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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

administration.

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

Play” schemes.

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

option.


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