Volume 13, Issue 17 ~ April 27 May 4, 2005
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Politicans and the Press: Old Adversaries in a New World

In his new marketing strategy, Gov. Robert Ehrlich last week began the first round of visits to Maryland businesses in an outreach effort designed to bypass the media and its so-called filter.

This week, U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination to the seat being vacated by Sen. Paul Sarbanes. Another Democrat, former Rep. Kweise Mfume already has announced his intention to run. On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele has hopes if not formally declared intentions.

A new political season is upon us both for candidates and for the news media in carrying out the role as inquiring stand-in for voters.

In the relationship between political leaders and reporters who ask for the whole truth, not just the convenient truth, it’s also a new season for feuds, misunderstanding and gamesmanship. There’s been plenty of each between Ehrlich and the media, and that’s one reason for the governor’s straight-to-the-people strategy.

The hostility, real or imagined, is part of why Ehrlich’s preferred medium is Limbaugh-like talk radio.

Maryland’s governor has a way with people, especially people who see the world as he does. On conservative talk radio, the toughest question he’ll field might go something like, Governor, why are liberals so stupid? Or maybe, How about those Orioles?

Do answers to those questions give you the information you need before you hand over the right to direct your life?

Ehrlich and his advisers understand the changes in the media better than do many public officials.

Daily newspaper circulation continues to drop, as do ratings for the networks’ evening news.

People turn increasingly to Web sites for information and to mobile phones for e-mails and links to their preferred universe. (Who’d have predicted a few years ago that the next serious office affliction would be BlackBerry thumb?)

Unfortunately, these new media — not the news media — are breeding a class of people, both conservative and liberal, who seek news and opinion that reinforces their own beliefs rather than information that challenges their thinking. If that’s a good thing, we don’t immediately understand how.

Despite all the changes, “fishwrap journalism” — the late Hunter S. Thompson’s label for newspapers — will continue to be a missing link between politicians and people.

People may distrust what they read. But they remain hungry for answers to two main questions about politicians: Who are they? And what are they going to do to me?

With plenty of room for details and analysis, newspapers answer those questions more fully and reliably than other news — or new — media.

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