context and pickle suckers

You might know that I host a television talk show called TalkingPoint Live along with my colleague Jennifer Kohler. It’s a local program distributed on local cable and to the best of our knowledge we have three viewers, one of which is Jen’s mother-in-law.

Our last show (above) was a critique of certain media’s handling of the recent legislation passed by the State of Indiana dealing with the Religious Freedoms Restoration Act, and it was during this show that Jen closed with a quotation from Gordon B. Hinckley, former President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from an address he delivered to an audience of BYU students, talking about the current state of political commentators at the time, that time being 1974. He said, “With studied art they poured out the sour vinegar of invective and anger. … Surely, this is the age and place of the gifted pickle sucker.”

I nodded my head along with Jen at the end of her citation in seeming agreement, painting with broad gifted-pickle-sucker brush the media’s current attempts at reporting. I do it all the time with Fox News. Fair and Balanced, my ass.

But, I knew full well the context of this Hinckley quote, but I didn’t say anything about it, mainly because we were out of time.

And I hate that.

We get down to two minutes in the show, and I think I can speak for both us here when I say we become less intelligent versions of who we really are, trying to summarize the show and preview for the following week while we are being counted down on live television, without teleprompters. Three viewers notwithstanding.

In 1974 during the first month of his first term, President Gerald Ford pardoned President Richard Nixon, who had just resigned for compelling reasons. Most political cycles show that presidential pardons are usually reserved for more benign offenses, typically during the last month of the last term of presidency. Ford pardoned Nixon on a Sunday morning, way outside the lumbering news cycles of the day – at least twelve hours would pass before the press could respond, and thirty-six before broadcasters would chime in on the pardon. And when they did, they did without prejudice, criticizing the President for his actions. Many were calling for the Republican to be tried for the crimes he committed, for putting the executive, legislative and judicial foundations of the country into an uproar over his covert attempts to undermine constitutional processes, to say the least. The Fourth Estate were doing their job, in fact, without these “gifted pickle suckers,” this country would be in much more dire circumstances. See Russia.

Two things here and then I’ll stop. The first is context, something we try to establish on the show, but failed on this account. Hinckley asserted his opinion about the press in 1974, and when he tacitly expresses that political commentators are gifted pickle suckers, he paints with a biased brush the very existence of the Fourth Estate.

The second is the dangerous precedent that this establishes. It’s easy for us to default to ideas that are lock-step with this kind of thinking, especially when it’s reintroduced in current contexts. If you’ve muttered the words “main-stream media” in derision, you’re who I’m talking about. Without The Fourth Estate, without the healthy lens of skepticism through which journalists write about and check the affairs of our government, we lose the ability to be well-informed, undermining the imperative ingredient to a successful democracy.

Granted there’s plenty wrong with the system; framing, agenda setting, commercial interests, yadda-yadda-yadda, but there HAS to be some credence left to the craft. Our country depends on it. It’s too easy for us to assert that it’s all gone to hell in a hand basket. For some reason folks like to jump onto that band wagon. It may take some effort to sift through the gifted pickle suckers and find those who still, like Murrow, Cronkite, even Joan Didion before, hold First, Second and Third Estate feet to the fire, but it’s an important, critical distinction to make.

That’s what we’re trying to do with the show, and last Friday that didn’t happen. And it’s been bugging me since.

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