Shopping trip goes too far, Capitol Police get pushy, saying no to internet trolls

February 18, 2019
Category: Newsletters

Did reporters cross the line?

It’s not the worst case of biased reporting ever seen. No one deserves to be fired or suspended.

But it wasn’t a good look, either.

On Saturday, three network political reporters — CNN’s Maeve Reston, NBC’s Ali Vitali and CBS’s Caitlin Huey-Burns — followed California senator and presidential hopeful Kamala Harris to a boutique in South Carolina.

Harris tried on clothes and the three reporters seemed to be more than objective journalists covering a story. They were there to follow Harris on the campaign trail, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what reporters do. What came off as inappropriate, however, was how the reporters engaged with Harris during the shopping — laughing and pointing out clothes to try on.

Huey-Burns tweeted:

“When the campaign trail takes you to a boutique, and @MaeveReston spots a great sequined jacket for @KamalaHarris to try on. #campaingfashionreport”

Reston tweeted:

“We kind of forced @kamalaharris to try on this awesome oversized rainbow sequin jacket … She snapped it up. @alivatali perfectly named it as ‘Mardi Gras Jacket’ #2020 #SouthCarolina #CampaignFashionReport”

This was a just a portion of what took place. That did not go over well with Fox News’ Brit Hume, who tweeted:

“This is just embarrassing. So now journalists are going shopping with Harris, helping pick out clothes and then putting out glowing tweets about it.”

Many other political observers, mostly from conservative organizations, also were critical.

Michael Barbaro, host of the New York Times’ The Daily podcast, responded to Hume by tweeting that reporters hung out while 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney went shopping.

“The reporters covering Romney went shopping with him as well in 2012. I was there. He bought his wife a white puffy coat. It was very sweet. What’s the problem with reporters covering Harris as she stops by local businesses?”

NBC reporter Kasie Hunt tweeted that no one seemed to have an issue when reporters on the campaign trail covered Romney going jet-skiing or Scott Walker riding motorcycles or Lindsey Graham skeet-shooting.

But the activity wasn’t the issue. Being there wasn’t the issue. The problem was the reporters appeared a little too chummy with Harris. The mere appearance of that is enough to damage their credibility, as well as others covering Harris. In another tweet, Hume wrote (and he’s right) that it the incident “wasn’t coverage, it was participation.”

These are super-sensitive times in our country. The spotlight on the media, especially when it comes to covering national politics, has never been brighter. Scrutiny has never been more intense. The press continues to fight the perception of media bias each day. Those in the media must be acutely aware of how they come off at all times — a fact that Reston, Vitali and Huey-Burns might have forgotten while following Harris.

Reporters pushed by police

Reporters trying to interview senators were physically shoved by Capitol Police officers last Thursday in the Senate basement, an area where lawmakers and the media often mix. Roll Call reported that reporters were pushed away from senators even though some lawmakers were “willingly engaging with the press.”

This was a fairly typical news day as reporters walked alongside senators, according to Roll Call. Yet Capitol police reacted in a way that surprised even some senators.

Paul McLeod, an immigration reporter for BuzzFeed News, was quoted as saying, “It got really ugly. … It was insane, people were getting shoved into walls. It was unsustainable. It was violent.”

Capitol Hill reporter Matt Laslo had an audio recording of the confrontation and one reporter was heard saying, “I am a pregnant woman and you just pushed me.”

On Friday, Capitol police put out a statement saying, “The USCP monitored the situation to ensure that senators were able to safely traverse the crowds in order to make their way to the Senate chamber to vote. The USCP provided support during this time to ensure that the current rules and protocols in place were adhered to in order to ensure the safety and security of members of Congress, staff, and members of the press.”

What were they thinking?

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate on Feb. 12 at the state Capitol in Lansing, Michigan. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

First, a shout out to the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple for calling attention to this story.

A governor gives her first State of the State address. Comments pour in on social media commenting on her dress, her body and her sex appeal. Is that a story? According to Detroit’s Fox 2 it is. The station ran a package that highlighted something all of us already knew: commenters on social media can be pigs. Still, Fox 2 not only pointed out that obvious fact, but then proceeded to retell and reprint many of the gross comments made about Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

In a statement to readers to preview the story on its website, Fox 2 News Director Kevin Roseborough wrote:

“On Tuesday night, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s State of the State address discussed many issues of importance to our state. Fox 2 broadcast and streamed the speech live. We were taken aback by the number and nature of inappropriate Facebook comments on the governor’s physical appearance.

We chose not to ignore the comments, and to instead examine them through person-on-the-street interviews and an expert’s opinion on the double standard faced by female leaders. This is not a subject that should turned away from, and we have extended an invitation to the governor to talk to us about this further.”

I could break down each word of the statement and find a flaw in it, but to save time, let’s leave at this: Yes, journalists should ignore sexist internet trolls and, yes, this was a topic that should have been turned away from, at least in this form.

Is there a story to be told about how females politicians are treated differently than men? Yes. Is this the way to do it, by repeating all the sexist things said about her? No.

Whitmer tweeted:

“Boys have teased me about my curves since 5th grade. My mom said, ‘Hold your head high and don’t let it bother you.’ That @Fox2Nes story was way out of line. I’m tough, I can take it.”

Check it out

How sexist will the media’s treatment of female presidential candidates be? The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan writes we can rule out “not at all.”

The most inspirational thing you’ll see all day: ESPN profiles a remarkable football coach who was born without arms and legs.

“I knew right away it was my dad.” Slate’s Zach Schonfeld has a conversation with the daughter of serial killer BTK.

Washington Post book critic Ron Charles has a fun list: the most 23 unforgettable last sentences in fiction.

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(Correction: This version corrects the spelling of Brit Hume’s name.)

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