Kenneth Cooper ’73 Analyzes Role of Media in Election

Though coverage of this election impressed Kenneth Cooper ’73, he picked up on issues and stories the papers did not. Cooper, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former national editor for the Boston Globe, discussed the media’s role in the presidential election at a forum in Kemper on Sunday, hosted by the Andover Ethics Society. “The unpopularity of the current president and the Iraq war, plus the state of the economy—that all plays a role,” Cooper said. He continued, “Journalists make the mistake of saying that voting is rational; there are a lot of emotional and psychological things that matter and go unnoticed during elections.” Cooper said that he believes the media gave a mostly accurate portrayal of the candidates in this election. However, he criticized the media’s placement of President-elect Barack Obama into a new generation of black politics. Cooper said that Obama is actually a late baby boomer. “African American baby boomers in the government aren’t new. Since 1993, there has been a huge influx [of them]. The media has really missed the opportunity to uncover the social change in America,” said Cooper. Cooper added that he wished he learned more about the formation of the candidates. Specifically, he wanted an account of how Obama formed his racial identity from the perspective of others, not just from Obama’s memoir. Cooper believed the media made a good decision to not pry into the pregnancy of Governor Sarah Palin’s daughter, even though it could have created an interesting story on Palin’s parenting and principles. Cooper said the media has “an ethical principle not to invade on the privacy of a child.” Cooper said he was impressed with the New York Times when it published an article in early September that provided evidence that Senator John McCain’s advertisements contained more false information than Obama’s. According to Cooper, there was less “truth-squatting” prior to this election. However, the Internet has encouraged diligent reporting because of the widespread public access to information, said Cooper. On the other hand, Cooper said that he was highly disappointed with the media’s coverage of Obama’s religion, especially in relation to claims that Obama was Muslim. According to Cooper, the media failed to indicate that the Constitution states that religion does not matter for the presidency. He also said the media needed to ask questions such as: “How could Obama have a Christian pastor while still being a Muslim?” Overall, Cooper said he was highly impressed with the minimal level of emotion displayed by the media. “I believe that a journalist should stay detached from the news unless it deals with death,” said Cooper. During the question and answer period, an audience member questioned the degree of fact-checking the media had given to the Iraq war. Cooper said that the problem was rooted in the difficulty of finding government sources. “Unless you had national security sources who were willing to break the law, it was hard to develop information to check the president’s facts on Iraq,” said Cooper. He continued, “The Times got in trouble for letting anonymous sources give ‘facts.’” Cooper added that it is very difficult for journalists to find accurate statistics related to a specific topic. Another audience member asked Cooper how he felt the media, especially newspapers, could stay connected and relevant in a world that is increasingly turning to blogs and talk shows for information. “I think newspapers should become more like their European counterparts—more insightful, analytical and full of depth,” said Cooper. “But I don’t agree that the Daily Show and blogs are the only source of news. Blogs are more the repetition of news and views.” Cooper made the distinction that newspapers not only tell facts but also entertain readers. He said, “It’s an issue of balance and prominence.” Cooper shared a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for his reporting in “The Race Factor,” a Boston Globe series that investigated institutional racism in Boston. He was 28 years old. From 1996 to 1999, Cooper was the Washington Post’s correspondent for South Asia, reporting on India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, all from New Delhi. Cooper served as the National Editor for the Globe from 2001 to 2005.