By Joe Sheller / Guest Column
Ever since KCRG TV-9 was sold by The Gazette Co. to Gray Television in 2015, the look and feel of the channel has shifted.
One of the new faces at the channel is investigative reporter Josh Scheinblum. In just a few short months since arriving in Cedar Rapids, Mr. Scheinblum has certainly made a splash, but I don’t always react well to his brash style.
Most spectacularly, on May 8, after what he reports was weeks of trying, Mr. Scheinblum sat down in Dubuque for an interview with Rep. Rod Blum, the Republican who represents Iowa’s First District in the U.S. House. The interview lasted just two minutes until Mr. Blum angrily tore off his microphone and stalked out.
“This is ridiculous,” Mr. Blum stated on his way out of the room. “He’s going to sit there and just badger me.”
The two had an exchange in which Mr. Schienblum asked the Congressman about his upcoming town halls, where Mr. Blum had taken the unusual step of requiring attendees to show IDs to prove they were from his district.
Just before Mr. Blum stormed out, Mr. Scheinblum asked if he would take money from a Republican in Iowa City, outside of his district. The question was in response to Mr. Blum’s remark that having an Iowan outside his district at the town hall would be like someone from Dubuque wanting to vote in Iowa City.
In context, I don’t think Mr. Scheinblum asked a great question, but it was certainly on topic, and the line of inquiry should not have surprised Mr. Blum. As one of only a few questions that the reporter asked in the brief exchange, it did not approach “badgering.” Walking out was an inappropriate response.
Mr. Blum’s actions drew national attention. News stories about the incident ran in the Los Angeles Times, CNN, the Washington Post, and were widely published via an Associated Press report. I suppose the dust-up made both Mr. Sheinblum and Mr. Blum shine briefly in the national spotlight, and in that sense of drawing attention, it was a win-win.
After all, Mr. Blum is part of the most conservative caucus in the U.S. House, and attacking the mainstream media for its liberal bias is practically a reflex for that wing of the Republican Party.
For example, in response to developments in the ongoing FBI scandal involving President Trump, Mr. Blum’s stated this on his House website: “It’s obvious what’s going on here: The mainstream media and the ‘resistance’ movement have done everything they can do delegitimize President Trump since the day he was elected.”
To me, it’s not so obvious that the mainstream media has a single agenda, nor do I think the media equates with the ‘resistance.’ But both Mr. Blum’s treatment of KCRG’s reporter and his blaming the media for Mr. Trump’s scandal are pieces of the same narrative.
Our media, and our resulting realities, are fractured. We talk past, not to, each other.
This is partly due to what conservative Republicans discovered during the Nixon administration. Media members make inviting targets. An early salvo of the hostilities between “real America” and the “mainstream media” was fired by Spiro Agnew in a famous speech in Des Moines in 1969, when he called TV journalists “the nattering nabobs of negativism.”
More recently, late in her successful 2014 run for the U.S. Senate, Republican Joni Ernst refused to meet with most editorial boards of major Iowa newspapers.
Now Mr. Blum has shunned a reporter for asking a slightly pointed question. You can quibble with the logic of the question – almost no member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, shuns money from outside his or her district. But even if the premise of the question is iffy, the question itself was not unfair to pose.
“This is ridiculous,” Mr. Blum said in reaction to the question. To me, what’s ridiculous is a public servant responding so poorly to a reporter doing what a journalist does: asking questions.
Joe Sheller is an associate professor of communication and journalism at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids. He can be reached at email@example.com.