| Caveat Emptor
When it comes to news about candidates, few people really know what they are getting
By Ellen Snortland
American news consumers are double-crossed by the mainstream press all the time. The Latin phrase, "caveat emptor," or "buyer beware," is particularly apt for news consumption. As news consumers, how do you know what's missing if it's missing? I've seen press bias about Hillary Clinton (and other powerful women) my entire professional life. How do you impact a biased media without access to the media? Double standards and double binds abound!
Here's a recent, relatively small yet highly emblematic example: I was eager to attend the Feb. 2 Hillary Clinton rally at Cal State LA. I arrived around 7:30 a.m. for a 9 a.m. start time. I had forgotten to apply for a press pass, so I was prepared to stand in line. At the entrance to the main gym, I was thrilled to see that people of every color, age, size and yes, both genders, were waiting. "Wow," I thought, "Is it possible there won't be room in the auditorium?"
Looking for the end of the line, I kept walking. I grew more choked up as I walked. People were engaged in the democratic process. They were on fire, inspired and eager to support Sen. Clinton. This is exactly like the crowds the media covers showing up for Sen. Barack Obama. They cared enough to take a precious Saturday morning to participate in the selection of the next president of the United States. I saw remote news vans. OK, finally, the Clinton camp will get some decent coverage. How is it possible that I can still be so naive after all these years of being a part of the media, albeit the alternative media?
Finally, I arrived at the end of the line. I realized I was not going to get into the gym. Fortunately, I let a friend of mine, MJ - who had a sprained ankle and was using a cane - stand with me in line so she wouldn't have to hike even further. An hour later, a campaign volunteer pulled people out of the line who needed handicapped access. I got to accompany MJ and made it into the rally.
The place was packed to the rafters and smelled of the sports gyms of my youth: that unmistakable mix of maple flooring and packed bodies. They had to set up an overflow area outside for the thousands of people who could not get in. I stood shoulder to shoulder with a crowd that actually looked like the population of America. The press bleachers were packed. "There's no way the press is going to be able to ignore the inspirational impact that Hillary has on people," I thought.
Her speech was exhilarating, as were those of her endorsers: US Rep. Maxine Waters, Sally Field, Magic Johnson, Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers . the list is too long for this column. Our cheers were deafening. The rafters literally shook. The chants: "Hillary, Hillary, Hillary" or "Si, se puede!" (An AP reporter, David Espo, reported recently that "Si, se puede" is a translation of Obama's "Yes, we can," when almost any progressive from California knows the United Farm Workers and other labor activists have been chanting "Si, se puede" for decades.)
I left refueled. I tuned into news with great expectations. Alas, the Hillary event was reported in the most tedious manner possible, if at all. No mention of the packed crowd, no "sound bites" from her stellar line-up of endorsers, no sounds of the rapturous, gigantic crowd. No mention of the overflow. Meanwhile, the Obama rally on the same day was reported with words like "raucous," and "packed," with the ambient sound of the chanting crowd of passionate Obama supporters. How do you know what's missing if it's missing? If I hadn't been there to witness it myself, from the news reports I would have concluded the Clinton event was virtually empty.
Later, a so-called liberal talk show host "spun" the event at Cal State LA to be Latino vs. African American. Excuse me? Why the intentional creation of conflict? There were plenty of African Americans - again, men and women - in that gym. Excuse me? Who is spinning what? When people support Clinton, it does not mean they are anti-Obama or anti-African American.
When I covered the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, I witnessed the impact Clinton had on gigantic crowds. She had them on fire. What did US readers get? More column inches on OJ Simpson and prosecutor Marcia Clark's hair. I have heard a news producer's directions to "Get a picture of that ugly woman," to represent a crowd full of all sorts of people when he was covering a feminist demonstration. You get the idea.
Do you think I could get this Cal State LA story published in the mainstream press? The irony is that if I suddenly became one of those "anti-feminist" female columnists, I'd bet you I'd be syndicated in no time.
Buyer beware, you're being sold on some ideas that are ultimately double-crossing all of us.
Pasadena Weekly: 2/28/08