Arrogant media elites mock Middle America

| Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, 8:37 p.m.

The media's elitists just keep getting you wrong, America.

And this has nothing to do with whether something is or isn't a “gotcha” question, because that is always the easy excuse for any candidate who is unhappy with a news story.

The root of the problem is how Washington and New York media view Americans and their values beyond the powerful, wealthy and intellectually elite world; it is a much deeper, disturbing and, yes, dangerous problem than the silly questions.

Last week the DC-New York media responded in epic fashion to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's comment that he didn't think President Obama “loves” America. They nearly tripped over themselves to ask every potential GOP presidential contender if he agreed with Giuliani; their braying eventually led to mocking Christians.

In an interview with the Trib, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said that while Giuliani could have better framed his point, it was accurate. Then Jindal offered a critical observation: When we face truly grave concerns, from economic disconnection to radicalized Islam, why did this supposed issue rise above those others for so long and with such velocity?

Jindal nailed it.

Reporters will always ask questions that place candidates in a pinch; that's their job, Jindal said. But this time, they took that responsibility to a different level.

When reporters manipulate answers in order to drive clicks to their websites, or try over and over to “drive” news with non-news, it's a dangerous game.

For the elites, the Rudy incident was a Big Story.

But most Americans knew nothing about it, or wondered why it mattered.

In Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio bars, diners and bakeries and on the streets, the Americans I interviewed — men, women, whites, blacks, old, young — repeatedly said Giuliani wasn't running for office, so why should we care what he said.

Many of them blamed my profession for not asking real questions, such as what are we doing about national threats like ISIS, have the Veterans Affairs problems been fixed, or is that top-heavy economy rolling their way anytime soon.

A lot of them believe the New York-Washington press corps fundamentally misunderstands where Middle America voters stand on such issues.

Most of them marveled at how those journalists became obsessed with Giuliani's words at a time when the president is asking for congressional authorization of his use of military force that doesn't involve much military force — and were amazed that this was not the week's real scandal.

But the need to drive the news got worse: First, a Washington Post reporter asked Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker if he thought Obama was a Christian; Walker replied that he didn't know because he'd never asked the president about his religious beliefs.

Walker's answer led to the braying-of-the-jackasses on social media, followed by widespread mocking of the Wisconsin Republican's recurring comment that he talks with God. (Repeated tweets noted that he was recently asked under public records laws to provide “a copy/transcript of all communications with God, the Lord, Christ, Jesus or any other form of deity.”)

On any given Sunday, outside the Washington-New York bubble, people go to church, pray, eat breakfast with their families — and make God an integral part of their lives. They don't understand the press mocking that tradition.

And I am not just talking about conservatives here. Millions of religious Democrats are out there, values-voters who have not shown up for presidential elections in recent years, all because of the same kind of disconnect.

A reporter's job is to report the news, not to drive it or to create it. A reporter's audience is not just an echo chamber, not just D.C. friends, rivals, partisans and followers on social media. (Remember: Only 8 percent of Americans get their news through Twitter.)

As consumers of news, most Americans want an honest look at the potential presidential candidates and where they stand on serious issues.

Reporters mock those news-consumers when they mock candidates who aren't like the reporters themselves — but who are very much like normal Americans.

It is unforgivably arrogant for anyone in the media to think that the rest of the country thinks like they do.

Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (szito@tribweb.com).

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