Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Peep Show’ authors criticize scandalous reporting

Today’s media are full of hypocrisy and unnecessary reporting, said Mark Stencel, politics editor for washingtonpost.com, and S. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

Stencel and Lichter spoke Monday to an audience of about 60 people as part of Medill’s Crain Lecture Series, held every Monday throughout the quarter.

The speakers, along with Larry J. Sabato, co-wrote the book “Peep Show: Media and Politics in an Age of Scandal.” In the book, the authors criticize the way journalists treat the boundary between public and private affairs.

“The press has been very inconsistent in the coverage of politicians,” Stencel said.

The authors talked about setting guidelines for journalists — guidelines that suggest that reporters need to focus on factual topics, such as personal finance or a candidate’s health. Any information which has become public record, specifically criminal or civil police blotter activity, should always be reported, Lichter said.

Stencel, the only reporter of the three authors, said journalists need to be cautious in their coverage until all the facts are known.

Both speakers warned that journalists need to decide whether a candidate’s actions affect his or her ability to perform in office. Information concerning extramarital affairs or sexual activity needs to be carefully examined. Discrete relationships with private figures and affairs that occurred in the past are most often not newsworthy, they said.

The authors discussed current hot topics such as the alleged drug use by presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore.

“I think that our standard is that if it (occurred) as an adult then it’s reportable,” Stencel said. “The question is, is anyone going to care?”

The two speakers also talked about hypocrisy in the media’s determination of newsworthiness. Lichter mentioned a story about a former Georgia governor’s support for laws against sodomy and extramarital affairs, which became newsworthy after it was discovered that he had an affair with his secretary.

When questioned about the recent coverage of the Lewinsky scandal, both Lichter and Stencel felt that, initially, the press overstepped their bounds.

“In general, this was a scandal that needed to be covered, but the way it was covered poisoned the well for the scandal to be reported,” Lichter said.

He added that the media grabbed at false reports and misinformation. The public quickly became tired of reading contradicting stories and retractions, and soon became disinterested in the story, he said.

Lichter said he wants new journalists to think of the context in which they write.

Both speakers warned that journalists need to find a consistent standard in determining what is newsworthy and what is not.

“You need to ask what the public needs to know and (decide) how you can tell them most efficiently and effectively,” Lichter said.

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Peep Show’ authors criticize scandalous reporting