Bob Franken

“Gotcha”, not “Homers”

Most sports fans know what a “homer” is. He or she is the play-by-play announcer who is so gushy about the local team that it’s hard for the listener to get a clear idea what’s unfolding in the game.

We can debate whether they enhance our understanding of what’s happening on the field, or detract. As you can probably discern, I think that “sports journalism” is often an oxymoron. Sadly, there have been too many instances where “political journalism” has also been. To beat this metaphor to death, it’s time we return to “smash-mouth reporting”

In the widespread euphoria over the historic election of Barack Obama, there is a lot of pressure on the media to cut him some slack…at least for awhile.

A common question these days is how long the President-elect’s “honeymoon” should last. The answer is it should be over. Those whose jobs it is to inform the public must get back to our proper role.

We are supposed to be the skeptics, the ones who serve our society by challenging our leaders… challenging them to make as few mistakes as possible. We do that by always looking for the flaws in almost every move they make. Even when it antagonizes, the order of the day should be “Gotcha Journalism”.

When we confront our leaders with adversarial questions, we should insist they provide answers. Right now, the issue is top-level nominations for spots in the upcoming Obama administration.

While it is the Senate’s duty to approve them, or not, it is our job to make sure the confirmation process benefits from full public knowledge about each and every one of them.

It was not, as Mr. Obama described it, “fun”, when the reporter pushed him about the striking contrast between his warm words for Secretary-of-State choice Hillary Clinton and their sometimes harsh rhetoric of the bruising primary battles.

It is perfectly valid for the press to try and get him to explain the striking discrepancies. Are we now supposed to go along with the program as politicians flippantly say they were just kidding during the campaign? Of course not.

More importantly, should those of us who report be intimidated by a widespread feeling the country should be rooting for the new guy…and that those who do his play-by-play should be “homers”.

Unfortunately many of us are. We buckle under pressure from an administration that can deny access, from corporate owners who only care about the bottom line and often from our own personal discomfort about being unpopular for going against the grain.

All of that had a lot to do with the country getting in such deep trouble in Iraq and elsewhere over the last several years. We simply rolled over on our backs, and wagged our tails… failed to do our job. We trembled at the thought of being labeled “unpatriotic” for asking the difficult probing questions.

At the same time, I am among those who believe we gave Barack Obama far too easy a ride to election. We were so taken with his narrative, and the historic arc of his story that we didn’t always keep his feet to the fire.

It’s time to restore our backbones. We do our job for our country by making sure each and every utterance goes through the journalistic shredder.

It’s not that we should be gratuitously hostile. But we should do our research and see to it that important policies and appointments are tested by close examination administered by the jealously independent fourth estate.

At the same time, the new President should set an example for his subordinates by honestly engaging and answering the difficult questions instead of deflecting them. In fact he should welcome them. That would truly be “change we can believe in”.

Put another way: With all the talk of Barack Obama’s “Team of Rivals” he needs to know that he can expect to be challenged from the outside, every step of the way, by a press corp that has no room for “homers”.

As reporters we should revel in our newly revived role as society’s “wretches”, the yapping riff-raff who constantly annoy. If we don’t do our job, the home team, the United States, will keep on dropping in the world league standings.

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