Context counts

The scandal involving New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer brought out a raft of commentators and “expert” analysts, which is to be expected.  But viewers should also expect to be told a little bit about who these experts are and why they’re worth listening to.  Context makes a difference but often it’s not provided.

Last night, for example, NBC Nightly News included a sound bite from New Jersey Gov. John Corzine reacting to the Spitzer mess. “I think all of us in public life have to recognize that our own personal behavior ends up undermining the trust that people need to have in their political leaders,” Corzine said.  But reporter Mike Taibbi didn’t mention that Corzine was speaking from personal experience.   Corzine was badly injured in a traffic accident last year because he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt and later admitted, “I set a very bad example.”  Wouldn’t that have been useful for viewers to know?

CNN put Kendall Coffey on the air to talk about Spitzer, identifying him as a “former U.S. attorney.”  According to Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald, Coffey had personal experience to draw on, too, but the network didn’t share that with viewers.  Garvin reports that Coffey was forced to resign in 1996 “after biting a dancer during the process of running up a $900 bill at a strip club.”   Presuming that someone at CNN knew about this (which may be giving too much credit where it isn’t due),  shouldn’t the viewers also have been let in on it?