Brain Dead Media

Last weekend, I met Jonathan Tasini, one of several candidates hoping to knock off scandal-ridden incumbent Charles Rangel in New York’s 15th Congressional District.

I immediately liked Mr. Tasini. When I respectfully challenged a few of his views, he listened attentively and responded thoughtfully. Despite disagreeing with some of his views, I walked away from our conversation thinking he’s the kind of substantive candidate whose voice should have a place in our national debate.

But I received a fundraising e-mail from him yesterday that surprised me (he issued the same text as a press release). In it, he launched a full-frontal attack on the media, saying:

“‘Journalists’ show no interest or knowledge in any issue…”
“…the press is lazy and brain dead.”
“…in their ignorance, the ‘journalists’ had no idea the errors were made.”

It’s not uncommon for candidates to run using the media as an enemy. But the attacks typically come from conservative candidates who rail against the “liberal” media, not a liberal candidate running in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Can his political strategy work?

Probably not. Mr. Tasini’s record indicates he is a man of substance who cares deeply about the issues, but his media attack doesn’t help him advance those views. Attacking the media will likely become the story itself, meaning he will likely get more of the substance-free coverage he decries.

If he issued the release to motivate supporters who may be similarly disenchanted by the media’s superficial coverage of his campaign, I’m skeptical it will help him attract a broader base. The New York Times may be a boogeyman for the right, but it’s beloved by Manhattanites – and since Mr. Tasini doesn’t specify the target of his attack, it’s fair to presume the Times is included. (Mr.Tasini sued The New York Times in a highly publicized case several years ago on behalf of freelance writers.)

Finally, even assuming his assertions about the mainstream media are true, he couldn’t possibly be running in a better district at a better time. Mr. Tasini told me that of the 435 Congressional districts, his is the most geographically concentrated, meaning he could more easily meet a large number of voters than in any other district in the nation. And in the age of social media, he doesn’t have to be as dependent on the mainstream press. A smart use of social networking can bypass the media gatekeeper to reach his constituents directly.

I’m sympathetic to Mr. Tasini’s frustration with the media’s propensity for too often covering the dramatic and easy. I just wish he recognized that his chances would be greater by working more effectively within the flawed media system than by attacking it with hyperbolic rhetoric.