We political bloggers often spend a lot time writing about the horesrace, the blow-by-blow details of debates and jabs between candidates. We advocate loudly for the candidates we like, and cry foul when the ones we don't cross a line. Sometimes I think we do a little too much poking around with a stick, trying to get a rise from our readers and the campaigns.
I don't really have a problem with this--or my own engaging in it with wild abandon--because I don't consider myself a purveyor of news. If people come by here looking for news, they might find some; more often, this site is about my opinion and calling the other side out on its crap. Rehashing the ugliness of, for example, a campaign fight may well be key to that opinion or crap-calling.
However, I would like to draw your attention to the article this morning in the state's largest daily newspaper about the Milwaukee County District Attorney's race. Quick show of hands: How many of you can even name the candidates in that race, let alone what they stand for? Anyone? Okay, I see a couple of you in the back. But that's not very many at all, is it?
If you're here, that means you have access to Google, and probably could do the hard work of looking up all three candidates. But even then, the information is sparse about who they are and what they believe in.
This is in part, I believe, because the media doesn't do the job of bringing you that information. In fact, a keyword search on the paper's website turns up less than a handful of articles on the DA's race so far: In one, there's the list of who's thinking of filing for office; in another, there's the list of who did file. The race draws a mention in this August 6th Spice Boys column, which, if you read it all the way to the end, says a little bit about what one candidate would do in office--the rest of the column is a he said-she said-he said among the candidates over who's to blame for a murder.
And in the page one (of the Metro section) article in question from today's paper, the reporter rehashes much of the same blow-by-blow the Spice Boys already covered. That's the part on page one, the part most people will read--if they bother to read at all an article titled "The gloves are off in race for DA."
Only after you dig inside the Metro section for the continuation of the story do you get any sense of what the candidates' platforms are--and that part of the story is fairly well done. But it's buried--a conscious decision on the part of either the reporter or (more likely) the editors. If you've done any journalism work--or taught journalistic writing, as I have--then you know the "inverted triangle" method of writing: The most important thing goes at the top (the lede), usually done in kind of a who, what, when, where, why, and how format. This is followed by key details and, often, a chronological retelling of what happened. The end of a story, then, is further details or less important information--the kinds of things that can be cut by editors pressed for space or ignored by readers pressed for time. Putting the actual platforms of the candidates at the bottom of a story shows just how important the people responsible for bringing you the news think they are.
Last week, Xoff identified the irony in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's recent sky-is-falling editorial, "Let's hear it for the thoughtful middle" (the link in Xoff's post is broken). "From these turbulent waters," the editors wrote about the ugliness of campaigns, "it's hard to spot any issues that most people care about [. . . I]t's wrong, and Americans are fed up." Xoff pointed the finger firmly back at them:
The news media [have] given up its responsibility to dig into issues and present the facts. Their main function these days seems to be "He said, he said" reporting, where the back-and-forth is dutifully reported, but no effort is made to find out who's right. That kind of coverage, of course, encourages the inflammatory statements and news releases.The DA's race story this morning could well be Exhibit A.
[Update: In my inbox this afternoon from the Milwaukee County Dems comes the announcement of a forum with the two Democrats in the race, John Chisolm and Larraine McNamara-McGraw, to be held prior to the regular monthly meeting. It will go down at 6 p.m. on Monday, August 28, 2006, in the Pettit National Ice Center at State Fair Park, and the public is welcome. Also, Chisolm's campaign manager has passed along his website (which didn't show in the first 50 Google hits): www.chisholmforda.com.]
In the interest of serving the public, if any of the candidates for DA would like to send me information on their platforms and what they would do in office, I would be happy to publish that information.