Opinion: If you want to be president, talk to journalists
Earlier this month, my husband, Sen. Sherrod Brown, went on a listening tour of four early-primary states as he considered running for president. I traveled with him to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, as did a caravan of political reporters waiting to see if he would announce that he was in. (He’s not.)
After one of Sherrod’s news gaggles, a reporter pulled me aside and said, “How long before you guys shut down access?”
“To whom?” I asked.
“To us,” he said, pointing to the pool of journalists behind him.
This was in late February. At every public stop, Sherrod and I talked on the record with reporters. This has always been my husband’s practice, and long before he married me. I’m less accustomed to being on this side of an interview, but it would be an act of unforgiveable hypocrisy if, after nearly 40 years as a journalist, I were to start avoiding reporters.
Besides, we trust journalists.
“Why would we stop talking to all of you?” I said.
The reporter shrugged and rolled his eyes, as if I were putting him on. “Because every presidential candidate does,” he said. “You know that.”
Over the next few days, I made a point of asking veteran political reporters about this, and to a person, they agreed. Virtually all presidential candidates — and plenty of congressional candidates, too — regularly treat journalists as vermin to dodge and mislead. This is as true of Democrats as it is Republicans.
That’s disappointing — that’s not the word I want to use — but I can’t say I’m surprised. This disdain for journalists is increasingly common in the very people who have always needed our coverage to reach voters.
I have stood in the back of a rally and watched one of my husband’s colleagues praise freedom of the press to the cheering crowd. An hour later, at a private event, I listened to that same senator bash journalists as malicious and willfully stupid, as heads nodded.
Because I’m married to a senator, too many members of Congress, from both houses, have felt free to recite their litany of complaints about how journalists make their jobs harder. My response is always the same: If you think accountability to the American public is a hardship, journalists are not your problem. I’m not the most popular Senate spouse, but that’s never been an aspiration.
One of the things I noticed during our few weeks on the trail was how hard journalists work to cover these presidential races. Sherrod had a lot of events and meetings, and long drives to get to them, but we had a crew of staffers traveling with us. Their job was to make our lives easier. We never had to book our flights or drive ourselves, nor did we have to worry about directions or the healthy meals that miraculously appeared just when we needed them.
The journalists on the trail, including photographers and videographers, had to get themselves to everything. That’s a lot of schlepping, and a lot of caffeine, too. They had to stay awake on those long drives. We catnapped on the road.
I’m pointing this out because most of the America public has no idea what they ask of the journalists they expect to keep them informed. They also don’t know about all the obstruction and outright abuse inflicted on journalists by campaign staff members following their bosses’ orders.
If ever there were a time when Democratic candidates could distinguish themselves from what is currently being passed off as presidential, this is it. The president of the United States has attacked journalists as the “enemy of the people.” He is calling us traitors. Right-wing extremists hear permission to harm.
Not all coverage is fair or accurate. Some of it is plain stupid. Journalists are human, and make mistakes. But what other profession so immediately and publicly admits its errors?
Every Democrat running for president should give journalists the access they deserve. We keep saying Donald Trump is wrong to call journalists the enemy of the people. It’s time to act like we mean it.
— Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with Creators Syndicate.