Susan J. Demas: Badge of Honor: How Reporters Can Get over Being Hated and Just Do their Jobs

President Trump’s announcement that he would slash funding for public radio and TV stations in his budget is perhaps the least surprising thing to emerge from an administration that manages to shock the conscience on a daily basis.

This is a symbolic gesture to galvanize the right in the culture war that’s been brewing for a half-century. Time and time again, NPR and other stations have bent over backwards to incorporate conservative viewpoints, like with this recent report on charter schools that was roundly criticized by public school advocates. But no matter how assiduously fair our public media is, conservatives dismiss it as liberal — and increasingly, as the enemy.

But there would, of course, be real-world implications for these budget cuts, particularly for radio and TV stations in small markets — those that have been the hardest hit by layoffs and belt-tightening in local papers and broadcast affiliates.

The biggest losers will be citizens there who have fewer and fewer options to find out news about their communities. While there’s been a proliferation of flashy national political sites that recycle mainstream stories with a heap of propaganda or outright lies, they won’t tell you what’s going on in your local school district or township hall.

And Trump’s move was meant to send an unmistakable message to all media: “There are consequences for reporting things I don’t like, so be very, very careful.” Some charter members of the access journalism movement are already on board with the plan, like Mark Halperin, who sniffed this week on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the press “should not be combatants trying to beat the people we’re covering.”

Some of us get into journalism to speak truth to power — no matter who that is. Others just want to buy a boat or get invited to tony Georgetown cocktail parties (or the more downscale Lansing equivalent at Troppo).

The Trump presidency is helping to make this distinction crystal clear.

I’m happy to wear my “enemy combatant” label as a badge of honor. It helps that I was never popular in high school — or ever. I lack the insatiable need to be loved by strangers, my colleagues or the people I cover.

That’s been my philosophy during my 15-year career in journalism, working as a reporter at a half-dozen mid-size newspapers in the Midwest, writing a syndicated column and doing analysis for trade political publications.

It hasn’t always been rainbows and sunshine. I’ve had bosses lecture me because a backbencher senator didn’t like me enough — not that he refused to talk to me, just that he didn’t like me. I’ve had an emergency editorial meeting called because a super-sensitive press flack didn’t like a column I wrote criticizing his boss’ campaign strategy.

It’s called working the refs. It’s something that politicians and other powerful figures have been doing since the first newspapers rolled off the printing press. But if journalists allow this kind of interference to impact our work, we’ll cede power that we’ll never get back.

For the last three years, I’ve run the ultimate insider publication, Inside Michigan Politics. And I haven’t changed a bit. I’m still holding leaders’ feet to the fire and figuring out what makes them tick.

And you know what? People still talk to me from across the political spectrum because I know my stuff. I’m tough, but fair.

Over the years, I’ve called out Republican Gov. Rick Snyder for a variety of actions, from caving on an anti-LGBT adoption law to signing Right to Work (after repeatedly insisting it wasn’t on his agenda). I’m quite certain that he and the rest of his administration aren’t exactly my biggest fans. But I just sat down for an in-depth interview with his lieutenant governor, Brian Calley, who in all likelihood will try and succeed him next year. It was a fascinating and candid conversation.

I had a similar dynamic with the previous Democratic administration of Jennifer Granholm, which some of my right-wing critics conveniently tend to forget.

But there’s no doubt that conservatives are more hyper-sensitive these days about media bias, real and often imagined. In my experience, liberals will whine incessantly about stories they don’t like. Conservatives will try to get you fired (and it can work!)

I’ve been writing political columns for 10 years. People know where I stand on issues. I’m upfront about everything instead of pretending that being a journalist has somehow neutered my opinions or made me a moral eunuch. If you don’t like it, fine. You don’t have to talk to me. But most people do.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had conservative Republicans tell me they prefer dealing with me over other reporters who pretend to be unbiased, but they know are definitely liberals.

The truth is that most conservatives assume every reporter is liberal nowadays, so let that set you free. They’re going to try to pick apart anything you write. Any story they don’t like is “fake news,” even when you get every fact correct. Some people just crave propaganda.

I know this is deeply unnerving for many of my colleagues. The temptation to scribble puff pieces to try to appease sources can be strong. Wanting to be liked is basic human nature.

Screw that. We’re here to hold leaders accountable. Your sources aren’t your friends. By and large, they’re trying to use you to get a message out. That’s what they’re supposed to do. And you’re supposed to get information out to the public.

So do your job. Be hated. Respect yourself.

And remember: The people you go home to at night are the only ones you have to worry about liking you.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: The truth about liberals and media bias

Politicians and their consultants appeal to our id. Passion is where the money and votes are.


Many Democrats probably viscerally agreed with Geoffrey Fieger's over-the-top ad accusing those against Obama of being deeply afraid of a black man in the White House. Many Republicans probably instinctively cheered when Sarah Palin declared that she is "just so fearful" because Obama "is not a man who sees America like you and I see America," which is to say that he's not a real American.

But the point of political commentary and discourse is to move beyond our basest impulses and get to the superego, employing logic and facts when analyzing political figures and dissecting complex social problems.

That's my job as a columnist. I call 'em as I see 'em. And right now Republicans run everything in Michigan, so I'm going to be looking harder at them. Jennifer Granholm and the Democrats got the same treatment from me in the four years prior.

So those on the fringe right can continue to howl that I am liberal, with their comments serving as a fascinating Rorschach test for their own biases and beliefs. I will continue to report the facts, analyze them and have a bit of fun along the way.

Read more.


Susan J. Demas: I’m Just a Girl

Suppose I wrote horribly misspelled stories that messed up basic facts, like claiming that the Capitol is in Escanaba and the state constitution was crafted by elves.


And suppose I managed to get a gig as a pundit on TV and radio, where I would play the part of the resident airhead. I couldn’t tell you how much the state budget was worth or who the lieutenant governor was.


But I was young, blonde and had a decent pair of sweater puppies.


Naturally, people would question my qualifications — and not just the barely literate folks who spend their days leaving comments online in all caps.

Read more.

Susan J. Demas: The Politician-to-English Dictionary

Susan J. Demas, 2016

Susan J. Demas, 2016

Any junior-high girl will tell you that you can’t believe what a catty classmate says to your face.

Sure, Tiffani might coo that your new zebra handbag is soooo cute, but once you leave the room, she’ll whisper that you must have gotten it on clearance at Wal-Mart.

As luck would have it, that’s the basic credo of politicians, most of whom (not coincidentally) have the emotional maturity of middle-schoolers. Smile to their faces and tell them what they want to hear, which is typically the opposite of what you’re thinking in your head. This holds true both in their dealings with the press, as well as the public at large.

Note to politicians: In the age of YouTube, try not to snigger about the stupidity of your interlocutors afterward, lest you have a Gordon Brown moment that costs you the election. That goes for snarky comments on Twitter and Facebook, as well. Smart grandstanders stay fake and win the race.

Now while this doublespeak is expected and even considered endearing by some who inhabit the six square blocks around the Capitol surrounded by reality, the disingenuousness can be quite vexing to voters.

So I’ve put together a brief politician-to-English dictionary of common phrases:

We need more transparency in government. People need to see how badly the other party has screwed up.

That’s a good question. Thanks for asking that, jerk.

What the real issue here is … Here’s Talking Point No. 3 that has nothing to do with your question.

Everything is on the table. My agenda is. Screw the other party’s ideas.

This campaign is about public service. This campaign is about my inability to land a job in the real world.

I’m not a career politician. It will take me my entire first term just to locate the bathrooms in the Capitol.

I’ve made it clear where I stand. My opponent is a wuss.

I have betrayed my family. I have a harem.

My campaign isn’t about raising money. I have $1.64 in the bank.

I will not engage in negative campaigning. That’s what shadowy independent groups are for.

I am resigning to spend more time with my family. My affair with the babysitter is about to break.

I don’t pay attention to polls. I am losing.

I’m standing up for you. By “you,” I mean whatever special interests are funding my campaign.

I don’t think I have a temper. Because I black out whenever I fly into violent rages.

I’m coming from behind. I may only lose by 14 points.

This campaign isn’t about me. It’s about you. It’s totally about me — check out how big my name is on the posters.

It’s your money, not the government’s. And with that money, please consider a donation of $25, $50 or $100 to me.

My family is off-limits. Unless I choose to exploit their wholesomeness at campaign events.

I want to talk about the issues. The issue being that my opponent is a douche.

I couldn’t have done it without all of you. Who are all you people?

The people have given me a mandate. I won by four votes.

Perhaps my opponent just doesn’t love America. I have no ideas.

And for those of you curious how politicians and their staffs deal with the media, it’s pretty much the same principle:

Is this really a story? Hell, yes, it is an awesome story.

I’m offended you would even ask that. How did you know?

Can we talk on background? I’m about to trash the other guy and don’t want to look like a slimeball in print.

You’re clearly biased. Stop calling me on my crap.

I’m going to call your editor. I’m going to get the story killed and have you fired just for fun.

I don’t have a problem with you. Now that I stick pins in a voodoo doll of your likeness before I go to bed.

The media only care about the horserace. I’m losing.

I get all my news from the Daily Kos/Fox News. I am functionally brain dead.

Who’s your source? I’ll kill him.

I’m not getting into that. I have no idea how to answer that question.

No comment. I don’t know/ I don’t have permission to answer that/ Oh, crap, I’m going down/ God bless America, my opponent is going down and I don’t want to gloat.

I’ll have to get back to you on that. Great. There go my plans for Margarita Monday.

I don’t pay attention to the mainstream media. I am a liar.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.