finding solutions to fix the problems that Americans face instead of spending so much time criticizing others.

I found it interesting then to read today's New York Times and the views of their commentators regarding Sen. John McCain and his choice for Vice President, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

Here's how the candidates were referred to today in the Sunday New York Times Opinion page:

- Thomas Freidman said that Sen. McCain was "ready to sell every piece of his soul to win the presidency" and that Gov. Palin knew as much about reform as "the first 100 names in the D.C. phonebook."

- Frank Rich called it a "snide remark" that Gov. Palin praised Americans from small towns. He wrote that she "lies with ease about her record" and is the candidate that embodies a "fear of change".

- Maureen Dowd described Sen. McCain as "trigger-happy" and Gov. Palin as "our new Napoleon in bunny boots".

It is amazing to me that these and other commentators bemoan the "politics of personal destruction" yet willingly engage in it when candidates are selected that they disagree with.

Their cries for Gov. Palin to stay at home are reminiscent of Mrs. Timorous, in John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress", who attempts to dissuade Christiana (the main character in the second book) from starting her difficult pilgrimage. Mrs. Timorous tells her: "Oh, the madness that hath possessed thee and thy husband, to run yourselves upon such difficulties!"

Not embracing her criticism, Christiana replied: "Tempt me not...since you came not to my house in God's name, as I said, I pray you be gone, and not to disquiet me further."

Common in all of today's New York Times editorials was a grave concern over Gov. Palin's lack of experience to serve as Vice President. I doubt, however, that these commentators disgorged similar language in 1992 when another Governor from a small state, with no foreign policy experience, named Bill Clinton, was nominated as his party's candidate for President.

The New York Times should have higher standards than the disrespectful and muck-raking language of today's opinion page.

It's evident from the editorials today that it's not just politicians who engage in the politics of personal destruction.

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