NBC News President Steve Capus at an awards ceremony Monday issued a call to journalists and politicians. Adjust your behavior, he pleaded, in essence:
While we’re hard at work telling the story of the election, I’d like to take a minute — and I think you’ll enjoy this part — to urge the candidates and campaigns to do a better job of telling their own story. In this election cycle, we have seen the campaigns take advantage of and misrepresent journalists in their advertisements, pulling short soundbites and in some cases, taking that reporting out of context for the sake of driving a different message. NBC News has dealt with this issue with both candidates, and this has to stop.
It’s not fair for our journalists and producers and it’s not fair to our citizens and it’s just lazy. I know that campaigns want to be associated with Tom Brokaw and Andrea Mitchell and Brian Williams in their commercials. But let’s be honest. That’s good company, but those folks are journalists and they do not endorse this message. Tonight, while I’m among all of my colleagues and acquaintances, I’d encourage all of you to join us in this effort to ask the campaigns to stop — respectfully — ask them to stop using news material in their advertising. (Transcript pulled directly from Poynter.org’s great post on this matter.)
When it comes to “misrepresenting” things, Capus should know that the campaigns aren’t alone in that pursuit. Just how did NBC News “represent” the George Zimmerman tape, after all? Mediaite’s Noah Rothman cycles through some other, more recent alleged misrepresentations.
Moving beyond the hypocrisy, consider the journalistic implications of what Capus is requesting. To repeat: “Tonight, while I’m among all of my colleagues and acquaintances, I’d encourage all of you to join us in this effort to ask the campaigns to stop — respectfully — ask them to stop using news material in their advertising.”
Journalists are now supposed to lobby political campaigns on how they’re fashioning their advertisements? Please exclude me from that delegation. The job of journalists is to cover campaigns, not to gripe about the material that those campaigns put before the public.
Capus appears to be forgetting that he and his network brethren put their material into an open marketplace. So long as political campaigns or other entities reuse that work within the four corners of fair-use protections, they should feast on it — all you can eat! The broadcast clips borrowed by political campaigns are so widely disseminated that it’s easy for the public to determine whether the campaigns are twisting or misrepresenting them for their own purposes. And it’s easy for the networks to fact-check campaigns’ broadcast news excerpts. If they’re being used unfairly, then say so, networks. Over and over again.
But please ignore Capus’s appeal.