In my posting today about the Davis-Simon photo flap, I said this situation is a case study in the press-politics relationship. Specifically, this is an excellent example of the political use of the press by a candidate (Simon) and a political group (COPS). It works this way: Float an accusation. The press will pick up on it because the narrative and bad-news biases of journalism dictate that the accusation is news (indeed it is).
While I often criticize reporting that emphasizes political maneuvering over policy, the press’ handling of this incident demonstrates a proper focus on politicking. After making the accusation, the Davis’ administration and the press looked into it and found it wanting. In addition to demonstrating the lack veracity in the accusation, the press also explicated the political maneuvering behind the scenes so that citizens could see how this sordid affair transpired–certainly a service to voters.
Is it a maneuver on Simon’s part, or is he simply a victim of poor campaign handling and a lack of tact. I’ll argue the former based on this Simon quote:
“The location where the governor received this campaign contribution is now in question,” his statement said. “However, even if the specific claims made by the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs are not sustained, this outcome should not deter the Fair Political Practices Commission, other law enforcement agencies and the media from investigating Gray Davis’ aggressive and shady fund-raising practices.”
In other words, he all but admits the accusation is false and then commits a fallacy by claiming that his error doesn’t mean that Davis has not committed shady fund-raising practices. Also, notice the role passive voice plays in the second sentence. The agent of the action is, among others, the press. In this one sentence he covers up the fact that the press has found him out, and yet Simon continues to call on the press to investigate Davis based on Simon’s own false accusation. What chutzpah!