Kurtz: Journalists Shouldn’t Declare Democrat Race Over

Earlier today, Howard Kurtz held his weekly chat where he covered such topics as Tim Russert’s “declaration” that the Democrat nomination has been decided, the negative coverage of Hillary Clinton and the aftermath of the cyclone in Burma/Myanmar. Some excerpts:

    Baltimore: Howard, what did you think of what my friends and I call the “Russert Declaration” last Tuesday? I’m of course speaking of his delphic utterance that “we have a nominee.” In seems as if the media collectively is throwing in the towel and declaring the whole race over. Now, it’s one thing to report that Hillary would have a very tough time winning the nomination, but to declare the race over? Or stating that “we’re not going to West Virginia”? By saying such things that affected the course of events, Russert and others weren’t merely acting as observers, they were acting as participants — which I find troubling.

    Howard Kurtz: Welcome to the world of punditry. Tim Russert is paid to be a political analyst, so if he wants to offer his judgment (as did Bob Schieffer, George Stephanopoulos and numerous others) that there is no way for Hillary Clinton to overtake Barack Obama, I have no quarrel with that. What I do have difficulty with is straight-news journalists rendering the same judgment when the primaries aren’t over and there is at least the possibility that unexpected events could prompt the superdelegates to decide this thing in Hillary’s favor. What some of these organizations have done is not so much declare Obama the nominee but simply move on to long profiles of him, analyses of how he will match up against McCain in the fall, speculation about who he’ll pick as his running mate–all effectively signaling to readers and viewers that the primaries are no longer worth paying attention to.

    Clinton Media Coverage: Why is it unreasonable for Clinton to have more negative coverage? She claims 35 years of experience, which gives a lot of material to cover. I’d like to see some reporting on the previous instances of wives succeeding husbands in high office, both domestic and international, and get some feel for how it usually works out. Clinton has claimed executive experience based on being the spouse of a former president. Has any other world leader gained office with the same claim? How well did he or she lead?

    Howard Kurtz: Of course her claims of “experience” by virtue of being the president’s wife should be tested, and were, in many media accounts. (Her unfortunate tale of Bosnian sniper fire followed a debate over whether her many foreign trips as first lady were substantive or largely ceremonial.) And yes, her long public record gave journalists more targets to shoot at than Obama’s thinner resume. But none of that excuses the media from responsibility to provide a rough balance in the scrutiny of competing candidates.

    Washington: I don’t want to appear uncaring or flippant, but for all the stories about how we (the U.S. or the U.N.) simply should go into Burma (Myanmar) and take care of people’s needs because the government is unresponsive, it’s awfully hard to think how many people believe our government wasn’t responsive. And because it’s a sovereign country, like ours, how would we feel if “foreigners” simply came in and did the job?

    Don’t I remember correctly that we didn’t allow people and foreign ships or aircraft to simply come in after Katrina, and didn’t we simply stockpile supplies donated from around the world under the guise of “the food doesn’t meet USDA or other specifications and therefore can’t be distributed”? And didn’t a lot of donated supplies simply stay at warehouses? I’m not justifying Burma’s or their general’s actions, but like it or not, it’s their country. Would we similarly plan on simply “entering and helping” North Korea despite their repeated famines?

    Howard Kurtz: But the U.S. clearly has the resources to respond to a major catastrophe (whether it does effectively is another question), and just as clearly, Myanmar does not. I don’t think it is too much to say that tens of thousands of people may die of starvation and disease because of the military regime’s refusal to allow much outside aid. Plus, the Burmese rulers have tried to ban journalists — only a couple of western correspondents have gotten in, and reporters for the BBC and CNN were deported — which has meant a dearth of pictures and first-hand accounts of this almost unimaginable tragedy. That is one reason why it seems more remote than, say, the Asian tsunami.

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