by Matthew Rosenfield | Television flubs coverage of the inauguration.
Mere hours after the biggest moment in Barack Obama’s life, nearly everyone had heard newscasters, political analysts, friends and parents analyze the new president’s inauguration. Within days, many people had offered their own brand of thoughtful analysis, nary forgetting to scoff at Chief Justice John Roberts. The speech was well-delivered, broad, multifaceted, assuring, and tempered. The monumental ceremony, costing about $150 million, satisfied the nation, the world, and indeed the attendees, who numbered upwards of one million people. Ever since, President Barack Obama has been healthily active in the White House, with the public’s beady eyes awaiting his next act.
If the inauguration is any indication of the coming months, the media certainly will keep the public cheery. During the inauguration, television commentators were not extraordinarily biased, as they largely stuck strictly to remarking on the events that were happening at the immediate present. When the action paused, though, especially before the initial speaker stepped to the podium for the first time, each of the national television stations broadcasting the event had their anchors and guests comment on past presidencies. Of course, such is absolutely expected, and fair, no less. It is perfectly logical that George Bush’s presidency receive the most critique, as he was the one leaving office; everything Bush left untidy is now President Obama’s job to handle.
However, with the way that the anchors spoke of the presidency over the last few decades in general, the channels’ viewership would have hardly a hint that Clinton or Carter ever failed in any respect. When one anchor reminded his audience that presidents often have trouble fulfilling inauguration day promises, a second anchor harked to Reagan or the Bushes. When one anchor spoke of the problems Obama will face, a second commented on how President Bush failed to quash those issues in his terms. Depending on a viewer’s news station of choice, one was subjected to several instances of political slant—some more subliminal and accidental than others.
One should question if there is ever cause for professional journalists, some of the most respected household names in America, to abandon their professionalism, and, if so, whether Obama’s inauguration was such a situation. Forgivable instances of impulsive emotion may be broadcasts of September 11 or Kennedy’s assassination, but not any president’s premiere inauguration; at least, that used to be the case. Embodying real change, Obama truly has become a phenomenon, perhaps unrivaled by any political figure in history. No one can reasonably require that the American people treat all president-elects fairly in the hours leading up to their inaugurations, but news anchors must, if for no reason other than trying to pose as respectable sources of news. In order to allow for freedom of thought in the people who are prone to having their outlook swayed by statements from respected persons, like the renowned newscasters assigned to cover the inauguration, those revered persons should refrain as much as humanly possible from having a biased outlook when speaking through a medium that is not meant to directly persuade. Such is the inherent responsibility of a mainstream news commentator.
The biggest single case of unwarranted tendencies on the part of the media during Obama’s inauguration was on whom the cameras focused, and every broadcast was guilty of it. The only white persons to be found on camera were those of prominence, like George Bush, Bill Clinton, and the various Caucasian speakers. Hardly one white onlooker from the crowd was shown, on any of the channels. By doing this, the media made the event about race, and it is not the network’s place to do so. Obama can raise the point if he wants, and he did, briefly. That was more than fair. After the fact, the network certainly may and should react by choosing their camera angles appropriately, or by bringing an analyst on air for the purpose of critiquing Obama’s most recent move, and so on. But the media, in a subliminal fashion, fabricated the issue on their own. If Obama is the person he was when he claimed that he was “not a black person running for president” but “a person running for president who happens to be black,” then he most likely would not want that sort of coverage. He told the National Association of Black Journalists that he should not need to be “black enough.” He had never once during his presidential campaign catered to blacks. Obama referenced race almost exclusively for the purpose of denouncing his opponents for presumably making a point of his being black. Surely white people were leaping with joy for Obama too during his inauguration, but one would never know based on the people selected to be shown on national television.
For most people, the television is the chief source of one’s midday intake of news. If news stations’ anchors lose their impartiality, the people lose theirs much more quickly than they would otherwise. Undeniably, a disdain for George Bush pervaded televisions at the height of his unpopularity. And before the next president could even sit in the White House, the media had already succumbed to the mania. Moreover, the media misrepresents the next president, creating a new Martin Luther King, Jr. that Obama has little intention of being. Obama’s success in his campaign is of course a great step towards wholly equal status among different races. The media, though, should not be putting out lies about either the current president or history.
Mr. Rosenfield is a sophomore majoring in Engineering Physics.