What Reporters Don't Tell You Is as Telling as What They Do

Thanksgiving Family ForumAs many of you know, I was in Iowa over the weekend, covering a forum featuring six of the Republican presidential candidates

While prior presidential debates have focused in on topics like the economy, foreign policy, and job creation, the Thanksgiving Family Forum gave voters a chance to get to know the candidates in a more personal way.

And as I reviewed news coverage of the event yesterday in major newspapers and on network television, I thought the national media's take on the event was interesting -- and should serve as a reminder to take all media reports with a grain of salt.


The forum featured Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Rick Perry. Seated around a large Thanksgiving table, all of them opened up about their personal lives, religious beliefs, and past mistakes. Several of them cried and revealed stories about their lives that until that day weren't commonly known.

No matter how you feel about them as presidential candidates, it was fascinating getting insight into the personal lives and backgrounds of these politicians.

The forum was prominently featured on all the network and cable news shows yesterday, and the strangest one I watched came from a network news morning show, where a reporter aired clips of a few of the male candidates wiping away tears, then went on to counter those images by saying that Michele Bachman remained "stoic."

That couldn't have been further from the truth.

Thinking back on the forum, I'd venture to say that Bachmann set the confessional tone of the event at the very beginning by recounting in elaborate detail how she became a Christian as a teenager, and how that experience has set the tone for everything she's done since.

Later, she told a very moving story about the years when her father abandoned her family, forcing everyone in her family -- from her mom who'd never worked to the kids -- to find jobs and contribute every penny they earned to making ends meet. Here's the video:

"Stoic" is certainly not a word I'd use to describe Michele Bachmann that night.

Some written reports about the forum were fair and balanced, including CBS News' web version of the story, written by National Journal reporter Rebecca Kaplan, the AP story on the forum, The New York Times' report, and ABC News' version of events.

Meanwhile, Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon, Jr. covered the forum without referring to any of the comments that candidates made about their religion -- a major oversight, since Christianity was a continual reference point for all of the candidates. As I read initial reports after the forum on Saturday evening, I noted that several other reporters omitted or minimized the religious nature of the event.

Religion seems to be one of those topics that reporters get so used to avoiding that they miss the boat when it becomes a central part of the story. I'd think that as many non-Christians as Christians would be interested in gauging the spiritual temperature of each candidate based on the stories they told at the forum. Some of the candidates definitely are more evangelical than others, and I can see that being a problem for some voters.

Certainly not all reporters were afraid to cover the religious angle, though. Reporting for the LA Times, Seema Mehta skillfully managed to convey the forum's religious overtones without passing judgment. As a reader, I appreciate that. Let me decide how I feel about what happened. I don't need some hardened political reporter to do it for me.

Bottom line? If you're trying to keep up to date on politics, get your news from as many sources as possible. I've heard so many people blame entire organizations for being too liberal or conservative, and in some cases, that's definitely true, but as someone who's been in media for many years, I find it often comes down to the reporter. You're going to be seeing the story through his or her eyes -- period -- so it helps to change that filter often by turning the channel or reading a different website or newspaper.

You can see more of our CafeMom coverage of the forum here, including my exclusive interviews before the event with Rick Santorum and pollster Frank Luntz and CafeMom member Billie Ragland asking a question at the forum.

And in the meantime, I'd like to know this --

Where do you go for most of your election news?

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