There's a certain formula that goes into a speech like the one I gave Wednesday night in my comedic debut at the Washington Press Club Foundation's Congressional Dinner.
In that formula, the first 85 or 90 percent of your remarks are supposed to be funny -- biting, a little bipartisan, and significantly self-deprecating. The rest of your speech is supposed to be serious and generous in your praise for the audience -- in this case, journalists.
The first draft of my "serious close" was longer than the comedic part of the speech, so we pared it down significantly. I have a great deal of respect for journalism, but rarely get such an opportunity to speak about the field, so I thought I'd share that first draft as an alternate ending.
Here's what it said:
A few weeks ago, I was profiled in a story where I revealed my affinity for playing Madden with my kids -- and my addiction to Angry Birds on my iPad.
With the number of Senators who came up to me after the story appeared to tell me about their own love for that ridiculous game, I genuinely thought we could have convened an Angry Birds Caucus.
Least. Productive. Caucus. Ever.
(And that's a high bar!)
That's also, by the way, the reason we should never allow iPads on the Senate floor.
I've had an iPad since Christmas and it really is terrific. In between frustrating levels of Angry Birds, I turn to some of my favorite news apps -- Huffington Post, Politico, the Post, the Times -- to catch up. Next to my staff and the paper copy of the Wilmington News Journal that arrives at my front door each morning, my iPad has certainly become my primary source of news.
It is remarkable how news consumption has changed.
Never before have Americans had as much information at their fingertips as they do now. The Internet has not only redefined the way we communicate with others, but has fundamentally changed the way the nation gets its news.
Twitter is a truly extraordinary tool not only for distributing information, but for collecting it. I remember during the campaign I'd occasionally peek over the shoulder of our new media guy and check out his TweetDeck screen. I was in awe of the sheer volume of information being conveyed in those columns.
It was clear, though, that while Twitter has plenty of reporters, it has too few editors.
Despite the volume of information and the degree of transparency that the Internet offers, it comes up short on accountability. That's why there has never been a time when Americans have needed high-quality journalism more than we do right now.
Competition has always been a part of newsgathering and, for the most part, it's been a good thing. It's healthy. Competition promotes innovation and stimulates creativity.
But competition can never be a substitute for judgment. The rush to be the first should never trump the need to be accurate, even in a 24-hour news cycle, and even in this Internet age -- where content producers outnumber journalists by a staggering ratio.
It's been distressing to watch as profit has replaced principle and entertainment has crowded-out the news in so many areas of the media. Especially now, in these consequential times at home and abroad, it is more than distressing -- it is dangerous.
Our country doesn't need more content -- it needs better news.
I have great respect for the role journalists play in our democracy, but that role has nothing to do with being first, or being the loudest. It has everything to do with being accurate and fair.
Just as the news media stopped asking the KKK for its opinion to provide "balance" to stories about the civil rights movement, it is time to stop putting people on television to "balance" stories about Don't Ask, Don't Tell simply because they hate gay people.
Journalism is about shining a light on subjects masked by shadow, obscured by confusion and hidden by deception to reveal a truth undiscoverable to those without the insight or access to find it.
The journalists bravely risking their lives in the streets of Egypt to offer a window on the real situation on the ground are testimony to the heavy burden of that mission.
We're counting on you to carry it forward.