Members of Congress ought to stay out of the Gosnell coverage

There is a difference between an opinion and a suggestion on congressional letterhead. Photo: Michele Bachmann/AP Jae C. Hong

New York, April 19, 2013 - Michele Bachmann has one hell of a tater tot recipe.

After she preheats the oven to 350 degrees, the three-term Representative from Minnesota’s 6th District mixes up two pounds of ground chicken, a half-cup of chopped jalapeno peppers, three cloves chopped garlic, and taco seasoning in a large bowl. Then she cooks that mixture in a large pan with chicken stock until the chicken cooks through. She then folds in a can of sweet corn and two cans of black beans and cooks until the beans are soft.

In a separate bowl, the former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination mixes two cans of mushroom soup with a half-teaspoon of red pepper flakes, a teaspoon of cumin, and a half-cup of salsa. Then she adds that soup mixture to the chicken, pours it all into a 9X13 pan, tops it with 16 ounces of hot pepper jack cheese and two pounds of tater tots. It bakes for 50 minutes.

I know all this because her recipe for a tater tot dinner is posted to her congressional website under “Press Releases.”

So that seems to be the news judgment of one of the 72 members of the House who complained in a letter on Wednesday to the heads of ABC, NBC and CBS News about the supposed media “blackout” on the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who is accused of eight counts of murder stemming from procedures at his Philadelphia abortion clinic.

In their letter, the three score and 12 Woodward and Bernsteins claim the media have “ignored” the case, and blame it on ideological bias. Their letter then goes on to explain to people who have been working in the news business for decades that the Gosnell case meets “the threshold criteria for a national news segment,” and to school the networks on the role of the press. It concludes that America needs an “unprejudiced press to follow the truth and report the news, good and bad, for all to see and evaluate.”

That last part is not untrue, but the letter itself is inappropriate.  

It is not that the media have done a great job reporting the Gosnell case. In fact, quite the opposite. A week ago, I’d never heard of it. Then Kirsten Powers wrote a column on the media “blackout” (that’s where I read about the trial), and more outlets started to admit the deficiencies in their own coverage. Margaret Sullivan at New York Times, for instance, wrote that she had underestimated the news value of the case.

So the media is not perfect, but Congress still ought to stay out of the Gosnell coverage.

Don’t get me wrong here, the members of the House and Senate have the same right to their opinions on this as I do to mine, or Kirsten Powers to hers. There is a difference, though, between an opinion and a suggestion on congressional letterhead.

Let us forget the fact that these people are unreliable judges of newsworthiness. The First Amendment protects freedom of the press for a reason. Once the government starts meddling in news coverage, it is a hop and a skip to less independent media, not more.   

I’m picking on Bachmann here because she is one of the more recognizable names on the letter, but I could do the same thing for most of her friends in the News Police. One of the two top-line congressmen to sign, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, tells us in a press release on his website that he has announced a theme for the 2013 Congressional Art Competition, “Jazz on the Bayou.”

Extra! Extra!

Want to read all about it?

Me neither.



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Dorian Davis

Dorian Davis is an adjunct professor of journalism at Marymount Manhattan College. He’s been a contributor on politics, pop culture and social media to MTV, WNYC, NY1 and more.

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