Monday, August 16, 2004

Sharing the Space

Editor & Publisher, the professional journal of the U.S. media, gathered up some of the controversy over partisan receptions of speeches by Bush and Kerry at "Unity 2004," which billed itself as "The World’s Largest Gathering of Journalists of Color." Press Think also has some observations.

Kerry had previously said he didn't have time in his schedule for an appearance at Unity. But Bush, after he turned down the NAACP, agreed to speak at Unity, among other race-based organizations. Kerry then put his name on the speakers' list, too.

The USA Today account of Kerry's speech reported that "There was applause nearly 50 times during [Kerry's] address. There was laughter when he took a shot at the Bush administration by noting that 'just saying there are weapons of mass destruction (in Iraq) doesn't make it so.' He got a standing ovation at the end."

The convention's own blog reports on the reception Bush got the next day: "Bush drew a mixed response from the room full of journalists. At times there was audible murmuring, at times applause, and at other times derisive remarks. When asked what tribal sovereignty means in the 21st century, Bush’s response —- 'Tribal sovereignty means that it's sovereign' -— drew sneering remarks from the audience."

Helen Ubinas of The Hartford Courant was there, and she wrote the crowd rose at the end of Bush's address, too, "but not for much longer than it took to head to the door."

That most journalists identify themselves as liberals is hardly news. That the most numerous minority populations in America vote overwhelmingly Democratic is no surprise, either. Unity President Ernest Sotomayer said the people who cheered are "people who vote, and they have a right to express themselves" when they're not working.

I'd suggest that the political journalists could take a tip from sportswriters. When I worked covering the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1980s, the press box served both teams. The journalists were professionals, but a good many of them also were fans, and "homers." They knew the players personally. They felt personally invested in their careers and in the team's success.

But, it was protocol in the press box never to cheer a good goal or loudly complain a bad call, to clap, stomp, or whistle.

It was nothing complicated; few things in sportswriting are. It was a schoolyard compromise, a realization that the best way to share the space was to make it non-partisan.

Of course, that depends on the notion that there's a rough equality in team fans and beat writers, which makes "sharing the space" a possibility that someone would think of in the first place.