British politician Enoch Powell once said: “For a politician to complain about the press is like a ship’s captain complaining about the sea.”
Think about that for a minute. Politicians should know that media scrutiny comes with the territory, yet they sign up anyway. Then complain.
The media’s not perfect and has its share of problems, namely a dwindling amount of resources in a rapidly changing landscape. I’ll be the first to admit it.
But reports from legitimate media outlets are correct far, far more often than they are wrong, even though many politicians would like you to believe otherwise.
Which is why everyone should be tired of — and highly skeptical — when politicians and others immediately attack the media when something is published that doesn’t paint them in a positive light.
Take this year’s scandal involving the State Employees Association of North Carolina, for example. When The News & Observer of Raleigh first reported alleged misappropriation of funds by then-SEANC Executive Director Dana Cope, the group’s president, Wayne Fish, quickly released a letter that backed Cope and criticized the story.
“This story, which alleges that our Executive Director Dana Cope misspent funds is, quite simply, not true,” Fish wrote. It didn’t take long for that to unravel. Within a couple of days, Cope resigned, and he now faces two felony charges that he misappropriated $570,000 from SEANC and used them for personal expenses. The charges could land Cope in prison for many years.
Another example was former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque, a Lenoir County Republican, who made no secret his disdain for the liberal advocacy group, N.C. Policy Watch, whose reporter uncovered some of the crimes that led him to plead guilty to the theft of $150,000 from a federally funded rural development program he operated. He’s now in federal prison.
And most recently, Gov. Pat McCrory and the N.C. Republican Party bashed the media — specifically The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer — for articles highlighting the fact that the governor called a meeting between state prison officials and a McCrory friend and donor who was about to lose lucrative state contracts for prison maintenance.
The contractor ended up keeping the contracts, despite opposition from McCrory’s top prison officials, raising “pay-to-play” and other questions. McCrory has denied any wrongdoing.
By the way, Joseph Neff, the same N&O reporter who broke the SEANC story mentioned above, also did most of the work on the prison contracts story.
Our role in the media is to look critically at the decisions our politicians make with our money, how well government provides services with our money and whether politicians follow laws enacted to ensure government operates fairly and without corruption.
When Republicans are in control of state government, as they are today, it might look like the media is picking on them. But tell that to all of the Democrats convicted and sentenced to prison when they were in charge. I’ll bet they weren’t too fond of the same publications Republicans are criticizing today.
Maybe the politicians who attack the media would rather we not exist. Maybe they’d be happier if Cope still led SEANC and LaRoque still held a powerful position in the state House.
But that would mean reporters weren’t doing their jobs.
And that would be far worse for everyone.
Patrick Gannon writes about North Carolina government and politics for the Capitol Press Association.