In his Ozarks Messenger blog, Messenger criticized his own newspaper's coverage of a Democratic Labor Day rally in Springfield which featured former vice presidentical candidate John Edwards and U. S. Senate candidate Claire McCaskill as speakers:
I won't very often use this space to criticize my own newspaper, but today I must. I hope my colleagues take my words as constructive criticism. Our lead story today reads like an advertisement for the Democratic Party. There's no doubt that John Edwards appearance along with U.S. Senate candidate Claire McCaskill at a Labor Day picnic is big news and ought to be on the front page on what is generally a slow news day. But to not get any sort of Republican response is a major mistake. No doubt, either a Jim Talent spokesman or Paul Sloca of the Republican Party would have had something to say. In fact, Sloca issued a news release the morning of the event.
Davis disagreed with that sentiment, writing:
This is what's wrong with the modern mainstream media mindset. When a big Dem comes to town, ring up the big Repubs and ask them what they think. Why? To give the other side a free punch. There is no other reason.
Does Messenger believe Sloca or Talent would actually have something constructive to say? Of course not. The same applies when national Republicans come to town and major Dems are contacted for comment. In their quest to be "fair," "balanced" and "unbiased," many modern media outlets have become instead become predictable caricatures. It's a ridiculous practice that ought to stop.
With all due respect to Messenger, whose blog and columns have been a breath of fresh air for the News-Leader, he is wrong on this issue. Davis correctly notes that comments from Republican spokesmen would not have added anything to the coverage.
During my time at The Carthage Press, I generally handled the newspaper's political coverage. During the 1992 gubernatorial race, my coverage of Lt. Governor Mel Carnahan's campaign was generally limited, especially during the primary. Carnahan's last appearance in Jasper County (that I can recall) was March 30. I covered that and felt no obligation to call Bill Webster or Roy Blunt (or even Wendell Bailey, for that matter) to get a response to Carnahan's criticisms of the Republican party. I was covering a Democratic political event. People who read the coverage were not expecting anything except coverage of a Democratic event and that's what they received.
When the Lincoln Ladies held their ice cream social in July, Webster and Blunt attacked the Democratic party. I felt no obligation to get a Democratic response. Again, I was covering a Republican event.
When the primary season ended, The Press relied considerably on AP coverage of the general election and our managing editor, Neil Campbell, did his best to provide equal coverage.
When Vice President Dan Quayle came to Carthage to boost President Bush's reelection campaign, I provided the coverage of Quayle's speech (with other reporters and photographers covering various aspects of the appearance). We had no obligation to provide a response from a thoroughly disorganized Jasper County Democratic Party, which was generally ignored by its own national and state parties.
When it came time to provide the views of both candidates in our voter guides, we devoted as much space to Governor Clinton and Lt. Gov. Carnahan's views as we did for President Bush and Attorney General Webster, which was saying a lot considering that The Press was Webster's hometown newspaper and the only newspaper to endorse him twice in the race (the Joplin Globe was the only other newspaper to endorse him at all).
Please do not consider this next comment to be a reference to either political party, but Bob Schieffer of CBS News pointed out how ludicrous it is to always get comments on either side of a controversy during a recent C-SPAN program, He noted that with that mindset, you would have people writing about Hitler, but having to get comments from people who think Hitler was a nice guy.
When I read an article about a Democratic political event, I expect to read more about the Democrats' point of view. The same thing applies when I read about a Republican political event. If one side or the other does not provide enough legitimate events to cover (as has been the case in Jasper County for many years), they should not be surprised when there is limited coverage.
Newspapers should provide their readers with candidates' views and information on where they can find out more about the candidates. If candidates make statements that are out-and-out lies or are extremely misleading, then reporters should be able to dig and get responses no matter where those candidates make them, but when it comes to political stump speeches, it is ludicrous to waste time getting purely political responses to purely political comments.
The way to solve the problem is for newspapers not to limit their coverage to these events, but to start digging into candidates' records and votes and doing profile stories of the candidates. In that respect, nearly all of the media is falling short.