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Tom Henderson: Politicians hate to see their own reflections

Canstock photo
Canstock photo

Poor U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She has developed a severe case of eisoptrophobia.

It was only a matter of time, I suppose. And yet she seemed so young and confident. So, you know, together.
I thought she might be spared. Naive of me, I guess.

For some reason, even after watching elected officials caper and cavort around their natural habitat for 40 years, as I crouch in relative safety behind my notebook and typewriter, I keep hoping.

One day, one day, maybe one or two of them will make it through an entire term of office unafflicted.

If you are unfamiliar with the term eisoptrophobia, look it up in your Funk & Wagnalls. There may well be a small photo of Donald Trump next to it.
That’s the weird bit.

You would think, with Donald Trump as a veritable walking cautionary PSA, other politicians would learn the symptoms of eisoptrophobia and seek help in time.

Yet it ravages their ecosystem from local school boards to the halls of Congress, respecting no party line or ideology. Eisoptrophobia, you see, is the phobia connected with seeing one’s own reflection.

Symptoms, particularly in politics, include lashing out at any reflective surface — including mirrors, windows and the news media. Especially the news media.
Mirrors and windows are easy enough to avoid. However, when you are in politics, those pesky reporters are everywhere.

##U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

They’re always researching and fact-checking everything you say. You can barely sneak in one tiny fibbish exaggeration without half the press corps pouncing on it like flies on manure.

Often, what all this researching and fact-checking reflects back to you is unsightly. Yes, those falsehoods not only make your butt look big, but also like it switched places with your head.

The only recourse at that point is blame the reporters.

Guest Writer

Tom Henderson covers city government and social issues for the News-Register. He has served as a reporter and editor at Northwest newspapers for almost 40 years. As a result, he holds a keen interest in the role the free press plays in the health of our government and society.

President Trump, with his patented “Enemy of the People” brand of horse manure, is a renowned master of the craft. The art of the spiel, you might say.
Yet his rants against the press are so paranoiac and unhinged, liberals often get a kick out of them. They smugly think themselves immune from such mental and emotional infirmity.

Which brings us back to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez.

She’s every true liberal’s dream — a scrappy underdog from The Bronx, barely old enough to serve in Congress, coming from nowhere to vanquish a crusty old white male incumbent.

Ocasio-Cortez arrived in Washington with a fresh agenda, fresh perspective and fresh attitude, reflecting the young and progressive wing of the Democratic Party. She was a veritable living model of inclusivity.

Then along came those blankety-blank reporters.

When Politico used anonymous sources for a story about her, Ocasio-Cortez immediately reached for the Trump Playbook to say anonymous sources equal invalid journalism.

She avoided using the words “fake news.” But she branded the story “gossip masquerading as reporting” and the sort of thing her father used to ridicule as “birdcage lining,” which is pretty much the same thing.

After PoltiFact pointed out numerous errors in some of her public statements, she criticized fact-checking in general.

Yes, she said, facts are important. However, it is “false equivalence” for fact-checkers to verify her statements like they do those of a notorious fabricator like Donald Trump. As an example, she cited fact-checking legitimate scientists as vigorously as climate change deniers.

Ask Donald Trump and his fellow climate change deniers if they think they are treated fairly by fact-checkers. I’m pretty sure you know the answer.

Most of the time, people cry bias and trot out words like “false equivalence” when reality becomes widely known and fails to flatter them.

When eisoptrophobia progresses to its next phase, the victim begins attempting to operate outside the gaze of the press.

Ocasio-Cortez held a public town hall in her district Jan. 13. Reporters were cordially invited to stay the s--- away.

Politicians schedule town halls all the time. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden held one in McMinnville Jan. 4.

Reporters are never excluded. Neither are pastry chefs. Neither is anyone else. Hence the word “public.”

Naturally, Ocasio-Cortez said the banning of reporters was a “non-story,” which is political-speak for “a story I don’t want covered.” She assured reporters they would be invited to future public events.

Gee, thanks. Maybe her nibs could toss us some leftover Halloween candy as long as she’s feeling magnanimous.

Ocasio-Cortez said she just wanted to allow immigrants, victims of domestic violence and other vulnerable people to join the discussion without fear of recrimination. What a bunch of cow chips.

First of all, a public event is a public event. Reporters are not licensed like physicians and attorneys. Anyone can be a reporter. It’s called the First Amendment. Therefore, you can’t invite the public and ban the press.

Ocasio-Cortez is correct that marginalized people should be heard. That’s why journalists so often interview homeless people, immigrants, domestic violence victims and anyone else getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop. And it’s all the more reason the press should be included.

Ocasio-Cortez’s recent words and actions suggest she’s actually more concerned about her vulnerability than that of others.

If you’re a journalist, and an appealing young politician doesn’t want you around, it makes you wonder if Rep. Dorian Gray might just have a painting of himself in the attic.

I know. I’m guilty of singling out Ocasio-Cortez for a near-universal affliction.

I apologize. But working for a semi-weekly community newspaper in far-off Oregon, I’m the smallest of small potatoes.

Nonetheless, I may still find myself the subject of one of her blistering tweets, given her notoriously thin skin and her inability to let even the smallest criticism go unanswered.

The larger point here is that eisoptrophobia affects politicians everywhere, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, city councilor or U.S. senator,  Donald Trump or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“All governments are run by liars,” the iconoclastic journalist I.F. Stone once said. “Nothing they say should be believed.”

That’s a bit hyperbolic, but the meaning is valid: Our allegiance as free people shouldn’t be to any one politician, no matter how appealing or charismatic. Neither should we allow any ideology a blank check in the way of support.

We must have an unflinching regard for facts and the truth, wherever they lead. Let the truth be told though the heavens fall.

Comments

Mike

I agree with your conclusions. That you used AOC and Trump as examples in your argument is the dilemma journalism faces these days. AOC & Trump (being Presidente' its easier) are working hard so you find it almost mandatory to mention them. We seem to be living in a soap opera culture.

Don Dix

Consider this -- Possibly eisoptrophobia amongst our supposed leaders is not what they see in the mirror, but what they don't see (vampires were believed to have no reflection because they have no soul)!

Sponge

People who run for public office are asking a lot other people, who don't really know the office seekers, to trust them. Accountability is provided almost exclusively by the press. It goes with the territory. As Ronnie once intoned, "trust, but verify." Or, going back further, " if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. "

Joel

Journalists are not perfect mirrors. They're warped to one degree or another by their own personal biases hence (though some may sincerely try) they never provide a perfect reflection of the things they report on. And I think truly honest, intelligent, thoughtful observers would admit that most (with the obvious exception of Fox News) are "bent" towards the liberal perspective.
They used to keep up a veneer of fairness but when their precious Hillary was defeated off came the veneer and its been full throttle, all out war against Trump from day one.
I personally don't care for Trump but it has been deeply enjoyable to watch the liberal media flail around in despair and desperation for the past two years. Feels like they are finally getting their comeuppance for the more subtle and clever biases they have exerted against conservatives for decades.

Rumpelstilzchen

Joel:
I don‘t really understand where you see the desperation and despair in the liberal media. Trump has done wonders for all of them; subscriptions are up after a long period of decline, 2018 was one of CNN‘s best years ever. It‘s just like the Obama effect helped Fox, except more so, since a majority of Americans actually prefer Trump-critical, reality-based news by some margin. And we‘re seeing some of the best journalism and commentary in a long time, including from conservative columnists.
Fox maintains its lead in ratings only because it‘s the only serious news source on the right, unless you want to slip into the netherworld of Breitbart, Drudge, Infowars and such.

Joel

Good points, Rumpel. And I do agree with you.
But I'm not talking about ratings or profits or even networks as a whole. I'm talking about individual reporters. As just one of many examples, think back to the smug, self righteous Katie Couric and her disgraceful treatment of Sara Palen and then contrast that with the sweaty, furrowed brows and exasperated, stressed, strained expressions on the faces of the likes of Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon and Lawrence O'Donell as they try (unsuccessfully) to tear Trump down in similar fashion. Sara Palen proved an easy mark for them. The same dirty tricks aren't working on Trump. That's what I'm talking about when I say they are "flailing around in despair and desperation" and "getting their comeuppance."

Treehouse

In these times the media in all their various forms seem to be straining to contort themselves into fun house mirrors, since that is our chosen metaphor today. However politicians react to this distortion, I see this ending badly for everyone.

Professional standards of fact gathering, reporting and editing are being challenged by individuals and events in ways our society and the media industry have never seen before and have not anticipated. Comforting norms from the past, previously taken for granted, have been inverted, bent, and distorted beyond recognition, leaving journalists unsure of their footing as they struggle to move forward.

That struggle for equilibrium and "balance" when so much raw information is so badly distorted can result in some comical drunken weaving and lurching by those trying to navigate through the fun house while still clinging to the normal perspectives left behind.

Wise journalists will train themselves to repudiate those bygone norms and expectations and instead redouble themselves to reflect the true image before them. Lies are lies, and should be labeled as such - not "inaccuracies", not "misstatements" and certainly not "alternative facts". And should any government official, whoever they might be, and whatever their base of political support, establish a pattern of lying to the media, wise journalists will respond to that directly and unflinchingly reflecting the truth regardless of consequence. A government press office that repeatedly and consistently lies to the media should be directly challenged and called to account for it before any further such official statements are passed along.

To do otherwise invites disrespect. The kind of disrespect that results in being excluded from public events.

Trafik

Eloquently and equitably put, Treehouse.

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