The Time to Vet Candidates is BEFORE the Election, Reporters

Have you heard what’s happening in Virginia lately? The political leadership of the state is melting down. All because the press apparently failed to do its job before these bozos were elected.

Of course, the national news media has been obsessed with Gov. Ralph Northam, since a right-wing outlet found and released the two-page spread in his medical school yearbook from 1984, featuring a photo of a man in a KKK cloak and hood and another wearing minstrel-show style blackface.

Northam didn’t ignore the release. Instead, he made everything worse. He first copped to the picture and took responsibility, but the very next day, he held a press conference in which he then denied he was one of the people in the photograph, but them admitted to two things no one had even asked about; that he had once “darkened his skin” to play Michael Jackson and to admit that he knew the perils of using shoe polish on the skin because it’s not easily removed. A reporter then asked if he could still “moonwalk” and his wife had the good sense to remind him such a thing was inappropriate.

The question is, instead of asking whether he can moonwalk, where was the Virginia press during the 2017 campaign? Why was no one doing the research these right wingnuts did after the fact? It was his yearbook, so it’s not like it was something difficult to find.

As one can imagine, there were numerous calls for Northam’s resignation, mostly from Democrats, since Republicans had nothing to gain from the resignation. But then, a few days later, just as he was looking to be a shoo-in to take over as governor, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 2004. Vanessa Tyson’s statement, issued about 15 years after the fact, said the encounter started with a kiss but turned into him forcing her to give him oral sex.

Of course, Fairfax denied the accusation, but he also accused Northam operatives of uncovering the statement, as a way of making it less tenable that Northam resign. Think about it; it kind of makes sense, in a warped way. How could Northam resign if his replacement is a sexual predator, right? It didn’t help Fairfax that a second woman, Meredith Watson, claimed Fairfax had raped her as a student at Duke back in 2000.

On Wednesday, the Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, admitted wearing blackface as an University of Virginia undergraduate at a party in 1980. He was dressed as Kurtis Blow. Once again, the admission seems unsolicited, but again, I would imagine Virginia voters would have preferred to know this shit before they went into the voting booth.

These are all Democrats, but Republicans have no room to point and laugh, as the Senate Majority Leader, Thomas Norment, is currently under fire because he was once in charge of assembling the 1968 Virginia Military Institute (VMI) yearbook that featured lots of pictures of students in blackface and more than a few racial slurs.

The Norment story was uncovered by the Virginian-Pilot within days after the first three were discovered to be flawed humans, as the cliche goes. Wouldn’t it have been great to have them find these yearbooks and these apocryphal stories BEFORE they were offered to Virginia voters? Now, the state of Virginia is demanding that all these men resign, thus throwing the entire state government into turmoil.

The job of the press is to inform the public before the fact. The journalism profession has largely been failing us by waiting until someone else does the hard work and then repeating the story after the fact. When Ralph Northam announced his run for governor, someone should have been assigned to look into his background. In this case, they could have checked his educational background; a quick look at his medical school yearbook would have uncovered the blackface and Klan picture and allowed for voters to make an informed choice. Same with Fairfax; the second-in-line for the governorship should also be vetted, just in case. And surely, the Attorney General and the Senate Majority Leader should undergo a good vetting, so that voters can make an informed choice.

The press failed us by not vetting Donald Trump, and now we’re finding out they’re not vetting any candidates, when that should be job number one for the political journalist establishment. Finding out how horrible some politicians are a year-and-a-half after the election is not acceptable. If there is something we should know, investigative reporters should do their job and tell us before the fact.

Also published on Medium.

About Milt Shook

A writer with more than 45 years in the political game (and let's face it, it is a game). I am a liberal because facts have a liberal bias, and I really like facts. If you like facts, you'll like this blog. If not, you'll have a hard time.


The Time to Vet Candidates is BEFORE the Election, Reporters — 6 Comments

  1. You almost sound like Trump here. Blame the media because they didn’t look at every candidate’s yearbook photos? You do a blog. Have you looked at the yearbook photos of every single person you ever talk about. If not, shame on you. I’d think you’d have a little bit more sympathy for the important job reporters do, as well as its pitfalls. Or maybe you think the press is drowning in money compared to you, and they can spare all this research these days? Hey, if you’re lucky, maybe Digital First Media will come invest in your blog.

    Sorry, Milt, I usually like what you write, but this is almost as bad as unicorn progressives trashing Democrats.

    • P.S., I thought you didn’t want people or the media constantly trashing the Democratic candidate. I mean, if they’d discovered this before Northam was elected, would you want his GOP opponent elected, instead?

      • That may not have happened. The yearbook photo was less of a problem before he first admitted the photo was him and then denied it and then, unsolicited, admitted he “made his face darker” to portray Michael Jackson, and then told everyone the problem with using shoe polish for blackface. His campaign manager would have prevented the foot-in-mouth syndrome. Besides, finding the yearbook was so easy, the story should have come out during the primary.

    • This isn’t like that at all. I’m talking about the press (as a whole) doing its job, which is to tell us everything they can about the candidates before it’s time to make a decision. That is their job. Back when I started working on political campaigns, we would do exactly what I’m talking about, to make sure we knew everything a reporter might find before they found it, so we could get out ahead of them. Back then (the 70s and 80s), reporters always looked for things like that; now, they Google. They’ve become lazy and they miss the obvious and voters are not better for it.

      And I was going to edit out the nasty personal shit, as is my practice, but I decided to leave it this time. Do I think the media is flush with money? Compared to 30-40 years ago? Hell yes. Jesus Christ, NBC is owned by Comcast, ABC is owned by Disney and CNN is owned by Time Warner. Do I think they have the money to head down to Virginia to look at old yearbooks? Hell, yes, I do. And what about local reporters in Virginia? Virginia is one of the richest states in the country and the northern part is practically walking distance from the Library of Congress, which may even have a copy of the yearbook.

      Now, about the personal shit, stop it. I have said many times, this blog is not a journalistic enterprise. And the reason I say that is because I do NOT have the resources to do it right. If anyone would like to front me the money to turn it into one, I could do a great job. However, my agreement would have to include complete autonomy. Should I have sympathy for a press that includes First Media handing Glenn Greenwald millions to sit in Brazil and speculate, without doing any actual journalism? Not gonna happen. Should I not be skeptical of a media in which the Young Turks take tens of millions of dollars to sit in a studio in front of a camera and say stupid shit that comes off the top of their heads? I have to be. There are reporters who do a phenomenal job, like Rachel Maddow, but then, there is a lot of sloth out there, too, and you can’t deny it. If I can spend a week crawling through the stacks of the Pratt Library in Baltimore to dig dirt on a guy I’m working for to become a Delegate to the Maryland legislature when I was making $2.50 an hour, a reporter in Virginia can go to the medical school library and take a look at Ralph Northam’s yearbooks, to see what people said about him. They should also talk to old friends and family and do a profile. That’s called journalism. And voters are better off when the truth is out there for them to assess.

      As someone who did research for law firms for almost 20 years, I can assure you, if you are only Googling someone, you’re not doing your job. We need the press to do its job.

      • I apologize, Milt. I didn’t mean anything I said as a personal attack, but apparently it came across that way. I agree with you about the “useless” media that TV news has become (and arguably always was, to some degree), and I detest Greenwald. My point, really, was that it’s local print news outlets who would have historically done investigation into candidates for a state’s governor, and those outlets are all struggling. The fourth estate is in real danger. Good investigative journalism is the most expensive kind and seems to be the kind that the public has the least appetite for these days, although I agree that it’s the most important. Personally, I think we need more publicly funded media—funded, but with a mandate to operate independently. I believe most journalists want to do a good job, don’t you?

  2. I can’t help but think the proper way to view all this is a simple chant: TTK!
    — Thomas!, Trump!, Kavanugh! —

    Which doesn’t make this correct, but how about some of that get corrected?