Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should

blog imagePeople talk to me all the time about how we need more bipartisanship in government and more civility in the media.  I agree – on both counts.  And I have a glimpse today as to why we don’t have it.

Because when we are presented with the moment when we can take the higher road, think better thoughts about people, tell the better story – we don’t.  Case in point – the story this week about the Matheson brothers.

Let me admit to you that I have great personal respect for both Scott Matheson Jr. and his brother, Representative Jim Matheson.  Scott was a professor of mine in law school many moons ago.  He taught civil procedure and the 1st amendment, and he taught ethics – not in an actual class – but by example.  When I heard that he was nominated to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, I was delighted.  He may be the best legal mind ever nominated to such a position from this state.  And then I heard the next question – did President Obama nominate him just to buy his brother’s vote on health care?


I know the timing.  I know the pressure.  I’m not quite as naive as I look.  But whether you agree with Jim Matheson on the issues or not, has he ever done anything to make anyone believe he is so unethical that his vote on such an important matter, or any matter, could be bought with a job for his brother?  There is no question we can’t ask as members of the media, and no allegation we can’t level as political opponents.  I get it.  But just because we can ask the question, doesn’t mean we should – because when we do, we change the news.  We change the discussion.  We choose sensation over civility.

I don’t make the decisions about what stories are covered or how they are covered, but I do believe we can lift the tone and the service of our reporting by lifting our intentions.  What was our intention in asking if the vote was bought?  We knew the answer would be “NO!!!!”  So . . . what was our intention?  To stir it up.  To suggest a scandal, which we believe will lead to bigger ratings than being respectful would.  What would our intention have been if we didn’t ask the question?  To show respect where respect is earned, to value civility, to lift the level of our discourse, and let the ratings be what they will.

It happens one decision at a time.  That’s how the media becomes more civil.  That’s how politics becomes more bipartisan.  In one difficult moment, someone who is in a position to do so makes the right decision, even if it may lead to uncomfortable justification after the fact.  “No, I’m not a wimp.  That’s not news.  Unsubstantiated malicious suggestion is not news.”

Then the rest of us applaud.  That’s our job. 

And the snowball begins to pick up steam.

One comment on “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should
  1. Bob Ligget says:

    I have to disagree with you here, Amanda. There is to my mind nothing sensationalistic about linking Jim Matheson’s potential vote on Obamacare with his brother’s nomination to the bench. Quite the opposite. There is every reason to think that this is exactly Obama’s intention: to buy Jim’s vote. Remember, Jim has already changed his voting status from “opposed” to “undecided,” which is a clear signal to Obama to try. Other examples of this are well-documented, such as the payoffs to Louisiana and Nebraska for Senate votes on Obamacare. This is also SOP for Chicago-style politics. No one can honestly believe that the nomination timing was coincidental, can they? It’s a reminder to Jim that the White House is thinking about him, and that he can know he has friends there. Pundits on both sides have arrived at the same conclusion, or at least have said it sure looks suspicious. From Fox to NPR. You know, if it looks like a duck….

    Now it’s something else again to know or to suggest that Jim will accept this “incentive” from Obama. He has said it will have no influence and we can take him at his word. I don’t know either of the brothers as you do, so I have no association to color my perspective. Obama has put Jim in a no-win situation, however. If he changes his vote as now hoped for, Jim will be seen as having been bought off. And if he votes against the bill again the Democrat leadership and the White House will likely find a way to make him pay.

    I’ll say again, offering the judgeship to Scott Matheson is part of an established pattern set by Obama to buy votes. He’s done this before! The media would be remiss, negligent even, to ignore the story and the implications. No one is casting aspersions against your friends, but they are being used by Obama and his advisors. Scott may well be an excellent choice for this position, I don’t know. But we all know that Obama needs every House vote he can get, and this is a man with few scruples when it comes to vote-buying. This IS news. Legitimate, substantial news with enormous implications. I’m all for the media becoming more civil, but this is simple reporting. If a scandal is suggested, it’s because there is ample history behind it.

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