U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer is a well-liked politician with a reputation as being extremely accessible, which is why he easily won re-election on Tuesday.
His recent calls for Congressional hearings over bias in the national broadcast media, however, are political grandstanding at best or a chilling lack of respect for the First Amendment at worst. No matter which it is, and we believe him when he says he doesn’t want to chill freedom of the press, it’s wrongheaded.
The letter Cramer sent cited a few polls and a study by Harvard University that showed a shift in coverage of Donald Trump from positive to negative during the primary elections. He said these support his contention that national broadcast media has devolved into “surreptitious propaganda.”
Cramer is either misunderstanding the report or cherry-picking numbers.
For one thing, Hillary Clinton saw a shift in the same period, from primarily negative coverage to primarily positive and then back again. For another, the study explains the shift in tone.
“The unfavorable tone of Trump’s coverage owed to a shift in its content,” the authors wrote. “The primary victories that moved him ever closer to a delegate majority were a source of positive news. But victories in the absence of competitors are less newsworthy, opening up news time and space for other subjects. In the campaign’s final month, journalists increasingly probed Trump’s character and policy positions, framing them through the lens of Trump as a possible president rather than Trump as a striving candidate.”
A more recent study from Harvard found that the coverage of both Trump and Clinton to be primarily negative, with 51 percent of Clinton’s coverage negative and 75 percent of Trump’s negative.
A reasonable explanation for this is that both candidates were historically unpopular with large numbers of Americans.
Cramer is not wrong in his contention that national broadcasters have a responsibility to the public in light of their access to the airwaves — a resource owned by all Americans. And we’re relieved that he isn’t suggesting a return to the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, which mandated equal time for opposing views on controversial subjects.
We think a conversation about bias in the media is worthwhile, but to call Congressional hearings to have that conversation smacks of politically motivated bullying. And to issue a letter calling for those hearings days before the election looks a lot more like an attempt to score political points by complaining about media bias than legitimate concern about the subject.
We have great respect for the work Cramer has done for North Dakota. He is a dedicated advocate for veterans and his work in Congress has undoubtedly made the state better.
He should focus his work on advancing an agenda that continues that work, rather than distracting public attention with hearings on media bias.