09/05/2011 05:37 pm ET Updated Nov 05, 2011

New Rules for Media: Fight Back, and Help the Country

There is an increasing likelihood that the 2012 candidates will decide that a better strategy is to avoid the media, hoping to employ unlimited corporate resources to deliver their messages without scrutiny.

This constitutes a major threat to the relevancy of news reporting and analysis. If the media does not fight back now, it will never regain its relevance.

Sure, the media can continue its inane blather, and it can continue serving as a tool for any campaign whose statements it decides to report.

Is that why people go into journalism?

Moreover, the media -- mainstream, lamestream and otherwise -- has the power to improve our political climate without losing or costing itself a dime and maintaining its relevancy.

Ideally, of course, one would like some real discussion, with follow-up questions and fact challenges. Media that actually did that would be of enormous value to the country, but it would require a change in format. It would require risking a guest it believes draws viewers no longer appearing. It is stunning but not surprising, for example, that Dick Cheney has made the rounds of TV without ever being asked why he ignored warnings prior to September 11.

Here are a few new totally non-partisan rules, however, that media, including this one, could adopt that would maintain their own relevancy and foster a more accountable politics at the same time:

  1. If a candidate is avoiding a media outlet, that outlet should not cover his or her campaign. Do not relate what that candidate or his or her campaign said, or what events it holds. Nothing. Blackout. A candidate who refuses to meet with a newspaper's editors or correspondents, or who refuses to be interviewed on a radio or TV station, ought not to be covered by that paper or by that outlet. Otherwise, the media is transformed into an arm of that campaign, trumpeting its press releases and spin. Of course, a candidate cannot be everywhere simultaneously, so some reasonable time from a request for an interview or appearance would be granted.
  2. Refuse to run any ads without full disclosure of the sponsors. Insist upon a statement, similar to ones candidates must make, that "this ad was paid for by X-Y-Z." Moreover, do not permit intermediaries to cloud the true sponsors; insist that the ultimate sources of the money be disclosed.
  3. Do full financial disclosure, just like CNBC does, on any guest's or author's conflicts of interest. A guest or author should have to sign a conflict-of-interest statement, including that person's current employer, and whatever clients those employers may have whose interests would be affected by the subject matter should be disclosed. For example, it is insufficient to say that a person is a former member of Congress. What firm he or she has joined and who that firm's clients are need to be disclosed.
  4. For current members of Congress, have them list their top five donors.

In Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court discovered that the original intent of the Founders was to have corporations treated as "persons" for purposes of the First Amendment, but it was clear that nothing in their opinion would preclude Congress from requiring disclosure.

The media need not await Congress to act. They have it within their power to set their own rules regarding guests' and authors' financial and other conflict-of-interest disclosures. They have it within their own power not to cover campaigns of candidates avoiding them.

As long as the rules are stated and enforced equally, there can be no credible claim of bias.

Fox, of course, will not do this.

But everyone else can and, in so doing, elevate their own credibility.

It takes only one to start.