‘Our job is to blow things out of all proportion.” That was the slogan that a political reporter friend of mine once suggested we have printed on T-shirts.
At the time, we were covering Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, and Reagan worshippers were convinced that we were intent on exploiting Reagan’s age and his every gaffe and misstep.
Blowing things out of proportion is a fairly common criticism of the press, and my friend’s facetious suggestion was meant as a humorous response to the critics.
But there is, to be sure, sometimes ample justification for the charge. In fact, one television network, Fox News, seems devoted solely to the proposition that there is no story involving President Barack Obama that it can’t work into a negative spin, or blow out of all proportion.
The proliferation of blogs and online news sites, many of them unaccountable and subject to little or no editing, also is reason enough to be skeptical about some of the reports that find their way into mainstream news outlets.
But if I were suggesting a slogan for a T-shirt today, I think it would read, “It is getting harder and harder to blow things out of all proportion.”
Much of the quirky, weird and disturbing news we have seen over the past several weeks requires no embellishment.
A headline on the front page of last Saturday’s Bee, for instance, read “Senator, brother indicted,” and a headline on Page 3 read, “Senator’s felony sentencing delayed.”
We’re talking about the Calderon brothers, Ron and Tom, and Rod Wright, respectively, and our very own California state Senate.
At the bottom of that same Page 3, we learned that a Republican gubernatorial candidate, state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, would not face legal action for his publicized use of firearms at campaign events.
Donnelly is on probation after being convicted of two misdemeanor charges in 2012 for having a gun in his carry-on baggage at Ontario International Airport.
You literally could not make this stuff up.
Then there were the reports of aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blocking access to a bridge as political payback to a small-town mayor, while Christie, a known control freak, insisted he knew nothing about it.
In their best moments, political satirists Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert couldn’t have wished for more.
A middle-aged, white, gun-toting yahoo in Florida objected to the loud music coming from a car full of African-American teenagers so took out his pistol and shot them, killing one and injuring three. But a jury, in all its wisdom, convicted him only of attempted murder. The judge declared a mistrial on the murder charge.
Fast forward to the just-concluded Sochi Olympics and Vladimir Putin’s decision to reach deep into Russian history and bring back Cossack militiamen to help patrol Sochi streets.
Not surprisingly, given the Cossacks’ brutal reputation, it didn’t take long for them to make news, beating members of the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot, who were carrying out a peaceful protest against Putin authoritarianism.
Again, you couldn’t make this stuff up, including the name of the rock band.
Whether something is blown out of proportion, of course, often depends on perspective. What strikes some readers and/or viewers as overblown may strike others as perfectly legitimate news.
And there also is the problem of people bringing their own biases and prejudices to bear on what they read or see, no matter how unfair and unbalanced, and gravitating only to those media outlets that validate those views, which has to explain the staying power of Fox News.
William Endicott is a former deputy managing editor of The Sacramento Bee.