Now that I have been writing newspaper columns for three months, I must be entitled to use unnamed sources as substantiation. It is also high time that I did an expose, so . . . Item : Yesterday, I overheard a well-informed, highly placed television newsman tell a college student that television was incapable of covering the issues in a presidential campaign. "There isn't enough time to get into the issues on television," this source said. "If you want to know what the issues are, read The New York Times."
Item: In casual conversation with a well-known print journalist recently, I discovered that this person had a bias against born-again Christians, and he confessed to me that his coverage of Mr. Carter's presidency had been deeply affected by this bias.
Item: About two weeks ago a reporter friend of mine admitted to me that, while he was a registered Independent for appearances sake, he always voted Democratic and could not bring himself to even consider voting for Ronald Reagan.
Item An editor at a well-known national news magazine has admitted to me on numerous occasions that he thinks President Carter is anti-Semitic and, therefore, he doubts that whatever agreement Carter might conclude in the Middle East would be in the best interest of Israel.
Item A White House correspondent told me that his newspaper won't print any White House releases since it feels that anything the White House puts out these days is self-servicing and done for political purpose.
Well, I could go on and on. Having been involved in politics for 16 years, I know most of the members of the political press, and I have enough on every one of them to discredit any claim of objectivity. Why, it is shocking: they even have opinions .
Now let me tell you what they really think. The press believes that Jimmy Carter is some kind of worm who would do or say almost anything to get reelected. The press thinks that Ronald Reagan is witless, too conservative and incapable of dealing with the complex issues. Of course, no member of the press has ever volunteered this information because there is dreadful fear that if the people knew that members of the press had opinions , they would doubt the objectivity of what was reported and the press would lose its influence.
So it is that, instead of saying that Carter had no basis for calling Reagan a racist, Carter is described as "nervous" and "irritated" while being questioned about whether he meant to call Reagan a racist. Isn't that sly? The reader or television viewer is allowed to draw the conclusion that Carter is a worm, and the press avoids any responsibility.
Now that I am a fair-minded journalist, I must confess that politics has its little hypocrisies, too. Men running for office don't always do things entirely for the reason they say they do; often there is a political reason for their actions that is never discussed in public. Isn't it awful ? Of course, in politics, we can count on the press to give our decision-making a little balance, but who calls foul on the press when it plays its little tricks on the rest of us?
It is not my purpose to dwell on the inadequacies of the press. Covering a political campaign is a difficult task, and reporters I have known actually should be complimented for their fairness. But as one who does not wish the press to lose its credibility with the people, I would strongly suggest that the practice of using innuendo to create impressions about the candidates be stopped and that the real opinions the individual reporters have on these men be stated directly. Distrust of the press has been growing in our society because people often feel the press is withholding its opinions. Whenever the people think journalists are not coming clear, they worry that the system is being manipulated.
Journalists must trust their readers. The people aren't stupid; they have always assumed that reporters have opinions just like anyone else. In fact, the people would be very interested in knowing what these opinions are, since they have few objective sources available to them for purposes of deciding how to vote.
There are only four and one-half weeks left until the people must choose a president. The fact that many people are displeased with the choices does not relieve the people of their burden to make a choice. The press must assist in this process, and if it could spend a little less time discussing who might be winning and a little more time faithfully reporting the differences between the candidates, a great service could be performed for millions of Americans who must now make the decision as to who will receive the power.
In one dimension, a presidential campaign is a continuing negotiation in which the two candidates ask for power and the people decide on what terms they will extend it. The press views itself as the protector of the public interest, but it cannot and does not decide anything. It is only one perspective that the voters take into account, along with their own beliefs, frustration and native common sense.
We have read and heard a lot about what dire shape our country is in. To me, there is an equally compelling perspective that says that the worst is over and we are heading into a better time. You can feel the spirit starting to revive when you travel out in the country, as I have done in the last two weeks. This country will survive and prosper -- regardless of who is president and regardless of what mistakes he makes -- if it can but see its opportunities.
In about two years, I expect to read in the newspaper and see discussed on television the dramatic discovery that Americans are regaining their confidence. You see, the press, this awsome, sophisticated institution, which is so sure of its own power that it is afraid to forthrightly state its opinions, is usually at leat a couple of years behind the people.