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Editorial: The WrongDirection

We think everyone can agree that the economy is still a big issue. Then there is healthcare, and infrastructure—actual roads and bridges, as well as virtual ones—that need attending to. The Social Security system needs work, and so do many of our kids, armed with degrees that are no longer a gilt-edged invitation to an independent future.

With all that to focus on, it is time for the presidential candidates to stop circling the wagons and firing at the media as a campaign strategy—notwithstanding the Media Research Center’s pledge to lambaste the “liberal, so-called” media at every presidential campaign stop from here to Tampa.

We understand that it is easier to blame the messenger than deal with difficult but legitimate questions about character or integrity or finances. In fact, one of the only issues uniting the Republican presidential hopefuls seems to be the inclination to point fingers at the “elite” media for what they allege is the media’s own campaign to take down their candidacies and elevate Barack Obama to another term.

Curiously for those subscribing to that view, in the most recent Project for Excellence in Journalism survey of national news coverage (in the week ended Jan. 29), the coverage of Mitt Romney was indeed decidedly more negative than positive at 38% con to 25% pro. For Newt Gingrich, who has arguably been the most vocal in his attacks on the media as a sort of informal committee to re-elect the president, the coverage was a statistical dead heat, 29% positive to 27% negative.

But the candidate with the most negative coverage, and by far the greatest gulf between negative and positive, was President Obama, with 42% negative coverage to only 9% positive in all those elite national media like The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, CNN and MSNBC.

Do the media sometimes open themselves up for criticism by focusing on sexy issues more likely to draw eyeballs? Sure, but there is no shortage of economic or business news out there. And how a candidate treats workers or his family or friends is fair game for someone who will represent America to the world and, by the way, hold the “football”—and we’re not talking Lucy and Charlie Brown.

Broadcast and cable outlets have been hosting now-countless debates that gave candidates plenty of face time to get their messages out to millions. Spending some of that time taking shots at journalists for the sake of those self-same cameras says something about those candidates, but we’re not sure it is a message they want to be sending.

Running for president does mean running a press gauntlet, and it always has. But that is part of the system’s test of the mettle of the people we are entrusting with a chunk of our future. If they can’t handle tough questions without blaming the questioner or huffily trying to change the subject, how will they handle tense talks with the North Koreans or Chinese—or even tougher, between Hollywood and the Internet companies?