Once again it's time to start thinking about electing a president. True, the election is more than 15 months away, but the campaigns - of more than 20 Democrats and Republicans so far - have already cranked up their spin machines.
It's always important for voters to have accurate information on those who are seeking elective office. Judging from recent developments, though, such information on presidential candidates may be difficult to come by. The over the top coverage of Donald Trump's inane rants about immigrants and denigration of war heroes has shown, sadly, that most of the media is not up to the most basic journalist task - that of reporting important and relevant information.
There's still time for them to get on track, but it will take a huge turnaround. Here are a few tips for political reporters:
1. Stop letting others dictate your coverage. Campaigns will try to steer you to areas favorable to their candidate. Ignore them. You decide what to cover, not them. And any time a candidate tries to hijack an interview by turning a query around by saying "The real question is," politely stop them and repeat your real question. You may have to do this several times, but it's better than letting them ramble off into their stump speech.
2. Try focusing on real issues. There are plenty of things that our government should be doing, but isn't. Like dealing with climate change, a crumbling infrastructure, a shifting global economy, income inequality, adequate funding of Social Security and Medicare, money in politics. Take your pick but stay focused.
3. Focus on candidates' records, not their promises. It's easy for someone to say they're going to do something; it's much more revealing to know what they've already done.
4. Stop relying on polls. Even the best of polls can be wrong and all polls are just a snapshot of what people told a pollster at a given time. Since people lie to pollsters all the time and because the political landscape is always shifting, even a statistically accurate poll is probably politically irrelevant. In any case, relying on polls is lazy journalism and no way to judge a candidate's fitness for office.
5. Follow the money. Reporting fundraising numbers gives as distorted a view of a candidate's fitness to serve as the polls. Plus, it gives the impression that elections can be bought. Remember, much of that money finds its way into those annoying TV ads that everybody seems to hate but that campaigns claim have the power to swing voters. It would serve the public better if reporters concentrated on where the money was coming from. In this Super Pac era, that's a challenge, but it's important to know who's spending big bucks in support of a particular candidate.
6. Avoid distractions. To re-emphasize point No. 1, candidates will go to great lengths to be heard over their rivals, even to the point of making provocative, sometimes inflammatory, comments. Don't take the bait. If it doesn't serve to better inform your audience, ignore it.
7. Remember your role (see No. 2). Your duty is to inform the public so voters can make informed choices on election day.
Larry Lehmer is a retired newspaper reporter and editor who is writing a book about the Philadelphia years of American Bandstand. If you have anything to share, shoot Larry an e-mail here. If you want to comment about this post, do so in the comments section. If you're curious about Larry's other blogs (there are four in all), check out the links in the header of this blog.