News outlets choose their darlings, ignore others' voices

News outlets choose their darlings, ignore others' voices
© Aaron Schwartz

A new member of Congress, sworn in this past January after winning an upset primary and then cruising to an easy 2018 general election victory, has plenty to say and has appeared on the cover of Time magazine, been featured on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” and had a town hall broadcast on a cable news channel. She routinely appears on late night comedy shows and weekend network news programs. It is a great story for a former bartender: Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez, Thunberg, Rapinoe make BBC's 100 most inspiring women of 2019 Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey endorses Biden Democratic strategist on Sanders debate performance: 'I just think he might've topped out' MORE (D-N.Y.) emerged onto the national stage and immediately had the news media hanging on her every word.

A different new member of Congress also posted a surprising win in a crowded primary, beating his party’s establishment candidates, then won big in the general election with 64 percent of the votes. This new member of Congress is a business owner, has a family farm, served in county office and the state legislature, and has a PhD in science. He is also a combat veteran, having served in Vietnam, where he earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, and lost his left arm in battle. This is also a great story, and this Congressman also has things to offer in the national dialogue. As yet, however, Jim BairdJames BairdNews outlets choose their darlings, ignore others' voices Hillicon Valley: White House to host social media summit amid Trump attacks | Pelosi says Congress to get election security briefing in July | Senate GOP blocks election security bill | Pro-Trump forum 'quarantined' by Reddit | Democrats press Zuckerberg Bipartisan House committee members agree on cyber threats to elections, if not how to address it MORE (R-Ind.) has garnered no national media attention. He’s not been contacted by CNN, the Washington Post, or any other national news outlet.

Outside of western Indiana, nobody knows of Baird or his views, even though he is a sitting Member of Congress, just like Ocasio-Cortez, or A-O-C, as the media endearingly calls her. The imbalance of attention between these two representatives demonstrates yet again that news decisions are too often based on sensation and emotion. That imbalance keeps Baird, and dozens of other representatives out of the news agenda.

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Ocasio-Cortez does, indeed, have contributions to the national dialogue, but that’s not why the media keep her in the headlines more than other voices that could also contribute. The young New Yorker generates ratings and page views like few politicians can, both for the traditional media and for agenda-driven news outlets. She is charismatic and outspoken, and — depending on your politics — entertaining or annoying.

A search of the Washington Post website returns more than 1,800 results for Ocasio-Cortez. She is included in a report almost every day. The only story on the WaPo site for Baird mentions him parenthetically in a story about Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosAmazon dumps million into Seattle elections Washington Post publisher: 'Corrosive' to liken unfavorable news to 'fake news' Trump joins Twitch platform MORE donating to a super PAC to elect military veterans. Polling by ScottRasmussen.com in March showed AOC was known by 68 percent of voters, just two months after she entered Congress. That was the same month that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer groused that other new Democratic representatives were being ignored by the media in favor of Ocasio-Cortez and her close allies in the House.

None of this AOC hysteria is the fault of the Congresswoman, per se, but rather the poor judgement of the media — both left- and right-leaning — which have used her as a shiny object for their own purposes. A case could be made that over-coverage of Ocasio-Cortez has disrupted her fledgling legislative career, making her a focal point and lightning rod too soon for her own good. The media have focused as much on her pop culture appeal (or opposition) as on any substantial contributions to the legislative process.

Baird doesn’t begrudge Ocasio-Cortez absorbing the limelight. “The media are generating revenue with high profile controversies and keeping arguments going,” Baird said. He does, however, have things he would be happy to add to the nation’s dialogue, if only he would be asked for his two cents by a broadcast network or cable news channel.

“We have to resolve this immigration problem,” Baird said. “We are a country of immigrants and we have been successful utilizing that approach. And we need workers in the ag industry.”

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Another topic on Baird’s mind is socialism. “I would challenge us all to be careful about socialism and where that could take the country,” he warns, “I don’t mind having the ideological discussion, but I’m concerned if we are moving in that direction because I’m not sure we’ve evaluated that (socialism) and the impact it would have on the country.”

As for the media, Baird says he is concerned about declining standards, “The challenge is for the media to maintain integrity of information for the people to make the appropriate decisions.”

News outlets need to stop chasing the usual sources for news and expand their contact lists to include the many other duly-elected Bairds in Washington. Journalism and democracy rely on many voices, including the workhorses on both sides of the aisle who are being overlooked.

Jeffrey McCall is a media critic and professor of communication at DePauw University. He has worked as a radio news director, a newspaper reporter and as a political media consultant. Follow him on Twitter @Prof_McCall.