October 31, 2002

Adjective wars…

Mitt Romney (a man) used the adjective “unbecoming” to describe something Shannon O’Brien (a woman) said during their recent debate in the Massachusetts race for governor. O’Brien and Sen. Hillary Clinton have charged Romney with sexism, and Romney denies it. So is “unbecoming” an adjective with female connotations?

Here’s what dictionary.com says. Notice the example in the first denotation of the word clearly suggests that “unbecoming” has female connotations. It is difficult to imagine a man telling another man his suit is unbecoming. But also notice that the second denotation has clearly male connotations–one might even argue macho male connotations.

So, should O’Brien tar and feather Romney for this adjective? Maybe. What can she get away with? If politics is a battle of definitions as I claim it is, then sticking Romney with a charge of sexism could be a good move. It forces him into a defensive stance. But, like all such definitional battles, nothing is guaranteed. This situation seems a bit petty and likely to backfire. If I were advising O’Brien, I think I would avoid this particular battle.

October 31, 2002

Election night entertainment…

Voter News Service is not sure it will be able to provide timely exit poll results in the election next Tuesday. And this creates a problem for TV news coverage. With so many close races, even under the best of circumstances TV may not be able tell us who won the big enchilada–control of the Senate–until sometime the next day.

So what. Does anyone other than the candidates and campaign staff need to know on Tuesday night? The drive to call the election early has little to do with a journalistic desire to be first with the news. Voters have no civic use for election results an hour before bedtime. Instead, because drawn-out election coverage is boring, it’s far more entertaining to make the call early. Then the networks and cable news shows can trot out the talking heads and spend the rest of the evening yapping about what it all means.

UPDATE (11:35 a.m.): Roll Call has an election night viewing guide.

October 31, 2002

Minnesota round-up…

Political Wire has a round-up of the events in Minnesota, including a link to Mondale’s acceptance speech.

UPDATE (11:25 a.m.): Howard Kurtz has this to say. My contention yesterday (right properly academic) was that we won’t really know until after the election if this memorial-rally helped or hurt the Democrats. I made that statement before the apology by campaign chairman Jeff Blodgett. The Democrats blinked.

October 30, 2002

The TV certainty principle…

The funeral for Sen. Paul Wellstone took place, privately, on 28 October. The public memorial service or political rally–how you characterize it depends on your point of view–took place on 29 October. Today, there’s a new controversy surrounding this campaign. Republicans charge that this “service” turned into a political rally, and so they are asking the television stations in Minnesota to give them equal time.

I did not see the 3.5-hour service-rally. I cannot speak to the complaints the Republicans make. If these events transpired as characterized by the numerous press reports, then I think it is safe to say that there was some tacky behavior. Sight unseen, I’m even comfortable accepting that the service turned into a political rally. The reason: TV cameras. This was a public event set up for television during an important election. What did you expect was going to happen? Pointing a TV camera at events and people tends to change them in certain ways.

UPDATE (5:35 p.m.): Here are some more views on the memorial-rally worth reading–from Tapped and Slate. Here’s an interesting quote from the Slate article:

“Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning,” Wellstone declares in a videotaped speech shown on the overhead screens. “Politics is about improving people’s lives.” But as the evening’s speakers proceed, it becomes clear that to them, honoring Wellstone’s legacy is all about winning the election. Repeating the words of Wellstone’s son, the assembly shouts, “We will win! We will win!” Rick Kahn, a friend of Wellstone’s, urges everyone to “set aside the partisan bickering,” but in the next breath he challenges several Republican senators in attendance to “honor your friend” by helping to “win this election for Paul Wellstone.” What can he be thinking?

Taken simply at face value, Wellstone is mistaken about the practical importance of winning (morally he’s right on). Politics is about winning first, because you can’t improve people’s lives if you don’t win. And that truth, along with Wellstone’s character, was surely driving the emotion and rhetoric during the memorial-rally. Saletan may wonder what Kahn was thinking. I can tell him. He was thinking about victory. Whether or not this service -rally will help or hurt that effort remains to be seen.

UPDATE (5:55 p.m.): An apology from campaign chairman Jeff Blodgett. (via InstaPundit)

October 30, 2002

Updated journalism portal…

Check out Journalism.org–an updated portal that’s a combined effort of The Project for Excellence in Journalism and Committee of Concerned Journalists. From their press release:

The Project for Excellence in Journalism is a journalist-run research institute aimed at helping clarify the core principles and standards of the craft. The Committee of Concerned Journalists is a consortium of reporters, editors, producers, publishers, owners and academics concerned about the direction of American journalism and the pressures it faces. Both are affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Committee

October 30, 2002

Quote fishing…

Last night I posted a response to Jack Shafer’s article about the AP reporter fired for fabricating quotes. MediaMinded has posted his thoughts this morning and called the article “one of the best insider looks at the newsgathering process I’ve read in a while.” I agree. The article points out a problem with deadline pressure and the expectations of editors.

As I said, this situation is an excellent example of fairness bias. What I meant by that was that this situation demonstrates what happens when the fairness bias is applied to a news story by rote, i.e. the structure of the article becomes more important than the content. And this privileging of structure is a problem in journalism. By definition, an article that does not present “both sides” of a story is a bad article. Editors often put tremendous pressure on reporters to get certain kinds of quotes during the editing process–usually on deadline, meaning at the last minute. So, many reporters are forced to go fishing for quotes in exactly the way Shafer describes.

October 30, 2002

Jockeying for political advantage…

Howard Kurtz takes a look at the Wellstone situation and the “jockeying” for political advantage of both parties. While feelings of outrage are surely genuine on both sides, the use of outrage by both sides is purely political. That’s not a bad thing, because, as I said yesterday, you can’t lead if you don’t win. For an update on the race, check Political Wire.

October 29, 2002

32 months and no one noticed…

Jack Shafer considers the meaning of Christopher Newton’s journalistic transgressions. You’ll recall that he is the AP reporter fired last month for fabricating sources. Here’s what I had to say in mid September before we knew the true extent of his fabrications. Shafer asks an important question:

But before we commence our vilification of Newton we should return to the scenes of the alleged crime and review both Newton’s modus operendi and that of the AP. What does it say about AP methods and practices that nobody caught him over the course of 32 months?

And here’s part of his answer:

Every day, thousands of reporters pad their stories to fit the stock news formula. Like casting agents, they phone around looking for the precise quotation their story needs to appear “balanced.” They lead their witnesses with language such as, “So would you say …?” or asking the question five different ways until they get the right quotation to fit their predetermined thesis and complete the formula. If it’s a journalistic crime for Christopher Newton to invent characters who mouth empty but passable clich

October 29, 2002

Do the dead count in politics?…

The late Senator Paul Wellstone can no longer serve the people of Minnesota. Either Walter Mondale or Norm Coleman can. So the race should focus on them.

The dead, however, do still count in politics. In 2000, I voted for a dead man–Mel Carnahan–for the Senate against a man I had voted for in the past. To my way of thinking Carnahan was still the better choice for the Senate. How do you campaign in an environment in which citizens are willing to vote for the dead or take the memory of the dead to the polls? The Los Angeles Times today considers the possible tactics. Political Wire offers a round-up of today’s coverage.

Mondale will probably choose to run above the fray to get maximum benefit from a race run as a tribute to Wellstone. Coleman, on the other hand, will keep the race focused on issues. Is either choice crass politics? No. It’s just politics. Wellstone can no longer serve. Someone has to, and you can’t lead if you don’t win.

October 28, 2002

Panoply of poltroonish pundits…

As it turned out, the CNN “program” on negative political ads (see below) was merely a segment on Crossfire. Too bad. While I was skeptical that CNN would offer a critical/intellectual look at campaign advertising, it’s for sure Crossfire cannot do so. And that’s exactly what happened. Its treatment of political advertising met the show’s “high” standards, which began with Robert Novak’s over-dramatic introduction of “smash-mouth politics.” The ads were merely show pieces to introduce the usual poltroonish bickering that Crossfire passes off as debate.

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