Corrections or additions?
This article was prepared for the June 29,
2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Between the Lines
Republicans think the news media are too critical, and Democrats think
the media are not critical enough. A survey by the Pew Research Center
for the People and the Press showed that 67 percent of Republicans
believe news outlets should “stand up for America” and 54 percent of
Democrats say that reporters are not sufficiently critical of the Bush
As a reporter, it is not easy to strike a balance and be fair as well
as “critical,” especially when you consider that synonyms for critical
include acerbic, caustic, corrosive, and sarcastic.
Comedians, of course, don’t need to worry about being fair. It’s fine
for them to be acerbic, caustic, corrosive, and sarcastic.
But when a reporter and a comedian appear on the same stage, and both
of them are adlibbing for laughs, fairness can get forgotten. That’s
what happened at the live broadcast of the public radio show “Whad’Ya
Know” last Saturday at the Patriots Theater in Trenton.
For the first 112 minutes of the two-hour show, Michael Feld had the
audience (a near-capacity crowd of more than 1,300) in the proverbial
palm of his hand. He teased Tom and Averil Moore (Tom’s the former CEO
of Nelson Communications), who hosted a party in the barn at their
Princeton Township estate, Tusculum, saying “maybe next time they’ll
let us into the house.
He bantered with historian Marc Mappen and novelist Janet Evanovich,
who held up their end of lively conversations without trying to be the
stars. To play the trivia game, he chose Audrey Mainzer, a Trenton
native who works at Princeton University, and a livewire named
“Grumpy.” Everyone was having fun.
Then Feldman introduced Charles Webster of the Trentonian, and the
atmosphere at the Patriots Theater went from ebullient to embarrassed
and then to angry. Webster repeatedly lambasted everyone in state
government for dishonesty, tarring all with the same brush for “Pay to
When Feldman brought up Hamilton’s proposed pedophile-free zones, it
became painfully obvious that the subject of child molestation does
not lend itself to comedy. When Feldman admitted he did not know
Megan’s Law had started here, Webster gratuitously described how the
six-year-old was raped and murdered.
By the time he finished, no one was laughing.
Some might say Webster was arrogant in his criticism, but as the Pew
report shows, others define media arrogance as failing to be critical.
When should the media mince words? On last week’s cover we used the
term “grease monkey,” as in “When the Aston Martin needs repair, no
ordinary grease monkey will do.” Some would say this denigrates blue
collar workers, yet reader Tom Wojczak, in an E-mail, objected to the
practice of mincing words. “I’m not opposed to you calling a mechanic
a ‘grease monkey.’ When will I see a cover calling a terrorist
something other than an ‘insurgent’”
At least newspaper reporters have editors, and sometimes they think
twice about what they write. Those in live radio don’t have that
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