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Distinguished Professor suggests four ways to make political coverage better during lecture

Oct 26, 2016

Posted in: News

Bob Levey, the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture’s distinguished Virginius Dabney professor and longtime reporter and columnist at The Washington Post, said two things last week to begin his special lecture on press and the 2016 Presidential race: There has never before been an election quite like this one before in our nation’s history; and second, the issues surrounding journalism—in its victories and failures—during this campaign will be studied and argued about for a very long time.

Using this as a launching point for his talk, Levey went on to discuss how this election cycle has caused an endless amount of turbulence, in both the media and the overall political climate in the country. The focus in coverage, largely during the televised debates, has failed to discuss pertinent issues and has instead focused on the candidates’ personalities, fashion, mannerisms and past indiscretions, he said.

“What we have here, I think, is the ultimate revenge of television,” Levey said. “We have politics that are impossible to discuss without entertainment value. We have been shown by both Trump and Clinton that if you are not good on television, you are not good. Entertainment values have become part of politics.”

This type of personality-first coverage has led to “trivialized” discourse in both our political debates and our news coverage, Levey said. This is not to say that good journalism has not been produced throughout the campaign, Levey said, but in large part a good majority of the press has not helped produce journalism that furthered the discourse in an informative and positive manner.

“Journalism has been in trouble before,” Levey said. This is nothing new and neither is journalism that is imperfect. Journalism has never been perfect. Journalism is the first rough draft of history. And to be done right, it must always be well-intended."

Nearing the end of the lecture, Levey suggested four potential ways to make media coverage more in-depth and meaningful in the future. He suggested the following:

  • Polls: The media are leaning on national polls as a crutch, when our electoral system is a state-by-state system.  
  • Debates: First, one microphone should be allowed to be “live” as that candidate is talking. Second, that microphone should shut off automatically after the two-minute response is up. Third, there must be more than one person asking questions to the candidates. It must be a “real press conference format” and not a “mock debate format.”
  • Comments on news stories: Comments on news stories do little to contribute to public discourse. If anything they “coarsen” discourse. All comments on news stories should be terminated.
  • The wall between news and editorial: Journalism organizations should put into print a disclaimer that states there is no collaboration between these two entities in the newsroom. The opinion side speaks for the publisher; the news side speaks to, and for, the reader, objectively. It is important for readers to understand this wall is crucial to big journalism but they do a terrible job of telling this to their audiences.