Local media at the National Conventions: When the Fourth Estate failed Vermonters
confetti has finally settled. Undoubtedly, the two-week long media
onslaught, covering the tumultuous Republican and Democratic National
Conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia respectively, glutted our
appetite for political news.
Indeed, the two meetings were marked
with so much discord, scandal, and melodrama that Ramesh Ponnoru,
writing for the New York Times, described
them as “four conventions.” The peculiar disunity in both major
parties reflects a larger, disconcerting trend toward conflict across
ethno-racial, religious, economic, and gender lines in our society.
It should give us pause for reflecting on the media’s role in an
era of deep partisan antipathy.
critical role played by the press in the political arena has been
long understood. Over two centuries ago, the British statesman Edmund
Burke recognized the press as the “fourth power or estate” in
society (in addition to the three seats of influence in the
Parliament: the Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal in the House of
Lords, and the House of Commons).
Though objectivity served as the
defining characteristic of serious journalism in the 20th
century, it has lost its primacy in recent years. Today, many
their profession as a form of sociopolitical activism.
above was certainly true in Vermont, when the local media
establishment made no pretense of neutrality in its approach to the
two national conventions. The lopsided coverage evidenced a distinct
bias toward the political left.
With the exception of the Vermont
Public Radio and Fox 44/ABC 22, none of the major media outlets sent
reporters to the Republican Convention. In sharp contrast, all the
prominent political journalists – including Jasper Craven
(VTDigger), Neal Goswami (Vermont Press Bureau), Paul Heintz (Seven
Days), Stewart Ledbetter (WPTZ), and Kyle Midura (WCAX) and a team
from the Burlington Free Press – attended the DNC.
It should also
be noted that VPR’s chief political reporter Peter Hirschfield
attended the DNC, whereas another staff member covered the events in
Cleveland. Isn’t it unethical for influential news sources in
Vermont to brazenly neglect one of the two major political parties
the Vermont Press Bureau, WPTZ, and VTDigger ignored requests for
comment, Peter Martin of WCAX graciously obliged. Martin responded,
“We did not send a crew to the RNC. Our focus during the
presidential primary process was on Bernie Sanders.”
rise of Sanders has shone the spotlight on Vermont – a state that
seldom enjoys attention at the national stage – and thus the desire
to emphasize Sanders’ presidential campaign is understandable.
Nonetheless, the above statement appears to be an excuse because
reporting on the Sanders campaign does not preclude following notable
events on the other side of the political aisle.
following are but a few reasons why the Vermont media should have
taken note of the RNC. First, the Republican presidential nominee,
Donald Trump, won the Vermont Primary. Second, Gov. John Kasich of
Ohio (where the convention took place) came a close second in the
Vermont primary vote.
Incidentally, Kasich stirred up controversy by
refusing to attend the RNC. Third, Vermont Republican delegates
included two members on the rules committee, which played an
influential role in light of the rift between Trump supporters and
the “Never Trump” faction of the GOP. The Vermont delegation also
comprised National Committeewoman Susie Hudson who was elected as the
Secretary of the Republican National Committee last year, and 17-year-old Jace Laquerre
of Colchester who was the youngest delegate to the RNC in 2016.
The argument that the Vermont
press wanted to pay close attention to Sanders is further weakened by
the overtly biased nature of the local reporting leading up to and at
the Democratic Convention. By fawning
over the Sanders as a pop culture icon and consistently failing
to criticize his policies,
the Vermont media did not meaningfully add to the comprehensive
Moreover, as members of the Vermont press
live-tweeted various speeches,
performances, and other high
jinks at the DNC, they made it abundantly clear that the stories
from Philadelphia would not center on Sanders alone. Therefore, by
abandoning fairness in determining what qualifies as newsworthy, the
media establishment abused its function as a gatekeeper of
media’s troubling decision to favor the Democrat National
Convention over its Republican counterpart should give all Vermonters
(irrespective of political affiliation) who value equity and
egalitarianism cause for concern. Further, it raises pressing
questions regarding the ways in which journalistic bias influences
the reporting of local issues in Vermont.
Consequently, the onus now
falls on us – the readers and viewers – to boldly question the
misinformation and spin, demand accountability, and settle for no
less than dispassionate coverage from our local media outlets. Will
we rise up to the challenge?
Hansen is a cultural critic based in Windsor, Vermont. The Vermont House
Republican Caucus consults with her communications firm, Pierson A.
Harleth & Co.