Essay about Republican Party

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

The complainant characterized Michael Enright’s essay about the state of the Republican Party as a “rant” and said it lacked balance. I found that inflammatory language and some of Enright’s observations detracted from the analysis.

You (Viggo Lewis) wrote to complain about an opening essay Michael Enright delivered on The Sunday Edition concerning the state of the Republican Party. You characterized his commentary as a “rant.” “This bordered on hate speech and was totally devoid of any semblance of balance.” You felt there should have been some defence of the party especially when it came to Mr. Enright’s assertion that the party is working for the downfall of the American government. The context, of course, is the on-going gridlock in the U.S. Congress. You wrote, “Totally absent was ‘the other side of the story’ which was summed up by Michael Bloomberg the other day on the Charlie Rose show who, in response to a question about the log jam in Congress, stated that the President’s job is to lead, and Mr. Obama has not done so, preferring to use his pulpit to blame Republicans.” You feel there is no place for “this type of one-sided journalism” on CBC, and while you find this a particularly egregious example, you are not happy with Mr. Enright’s output generally.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Susan Mahoney, the Executive Producer of The Sunday Edition, responded to your concerns. “Michael’s essays are opinion pieces, but they must reside within the bounds of fair comment based on fact. In my view, his essay about the Republican party met that standard.” She pointed out that the Republicans in Congress have blocked the raising of the debt ceiling and significant nominations for important positions. She felt this proves the activity has moved beyond partisanship. She also pointed out that prominent Republicans have levelled some of the same criticisms about the tone and behavior of the party. She went on to say that Michael is not easily categorized, and that his essays come from his own unique perspective. As an example, she points out his defense of free speech around the case of prominent personality Tom Flanagan. “In my view, Michael is an excellent journalist whose views don’t fall comfortably into the camps of left and right.”

REVIEW

Since the re-election of President Barack Obama, critics and insiders alike have been analyzing and debating the state of the Republican Party. Party insiders have been trying to understand why they did not fare better in the November 2012 election. Since that election, public opinion polls consistently show that the party is out of step with a majority of Americans on some key issues. The same polls find that the Republicans are held to be responsible for the stasis in Congress.

Some former party officials and Congressional staffers do believe the party has become captive of people who hold extreme views, especially on a range of social issues, and that this has hurt and alienated potential voters, and perhaps blunted the economic messages of the party. Prominent Republicans have called for a more inclusive, less extreme position. When Conservative–friendly publications like Commentary feature articles entitled “How to Save the Republican Party,” it seems fair game to analyze the state of the party. The public soul searching touches on many of the points Mr. Enright makes in his essay.

Michael Enright’s essay was entitled “The GOP is destroying itself.” He painted a picture of a party that had dug in and represented some fairly extreme views on a variety of issues. He contrasts this with the historical party whose presidents include Eisenhower, Reagan and Lincoln. He says “It has gone from being an enlightened, open, moderately-conservative, pragmatic political party to a nativist, backward-looking, mean-minded haven for every gun-nut, birther, misogynist fanatic in the United States.” He goes on to quote a political writer who backs up his view, although allowing some of those comments might be “a bit over the top.”

One might say the same of some of Mr. Enright’s turns of phrase — but the question at hand is whether the essay violated CBC policy on balance and fairness, and opinion. It is a grey zone where analysis ends and opinion begins. The essay was not an argument about who is at fault in Congress, it was an essay about the current state of the Republican Party. And while the language was inflammatory, its conclusions are based on evidence. Given this was a commentary, not a segment of the program devoted to examining the issues in depth, there is not the same requirement to touch on opposing points of view. In reviewing the history of the party, Mr. Enright provides a broader perspective. He points out that the party did not always take such a hard line, and reminds listeners of its successes and accomplishments under various presidents. “It wasn’t always thus, with the party that freed the slaves. There were moderates who understood the mechanics of governing through consensus.”

Senior journalists like Michael Enright, especially in current affairs programs as opposed to newscasts, have a certain latitude to bring their considerable knowledge and depth to events of the day. We expect CBC journalists to be able to draw conclusions based on evidence. We are back at that grey zone — where does thought-provoking analysis stray past the allowable limits of CBC policy. Parts of this essay were in context, and fact based. They make a cogent argument about the current state of the Republican Party. The inflammatory language and some of the observations detract from the analysis. Asserting that in Congress “it (the Republican Party) toils for its real employer, Fox News” and references to the Taliban cross the line.

Esther Enkin CBC Ombudsman