Hoffman: Media hurts credibility, fuels distrust with coverage of Idaho lieutenant governor

Wayne Hoffman Articles

Dear Idaho reporters, editors, news directors, and producers:

I write today about Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and the reportage of the events of Feb. 28. I write as someone who has been on all three sides of the discrimination triangle: I’ve been a victim of it; I have reported on it. And I have been the subject of articles on the topic.

I write also as a person who plays a prominent role in the political space and who happens to be a former journalist. I want to prevent a repeat of the way McGeachin’s innocently uploaded Facebook photo was covered.

In one story, she was portrayed as posing with people displaying “white power” symbols. In another, she was criticized for being photographed with anti-government militia movement members. A photo caption, apparently since removed from the news website on which I saw it, claimed that the lieutenant governor’s misstep was being with Second Amendment activists.

Stories described a public drumbeat for McGeachin to step down, yet those stories presented no evidence of such a call. Coverage of the incident was sloppy and rushed, and unduly harsh. They were unfair to her and reinforces the narrative that the media is a liberal cabal intent on disseminating “fake news” about conservative political figures.

To readers, viewers, and listeners of such coverage, it makes it seem as if our lieutenant governor is under the same kind of cloud as that of public officials in Virginia. This is unfair to McGeachin and does a disservice to news consumers. It also makes it hard for free marketers who have a role in setting public policy to feel they can trust the news media. Conservatives feel that at any moment, a misplaced word or a misconstrued photo will subject them to career-altering attention or community alienation.

At the same time, many don’t understand, as you and I do, that it is difficult to be a journalist. It doesn’t help that more and more reporters and entire news outlets are openly biased, with bulk leftward leaning. (Witness the attack of me a couple of weeks ago wherein a reporter referred to herself in the first person when writing a news article on my criticism of the government school system).

Bias is one problem. Most reporters just worry about being scooped. In a world of one-hour news cycles and national producers looking for the latest hot story, there’s tremendous pressure to not be the journalist last on the scene or the news producer who didn’t deploy resources to that which might make headlines around the world.

Some news teams probably viewed the photo and determined that it was probably (forgive the double negatives) not not news, which meant it couldn’t not be reported.

Still, harm was done. A person who is not a racist was portrayed as one. You know this, and I know this.

It’s not just overheated rhetoric that’s tearing this nation apart. It’s innocent dialogue and interactions being made into headlines from the latest social media outrage, a fire flammed by activist groups looking to score quick points through the lens of identity politics. Janice is a victim of that.

We owe it to both people in the news and to journalism as a profession to do better. I’m not here to tell you that I have all the answers. But I am here to suggest that it’s time we work together to find those answers. What happened to the lieutenant governor was wrong. Similar treatment of my organization a few years ago was also wrong.

Enough sensationalizing except for that which is sensational. Enough allowing the media to be used as a tool to attack people with whom they disagree. And enough taking innocent actions, such as those of our lieutenant governor, and turning them into something they’re not.