By Kevin Gottlieb
A panel of political journalists gathered Tuesday night at Loyola University Chicago to discuss the media’s role in the 2012 Presidential Campaign.
Phil Ponce, host of WTTW-TV’s “Chicago Tonight” and a professor of journalism at Loyola, moderated “Bridging the Great Divide: Partisan Politics, the Press and the Modern Presidential Campaign,” this year’s installment of his annual forum.
Kasbeer Hall at Loyola’s Water Tower Campus was filled with 150 people for the forum.
Other panel members included Tom Bevan, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics; Daniel Libit, Political Reporter for The Daily; Kristen McQueary, Editorial Board Member of the Chicago Tribune; Salim Muwakkil, Senior Editor of “In These Times,” and radio host on WVON-1690-AM; and Jim Warren, Editor-at-Large of Newsweek and The Daily Beast.
The forum covered topics such as media objectivity, skepticism, and racism in the current Presidential Race.
Warren said that objective news outlets are much more important in reality than opinionated sources.
“General broadcasts like CBS dwarf the tiny audiences of MSNBC and Fox News,” he said.
McQueary defended the relevance of newspapers nationwide in spite of their significant decline in subscriptions.
“We’re not just a paper product anymore. We have a website that gets millions of hits per week,” she said “You still want to open your paper the next day, after the talking heads have spun you in circles, to find just the facts.”
Muwakkil, a member of the opinionated progressive media, disagreed and offered a more skeptic view of the relevancy of opinionated news outlets.
“The ‘right down the middle’ media is not right down the middle,” he said. “Most of the journalism has a bias, and that bias is corporate… We question the very concept of objective news.”
Warren lamented that the media’s fact checking was unimportant to political campaigns.
“They don’t care,” he said. “They don’t think it resonates with the voters. The basically say ‘fine, do all your fact checking of the speeches.’ They really don’t think it’s going to matter… We’re in a society where facts really don’t matter.”
Libit continued with Warren’s point, that the truth is seemingly unimportant, and that the checked facts that do receive major attention are trivial, such as an anecdote from Paul Ryan that contained an inaccurate statistic.
“The last couple of weeks, the one fact that seems to have resonated more than any of the other ones, was Paul Ryan’s marathon time, which he said was under three hours, when actually it was under four.”
Ponce said after the event that one topic in particular engaged the audience.
“It really picked up steam when we covered how the media covers race.”
Race became the central issue when Muwakkil suggested that American Conservatives, specifically the TEA Party have roots in racism.
“Much of the TEA Party energy, though they deny it, is really an unconscious xenophobia,” he said. “We’ve become accustomed to a White Supremacist bias.”
Bevan disagreed, recalling a contradictory piece of history, the actual origin of the TEA Party movement.
“The idea that the TEA Party is racist is a myth. It started in 2007 in Indianapolis in opposition to George Bush.”
McQueary defended the TEA Party’s stance, saying their beliefs are based in fiscal responsibility, not racism.
“They’re really just going after spending,” she said. “I don’t believe it has racist origins… They also oppose corporate bailouts for big ‘White’ companies.”
The forum closed with question and answer session that elicited a piece of advice from Warren, who reiterated his earlier point about the importance of fact checking.
“If your mother tells you that she loves you, check her out!” he said.
Lauren Govednik, 21, a senior advertising/public relations major, lauded the panel’s neutrality towards Romney and Obama.
“I enjoyed it. I really appreciated that for the most part [the panel] remained unbiased and sides weren’t taken,” she said after the event. “They had very interesting comments that put a lot into perspective.”