Mayhill Fowler’s, former Huffington Post blogger, impact on the 2008 election is a transparency issue in its’ finest form. In a previous post I discussed the debate over what constitutes a “real journalist” and with cases like this I find myself questioning whether anyone truly knows what that is. In 2008 Fowler reported on a comment that then-presential candidate Obama made against small-town voters during an event that was deemed “closed press.” She said she openly recorded the event and that other reporters were recording the event as well.
“And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
In the aforementioned LA Times article USC journalism professor Larry Pryor said:
“We have entered new territory and the rules are not all clear. You have to assume that everything is on the record. There’s no getting around that anymore.”
This particular quote stuck out to me because Pryor is correct, in this day and age everything is on the record through the spread of social media. However, in this case, with an event that was clearly labeled as closed to the press I do not fully understand why Fowler did what she did. On one hand she acted as a member of the press by openly recording Obama, but during the incident with Bill Clinton where she incited malicious comments he made against a “fellow” journalist, she claimed she was just an ordinary citizen.
“Of course he had no idea I was a journalist,” Fowler said by phone from her Oakland home, recalling her close encounter with Clinton for “Off the Bus,” a citizen journalism project hosted by the Huffington Post website. “He just thought we were all average, ordinary Americans who had come out to see him. And, of course, in one sense, that is what I am.”
So there’s some confusion. How is it that one day all of the rights and privileges associated with journalism apply to someone one day, but don’t the next? Why are Fowler’s actions excusable when recording Obama at a closed press event, but not when attacking another journalist in a question directed at Clinton?
Being a journalist is giving up your title of “average, ordinary American,” in order to properly report on what’s going on. While in one sense your status as a citizen are still intact, you are now largely a part of something bigger and need to hold yourself accountable to the perks and risks that come with it. The actions you are taking can hold a tremendous amount of power, in this case can nearly change the tide of an entire election. While many things about journalism has shifted and changed with time, I believe one of the core tenants of being a journalist is, at least, knowing that you are a journalist. For some, it appears it’s still not that easy.