Today we are focusing on two of the greatest crimes being committed against our democracy, even as we speak.
The first crime is the devolution of democracy through a torrent of demagoguery, deception, distortion and just plain lying — throughout the marathon 2016 presidential campaign. It has been done to you by the candidates who are trying to convince you they (alone!) are uniquely qualified to lead you.
The second crime is the failure of the one branch of our process of governance that is uniquely positioned to be the guardians of our democracy — yes, I’m talking about the non-governmental arm of good governance that is my news media colleagues. Citizens count on journalists to tell them what is true, what is believable and what is not. Citizens also rely on journalists to inform people, through incisive reporting and interviewing about whether candidates are making promises they have no intention of fulfilling — or have no idea how to fulfill.
In one specific type of journalism — fact-checking — my colleagues have done a pretty good job of spotlighting false and distorted statements. Especially those made by neophyte politician Donald Trump, who has already broken every fact-checking record for the number of false and misleading statements by a politician.
But Trump mainly wrapped his TV media interviewers around his pinky (make your own size joke if you’re into such drivel) day after day, as he set the indoor record for most free media time donated by TV news networks whoring after ratings. Indeed, Trump often was in competition with himself as he appeared on several Sunday news-talk TV shows simultaneously. Mostly they all bored you with the same-old questions about the horserace, the polls and so on.
Now this: Today we are spotlighting what some elitists may consider a rather unlikely source of journalistic excellence in in-depth, intellectually deep candidate interviewing. This pursuit of truth in politics occurred in an interview on (of all days!) April 1, when the editorial board of the New York Daily News (the tabloid that mainly gets celebrated for its shocking and sometimes witty front page headlines) met with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
The Daily News editors did the sort of in-depth interviewing scores of political journalists failed to pursue all campaign. The Vermont senator, a proud democratic-socialist independent, has energized Democratic primary voters as few candidates ever have, with his calls for breaking up huge Wall Street banks. A Daily News journalist asked Sanders to name three of the worst corporate offenders.
DAILY NEWS: “(W)ould you name, say, three American corporate giants that are destroying the national fabric?”
SANDERS: “JPMorgan Chase, and virtually every other major bank in this country. … Right now, there are still millions of people in this country who are suffering the results of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street.”
A number of pointed questions later, a journalist asked: “How do you go about doing it?” Sanders response showed he really wasn’t as clear as he ought to be about how he’d keep this major promise.
SANDERS: “How you go about doing it is having legislation passed, or giving the authority to the secretary of treasury to determine, under (the) Dodd-Frank (banking reform act), that these banks are a danger to the economy over the problem of too-big-to-fail.”
DAILY NEWS: “But do you think that the Fed, now, has that authority?”
SANDERS: “Well, I don’t know if the Fed has it. But I think the administration can have it.”
The Daily News asked what sort of new bank a resulting new entity should be.
SANDERS: “I’m not running JPMorgan Chase or Citibank.”
DAILY NEWS: “No. But you’d be breaking it up.”
SANDERS: “That’s right. And that is their decision as to what they want to do and how they want to reconfigure themselves.”
Then a journalist recalled that a court once rejected a government attempt to financially regulate Metropolitan Life and asked, “What does that presage for your program?”
SANDERS: “It’s something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.”
Fast forward. On Wednesday, CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Hillary Clinton about a Sanders advisor’s comment that voters only need to know a candidate’s goal — because his boss can figure out the rest after becoming president.
Clinton erupted in a long, hearty guffaw (not that fake cackle Saturday Night Live loves to spoof). “I think the presidents who are successful know what they want to do — and they know how to do it,” Clinton said. “And they hit the ground running.”
Martin Schram is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.