On a recent episode of FOX News Watch, we briefly discussed a media controversy involving the Pledge of Allegiance.
Did I get angry e-mail — and for things I never said! The good news is that I keep some viewers so agitated that I need not worry that they're falling asleep during the show. The bad news is that their agitated states make it hard for them to hear what I'm saying.
Here's the issue: A Florida State Senate leader received complaints from members of the Florida National Guard that reporters covering the Florida Senate from their glassed-in press gallery above the chamber don't join the senators in standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before each session. The Senate leader passed the guardsmen's complaints on to the press corps, and suggested that reporters start reciting the Pledge.
In a response, Nancy Cook Lauer, the Capitol Bureau Chief of the Tallahassee Democrat, pointed out that reporters are generally working the phones when the Pledge is recited, and often the sound isn't turned on yet in the press gallery. But her main objection is that journalists covering politicians are observers, not participants: "Reporters also don't sip cocktails and nosh expensive canapes while we're covering parties funded by lobbyists... We're the ones sitting in the hard, uncomfortable chairs lining the banquet room walls while lawmakers are enjoying a free meal."
Echoing that sentiment during the News Watch discussion, I commented: "When a reporter is covering a funeral or religious service, they don't say prayers. They're there as reporters."
That prompted an e-mailer to write: "I cannot believe that Jeff compared saying the Pledge of Allegiance to going to a funeral. The comparison was poorly executed and shameful."
Of course I never compared saying the Pledge to attending a funeral. I compared reporters' observer role at funeral or religious services that they're covering ("they don't say prayers") to their observer role at state senate sessions they're covering.
Another e-mailer wrote: "Cohen should be ashamed of himself! What is wrong with saying the Pledge?" He then proceeded to revise the Pledge in a way he deemed I might prefer it. Thanks, but I prefer the original.
As I said during the News Watch discussion, I felt that in the wake of the heightened tensions since September 11th, it was "scary in a Big Brother kind of way" that "members of the Armed Forces are informing on journalists 'cause they're somehow disloyal 'cause they don't say the Pledge at a senate hearing they're covering."
I'm glad my comments keep viewers awake — even agitated. If you think my views are heretical, don't forget that I'm opposed each week on News Watch by two proud, combative right-wingers.