Should ‘Joe’ stick to plumbing?Written by Jim Blue | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When I first heard of Sam “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher during the presidential campaign, I thought he had the makings of a good reporter. Wurzelbacher gained his fame when Barack Obama visited Holland, Ohio. Joe asked Obama some tough questions about his tax policy. They were questions that most reporters failed to ask. Indeed, during the final debate, John McCain seized on this disparity in coverage and “Joe the Plumber” became the darling of conservatives.
Fast forward to today. Joe has been hired by a news oulet called Pajamas Media to report from Israel during the Gaza conflict. His first appearance demonstrated his continuing disgust with traditional media. Joe’s rant about reporters in the war zone made a big splash on YouTube.
In Joe’s words, “I don’t think journalists should be anywhere allowed war (sic). I mean, you guys report where our troops are at … I think it’s asinine … I think media should be abolished from, uh, you know reporting.” Hmm. Well, never mind that Joe, himself, was hired to report from the war zone. And never mind that “our” troops from the U.S.A. are not fighting there. And never mind that the casualties in the war are far higher on the Palestinian side than the Israeli side. Wurzelbacher was expressing a view held by many conservatives who believe the mainstream media are pretty close to traitorous when it comes to military security.
CNN anchor Rick Sanchez ripped Joe for his lack of polish and his failure to appreciate the role of the press. Sanchez even went so far as to compare Joe to Fidel Castro. Sanchez’s diatribe was at least as far off the mark as Joe’s.
The chastened Wurzelbacher went on to report a piece about the risks Israeli school kids experience from Hamas rocket fire. It showed how Israelis have built bomb shelters that look like playground equipment. And it was genuine, reflective, but one-sided coverage about life in this heartbreaking conflict.
Unlike plumbing, no union card is required to be a war correspondent. That’s good. Anyone with the guts to enter a war zone with a camera or a reporter’s notebook has the obligation, if not the qualifications, to convey his perceptions to the masses.
Often the reporting will be uncomfortable to one side or the other. Most reporters can appreciate the need to hold some facts back to protect the security of friendly troops. The public will determine whether the reporting is worthwhile.
I have had the privilege of reporting from four overseas conflicts: Rwanda, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Each time I have been in the company of U.S. military personnel. And each time these brave men and women have thanked me for conveying their stories to the folks back home.
If we have learned anything from Iraq, it should be that more aggressive war coverage is needed, not less. Some tough questions from the media, like the ones Wurzelbacher asked Obama, might have prevented the abuses at Abu Ghraib, or might have prompted the public to more closely examine the need for war.
So Joe, I think you’ve got the right instincts for reporting. I’m afraid you must learn your craft on the job. You can expect to make some mistakes as you develop from apprentice to journeyman. Just remember, ask the tough questions of everyone, including those you sympathize with.
E-mail columnist Jim Blue at Jim@JimBlue.com.