August 17, 2009

Howard Kurtz admits that the media "has fun" covering the pissed off Republicans at the town hall protests. Hey Howard, I didn't think having fun was supposed to be something the media considered when deciding what "news" stories to cover. And no, the coverage has not been fair. There's been very little coverage of these Remote Area Medical events with people lined up for miles and hours on end to get treatments they can't afford.

KURTZ: Jeff Zeleny, is Robert Gibbs right and Obama right that the media are providing a distorted picture of these town halls by focusing on the most confrontational moments?

ZELENY: Well, I think in a sense they are, but in a sense they're not. First, I think, I mean, the images and the passions that were shown this week from town hall meetings show real Americans having real concerns about this. I think that's one of the things that has been left out of this.

I spent most of the week in Iowa going to several town halls. There are real, patriotic voting Americans, some who voted for President Obama, who don't like what they see shaping up as a plan. But...

KURTZ: But is that the whole story?

ZELENY: But it's not the whole story. And I think we have been missing the context of all this

YouTube is fantastic. It takes us everywhere, into town meetings that we couldn't go, but it doesn't give us any context. And that has been a problem this week.

KURTZ: And when I watch cable, Amy Holmes, it almost seem like this endless loop of these loud moments. I mean, there's one woman in a blue dress, Katy Abram, we're going to play later. I've seen her 50 times.

HOLMES: Indeed. And it's perfect for television. You've got the audio, you've got the visuals, you've got the heat and the passion. But there are some loops that have not been played endlessly.

Kenneth Gladney, an African-American gentleman who was at one of these town halls, was beaten up. And yet, he has not been splashed on the front pages. He has gotten less attention than Professor Gates and his arrest at Harvard.

So, I think if you look at conservatives, the context that they are concerned about is the context that this is supposed to marginalize and characterize the entire opposition to health care plan as being fringe and hysterical. And the same treatment is not given to the other side when their folks come out to protest.

KURTZ: And Ruth Marcus, Obama keeps repeating this line about how TV loves a ruckus. And here we just heard Gibbs say the media was disappointed that no one yelled at the president after his first town hall meeting in New Hampshire.

Is there a grain of truth there?

MARCUS: Sure. Look, conflict is more interesting than lack of conflict. When flowers bloom and the sun is shining, it's not necessarily news. And so, we are all going to naturally gravitate to -- we, being the media -- naturally gravitate to the more exciting moments.

And it is more exciting if you're a journalist to have those exciting moments. And I think it's a little naive and a sign of some -- to some extent their -- the way they have been rocked back on their heels to hear the White House complaining about, you know, following the ruckus. They know that.

KURTZ: Right.

HOLMES: This White House complaining about media coverage after Obama being on the cover of "TIME" magazine how many times?

KURTZ: It's really striking though how often Robert Gibbs and the president have complained about the media coverage. And here's a funny note.

When Fox News was breaking away from that first Obama town hall, the anchor, Trace Gallagher, said, "Any contentious questions, anybody yelling, we'll bring it to you." In other words, that would cause them to go back.

Now, Jeff Zeleny, the other night, the "CBS Evening News" led off with a story about 1,500 people lined up in L.A. for a clinic that was providing free health care for a couple days. And it made me think, well, the reason the existing health care system -- we've all kind of gotten away from covering it -- I think news organizations have made an honest effort to try to unravel the complexities of this health care issue. But, let's face it, covering angry, shouting folks is a lot more fun.

ZELENY: No question about that. And that free clinic I think was one example of that. I think we had it on the cover of our paper as well, this week.

But I think if you look at the coverage, what I was struck by, talking to voters and seeing people this week, how well-informed people really were about this. Not necessarily -- all the information was not accurate.

MARCUS: They knew about the death panels?

ZELENY: Well, some, I think -- I think that was another thing that was taken a little bit -- perhaps given more attention than people actually thought. But without question, I think a lot of news organizations are devoting a lot of time to serious coverage of this. But it's a complicated issue. It's impossible to break it down in a long newspaper story, let alone a 60-second TV story.

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