Back in 1996, as Bill Clinton was cruising toward re-election, Saturday Night Live staged a mock presidential debate. The highlight came when ?Peter Jennings,? played by Tom Hanks, intoned:
?Mr. President, we here at ABC News are not in the business of making endorsements, but everyone here is voting for Bill Clinton, and I personally cannot imagine how any decent person would not, in fact, do the same. In the light of this, which of your many achievements do you feel it?s important to emphasize as we head toward the election??
Until recently, many of us assumed that skit was as close as we?d ever come to seeing a journalist cheer on a presidential candidate. Then, John Kerry went to ?Unity 2004.?
?Unity? billed itself as ?the largest and most diverse gathering of journalists in the United States.? Not quite. It?s an alliance made up of the Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association. That doesn?t represent diversity, unless ?diversity? is now defined as ?only minorities need apply.?
According to its Web page, Unity is dedicated to ?developing programs and institutional relationships that promote year-round journalism advocacy and education, with a focus on fairness and accuracy in news coverage as well as diversity in America?s newsrooms.? That gives the game away.
Unity doesn?t have anything to do with improving journalism -- it?s simply a pressure group, attempting to make sure that minorities are portrayed in a positive light (that?s what ?fairness and accuracy? means) and to make sure there are plenty of minority journalists employed in the country?s newsrooms.
Kerry was only too happy to play along. ?People of color represent only a tiny fraction of the numbers of editors, anchors and executives at our nation?s premier news organizations,? he announced. ?I look around at all the talent in this room, and I say to the management of these organizations, ?we can do better, and we should.??
It ought to frighten a group of journalists when a presidential candidate hints that he might take an interest in who should be reporting on his administration. But it didn?t seem to scare the folks at Unity. They cheered. As they had throughout Kerry?s speech.
Later, Kerry took questions. ?Specifically, what would you have done if you had been caught in a Florida newsroom -- or, I?m sorry, a Florida classroom on September 11, 2001?? he was asked.
?First of all,? Kerry answered, ?had I been reading to children and had my top aide whispered in my ear, ?America is under attack,? I would have told those kids very politely and nicely that the president of the United States had something that he needed to attend to.? Kerry might have continued in this vein, except he was, again, interrupted by applause.
Here?s a question for these ?journalists:? If Kerry is elected president, will you cheer at his news conferences? That would be a sight to see.
In the real world, journalists don?t cheer. Not even if they?re delivering good news, like that the nation created 32,000 new jobs last month and the unemployment rate dropped from 5.6 to 5.5 percent -- oh, wait, bad example. For some reason, that was bad news.
Anyway, journalists don?t take public stands. They report the news and allow readers and viewers to do the cheering.
Now, if any of these ?journalists? want to do some reporting instead of cheerleading, they ought to look into why New Jersey?s governor is resigning. Here?s a hint: It isn?t because he?s homosexual.
That?s no obstacle to high office in today?s society. It might even be a plus. In fact, if any Unity 2004 ?journalists? had been at the news conference when Gov. James McGreevey announced he was a ?gay American,? they?d probably have applauded.
No, the governor is in hot water over alleged corruption. His top donor, Charles Kushner, just pleaded guilty to federal charges that he lied about political donations and cheated on taxes.
Meanwhile a McGreevey fundraiser named David D?Amiano was indicted on July 6 for allegedly extorting $40,000 in political donations and bribes from a farmer negotiating with the state.
McGreevey plans to hang around for another couple of months, so somebody who calls himself a journalist ought to take time to see just how deep this scandal goes. Who knows? There might even be a Pulitzer Prize at the end of this rainbow.
But it?ll never happen. ?Unity? has taught these people to value the diversity of a ?gay American? over the responsibilities of a journalist. Sadly, we won?t be hearing any journalism from this group. Just another hip, hip, hurray for John Kerry.