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Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

Politicians in Tampa, Charlotte Massaged by Media—Literally

When it comes to journalists socializing and otherwise cozying up to the powerful, there's not a lot new under the sun. More than 20 years ago, then-FAIR associates Martin Lee and Norman Solomon wrote about it in their book Unreliable Sources:

TV's top journalists are part of the wealthy and influential elite, often socializing with people they're supposed to be scrutinizing. At an awards banquet for the Radio & Television Correspondents Association during Reagan's second term, Kathleen Sullivan (at the time with ABC) was photographed on the arm of then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, while CBS Face the Nation host Lesley Stahl greeted the Republican Party's national chairman Frank Fahrenkopf with a kiss.

But an eye-popping new piece from the political conventions by the Washington Post's Paul Fahri (9/4/12),  suggests that journalists and media organizations may be taking the practice to a new level–in some cases, literally scratching–or rather massaging– politicians' backs:

At the HuffingtonPost's "Oasis" spas in Charlotte and Tampa, delegates and VIPs at the Democratic and Republican conventions have been treated to free sleep consultations, stress-reduction advice and yoga classes. The politically connected can get back rubs courtesy of the media organization (with a choice of massage oils).

Essential wining and dining is also included, according to Fahri:

Over at the CNN Grill, an elaborate, fully functioning restaurant-turned-TV-news-set within the convention center’s secure perimeter, food and drinks are on the house for invited bigwigs such as Newt Gingrich and Tom Brokaw. Guests can receive souvenir photos of themselves.

(There is apparently no truth to the rumor that CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer hand-fed peeled grapes to Mitt Romney in Tampa last week.)

There seem to be few ethical qualms about these practices, which are apparently excellent for business:

Media executives say the investment is worthwhile, that entertaining political elites (as well as members of the media) pays off in intangible goodwill and favorable word of mouth. "It's been incredibly successful" in raising awareness of the HuffingtonPost's health and lifestyle coverage, said Arianna Huffington of her company's massage venue, whose visitors on Tuesday included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), she said.

Fahri touches on the essential problem with socializing and currying favor with those you are supposed to be scrutinizing:

Given its traditional role as a watchdog of the powerful, the media's desire to party with the parties raises a question or two. In particular, how does schmoozing the ruling class square with reporters' supposed vows of neutrality and independence? Are news organizations much different in this regard from the corporations and trade groups that are rolling out social events for Democrats and Republicans?

The answer seems to be no, as lobbyists to are included in the media-sponsored convention fun:

Politico, meanwhile, has been sponsoring a nightly "lounge" near the conventions with free cocktails and appetizers for its guests. The lounge, called the Hub, is "presented by" BAE Systems, Coca-Cola, Diageo and Intel, four companies with a big stake in Washington's policy debates.

Kudos go to Fahri for this reporting which can't have made him popular with his colleagues in the press…or his bosses, about whom he writes:

The Washington Post's extracurricular activities at the conventions are relatively modest. The news organization has been hosting panel discussions about energy issues at both gatherings and "newsmaker" breakfasts that are streamed on its Web site. It also scheduled trivia events called Politics & Pints at a supper club in Tampa and a bar in Charlotte. The trivia events are sponsored by Norfolk Southern Corp.

Of course, the kind of reporting Fahri has done here should be routine. The reason it isn't seems obvious.

Steve Rendall

Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City).

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