There was an interesting juxtaposition of events last Thursday in the District of Columbia. It was the day the D.C. Bar held their annual Meet the Press event where they invite a number of local reporters to give their opinions on what is happening and what it means to the future of the District.
There are a slew of reporters covering the local political scene in the District and they were well represented on the panel, including Tom Sherwood, Channel 4; from the Washington Post, Nikita Stewart and Mike DeBonis; from the DC Examiner, Alan Blinder and Lisa Gartner; and from WTOP, Mark Seagraves. Also on the panel was Davis Kennedy, Publisher of the Current Newspapers, an owner rather than a reporter.
The program, initially scheduled for two hours, was shortened because some panelists had to leave early for other meetings. The moderator posed a series of questions to the panel; then there was a short period of time for the audience to ask questions; and then what was called the crystal ball section where the moderator asked the reporters what they thought future news cycles would bring and what they would like to write or report more about if they had their druthers. This elicited an amusing response from Kennedy, who said he would like to see more stories about zoning and many in the audience thought, "Well then, have them written since you own the paper!"
Another panelist and excellent reporter, Mark Segraves, said passionately that he would like to do more "good" stories about the great things happening and about the good people in the district. But by the end of the day, one had to question this sentiment, because before the day was out Segraves 'broke' what he obviously felt was another great scandal. He reported that the mayor's children are using skybox tickets to events at the Verizon Center and other venues for which the mayor gets a free box. What a story: the mayor's family gets a perk. Maybe next week he will do another story about the president's wife and daughters, and White House staffers using the president's box at the Kennedy Center. Could be another great scandal in the making!
Anyone who follows government closely understands how really few perks there are to being mayor of the District of Columbia. There is practically no entertainment allowance; no mayoral home as there is in many other cities; a grueling seven day a week schedule and a bevy of reporters with nothing else to do but cover your every move.
From the comments I have heard since this last 'scandal' broke, there are few who have an issue with the Mayor's family using a few seats at these events. There is a long list of other people who have benefited from those seats, including non-profit groups. This list is open and available, as we could see from Segraves, who had it in his hand when he confronted the mayor about it. The mayor's kids worked hard on his election and if what they get is a few good seats to events, it really should not be a big deal. In fact, since the mayor's wife is deceased, his daughter is actually serving as the official First Lady of the district and has acted many times in that role for him to the benefit of the people of the district.
As the questions and answers at the Meet the Press panel indicated, many are obsessed with the ethics issues in the district. Many of the initial questions by the moderator dealt with the current scandals or potential scandals on the D.C. Council and in the Mayor's Office. When the audience got a chance to make a point or ask a question, former Councilmember Jim Nathanson both questioned and chastised the reporters -- especially the print reporters -- for taking every chance they could, even in totally unrelated stories, to refer to either the council or mayoral investigations. He asked why they did this and one panel member seemed to indicate that is what their editors asked or expected them to do.
As always, the question of who focuses more on ethics issues in any government -- the public or the press -- was discussed, and it is always like asking, "Which came first? The chicken or the egg?" There is no simple answer that will satisfy. The reporters on the panel felt that the ethics stories will continue to dominate, and some like Sherwood feel strongly that they are, "Like a wet blanket over everything else in the district." Some in the audience disagreed with that assessment in conversations after the event.
We are blessed with a lot of great local reporters in the District of Columbia. However, it sometimes does appear they are looking more to one-up each other than to bring important news to the people of the city. I guess that is just the news business.