Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What Rep. Grimm's Threats of Violence Against NY1 Reporter Teaches Us About Media Intimidation

If Reporters or Bloggers Dare To Report Truth About Political Corruption, Politicians and Lobbyists Become Enraged

Rep. Michael Grimm's violent outburst and threats of bodily harm to NY1 Capital Hill reporter Michael Scotto revealed how elected officials keep political reporters and bloggers on a tight leash. “I verbally took the reporter to task and told him off, because I expect a certain level of professionalism and respect, especially when I go out of my way to do that reporter a favor. I doubt that I am the first Member of Congress to tell off a reporter, and I am sure I won’t be the last,” Rep. Grimm said, in part, in a statement published by Politicker.

What is more, a former staffer for Rep. Grimm told The New York Post that, “This is not the first time he’s tried to intimidate a reporter.”

In other words, elected officials have a sense of entitlement when it comes to giving reporters access to interviews. Elected officials do not believe that political reporters have a duty to fully inform voters about the government's work. Rather, politicians have come to believe that they can trade "favors" with representatives of the media. But when reporters or bloggers do not subjugate themselves to politicians, violence or rage can ensue, as was captured by NY1's camera.

After a series of blog postings published last year about allegations of campaign finance irregularities involving the political lobbying firm The Advance Group, the firm's head lobbyist Scott Levenson called me in a fit of rage. His tone was confrontational, similar to the anger Rep. Grimm expressed to Mr. Scotto. I believed that Mr. Levenson was trying to intimidate me into silence, the way that Rep. Grimm had tried to intimidate Mr. Scotto.

Many bloggers believe that one of the main reasons that political reporters do not fully report the truth about political corruption is that politicians and their army of lobbyists trade "favors," provide insider "tips," set up "interviews," or act as "sounding boards" for reporters. According to this cozy relationship, politicians and their lobbyists expect that reporters will never ask tough questions that are "off-script." You especially see the kind of soft-balling on local TV news programs, where hosts never fully confront powerholders for the truth the way Mr. Scotto and I had, recently.

The instance of Mr. Scotto actually confronting Rep. Grimm on camera about allegations of corruption is rare for TV news. Very few reporters dare to actually embrace the discomfort of approaching politicians or lobbyists on camera with questions about political corruption. Because of this rarity, it's all the more evident that the media's two most recent "shake downs" have been of Republican politicians : New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rep. Grimm. No TV news program dares to go after the Democrats, who now oversee the corrupt city Board of Elections, for example. Are behind-the-scenes expressions of anger and rage, like this but never caught on tape, the reason why Democrats have been able to slay the news media from investigating political corruption ?

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