SHELLA: Media background doesn’t make politicians media-friendly

January 14, 2017

Mike Pence becomes the sixth vice president of the United States to hail from Indiana. Unlikely as it might seem, four of them, including Pence, came from media backgrounds.

Pence was a radio talk show host who also produced a television show before he was elected to Congress.

Dan Quayle, vice president to George H.W. Bush, grew up in the Pulliam family, Indiana’s best-known newspaper family. He once told a reporter that, if he were not in office, he would be that reporter’s boss.

Charles Fairbanks, vice president to Teddy Roosevelt, owned The Indianapolis News before the Pulliam family did. The Fairbanks family sold the paper so it could go into the radio business.

Schuyler Colfax, vice president to Ulysses S. Grant, founded a newspaper. He also served as editor of the St. Joseph Valley Register.

(Thomas Marshall, vice president to Woodrow Wilson, and Thomas Hendricks, vice president to Grover Cleveland, were attorneys.)

Yet we have learned, at least in the cases of Quayle and Pence, a media background did nothing to deter them from engaging in the media bashing that is now a staple of American politics.

At a 1992 Quayle rally in Indianapolis, the emcee led a chant: “Dan’s the best! Screw the press!” That emcee, Steve Shine, was working part-time as an anchorman at the Fox station in Fort Wayne, by the way.

Pence’s running mate, Donald Trump, frequently called the media “dishonest, so dishonest.” And Pence accused the media of teaming up with the Hillary Clinton campaign. “It’s 2-on-1, with the media doing most of Hillary’s work for her,” he said at rally after rally, challenging the media’s fairness.

There is no need to feel sorry for the media. Reporters and editors signed up for this treatment, and if they don’t have thick skin, they should get some. But we all benefit from true journalism and it should be encouraged.

And that’s why I agreed to deliver this prayer for the media at a Statehouse prayer service on the first day of the 2017 General Assembly:

“Our Father, thank you for a nation with freedoms that include freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Remind us that with freedom comes responsibility. Help those who cover the General Assembly to be not just diligent and curious, but also generous and fair.

“Bless them with patience and the endurance necessary to follow a complicated, and sometimes confusing, process. Help them to bear in mind that they must, on occasion, set aside their own feelings and emotions to remain objective.

“Give them the ability to communicate in ways that are understandable and engaging, even if they are writing the same story over and over again. Encourage lawmakers to understand their role. Bless them with the willingness to treat reporters with dignity and tolerance.

“Help them realize that cynicism and skepticism can be important traits for people who observe a process where motives are sometimes difficult to judge. Help all of us to use social media judiciously. And where there is conflict, help members of the media and lawmakers resolve it when possible and remain respectful when it’s not.

“Finally, help us all to pursue the goal of making Indiana a better place.

“In your holy name, Amen.”

You might notice that I prayed a little for the politicians, too.•

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