Listening to Scott Simon's interview of Mitch Albom this morning, in which the 2016 election was discussed, made me remember that even NPR, long held up by the far right as the bleeding-heart liberal socialist commie bandwidth of the radio dial, can suffer the same biases and lack of balance as the right-wing radio shows that most NPR listeners love to mock. The indiscriminate lumping of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the same "today's politicians, amirite?" category by both the guest (explicitly) and the host (implicitly) made my stomach hurt, as it was so emblematic of just how unbalanced the coverage of this campaign has been, and how casually this imbalance has been accepted and normalized.
Scott Simon's question, in brief: Are there concerns that you feel have not been raised during the campaign?
Mitch Albom: "Where do you begin? I think every major concern has been overlooked in deference to tawdry things and comments and who said what on a TV show or an open mic or a snippy remark in a debate. To raise one, and it would just be one, I haven't heard a word about education in this entire election season. Every now and then you hear Hillary Clinton talk about about a plan for colleges and that's about it. Being here in Detroit, our public education in this city is - it's shocking and the oversight of it and the oversight of the teachers and the funding is nonexistent. And the priority that's put on it is so low ..."
Then Mr. Albom talks about the fact that education isn't sexy, so it doesn't get coverage, but that literacy and learning to read is the true key to success in school and life in general. He advocates for free community college, and for more emphasis on early education, and early literacy education in particular. All this could still have been a commentary on the state of today's media.
On how the media have provided Trump, who rarely speaks about policy at all, much less education policy, with essentially an open mic, only recently beginning to fact-check and call out his lies instead of just letting him spew out over their airwaves.
On how at the same time the media have not bothered to cover Clinton's public policy speeches for the last two or three years, but instead have devoted 24/7 coverage to the repeatedly debunked email “scandal” or rumors of her health or whether she smiles too much or doesn't smile enough, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton actually has been discussing the topic of education for several decades and has detailed policy proposals on her current campaign website.
Since that's in fact what has been going on, I first agreed with Mr. Albom, assuming he was only speaking about the poor job the news outlets have been doing in making education a topic of conversation in this campaign. However, Mr. Albom then revealed that he himself must be paying attention only to what is being broadcast on those media outlets he's complaining about, since a simple Google search for “Hillary Clinton education plan” brings up a wide range of articles on both her current stance and her history on this issue. Either that, or Mr. Albom is a Hillary Hater. How else do you explain his answer to the follow-up question?
Scott Simon's question, in brief: Any last words on any of the various presidential candidates?
MA: "I have not been more disappointed in a pair of candidates in my adult life. You know, I'm very lucky, Scott, I get to travel around and I meet a lot of people and – I can't tell you how many times, and gosh, in your job, you have to do this too – how many times you have a conversation with somebody, and after they leave you go, 'wow, what an impressive person, what an incredible set of values, leadership, accomplishment, whatever' – and none of these people ever end up running for president."
He explains this phenomenon by saying that we have created a system where only thick-skinned people like rampant egotists or lifelong politicians will ever run, because these other more virtuous people he's been meeting are so smart they realize that if they run for office the media will rip their lives apart in the search for sensationalism, and "all of a sudden 50 or 60 years of hard work and accomplishment go out the window, and so what I have to say about these two candidates is summed up in a sentence that probably many people utter: 'This is the best we can do?'"
How can he believe that Clinton is just like Trump? If he doesn't believe that, why did he say these things?
Does he literally not know anything about Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, former Senator, who has an incredible set of values, who shows true and collaborative leadership, and who has a history of accomplishment that more than equals Mr. Albom's? I would think that his philanthropic soul should at least be drawn to her work with the Clinton Foundation.
President Obama, who is one of the most accomplished and capable people to hold that office, made his opinion clear at the 2016 Democratic National Convention: "I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President of the United States of America." Perhaps Mr. Albom missed the media coverage of that event.
Scott Simon definitely missed the opportunity for clarification with regards to whether the first quote above was meant as “the media are not covering education enough” (true) or as “neither candidate is talking about education” (false). If Mr. Albom truly believes that neither candidate has been talking about education, then he just hasn't been paying attention. But because he so casually lumped Hillary Clinton – and by reference her history as an advocate for children, for education, for women's rights, for universal health care, and more – with Donald Trump, whose lack of values, accomplishments, or qualifications on any level should make this not even a topic of conversation, I'm going for “Hillary Hater.”
This is the first time I've written to NPR on this topic, though it's not the first time I've yelled at the radio when a host has not followed up on statements that leave the impression of something that is demonstrably not true. But to have a guest essentially say "Trump and Clinton are equally unqualified to be president" and an NPR host not say "are you REALLY saying that? because it's not true at all, you know" doesn't mean NPR is being "fair and balanced" to me, because that unfair statement was not balanced by Scott Simon's questioning of its veracity.
I'm interested in hearing the other sides of the story, and wish I could talk directly with both men about values, radio production, interview strategies, and education. Since that's not likely, I'll keep listening, and keep writing letters.