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Friday, January 23, 2004

Connolly Watch 1.23.04

No Ceci in the Friday Post, so I'll use this entry to discuss the debate I've been having a bit in the comments with Aeolus regarding last night's edition.

I was accused of being too charitable to Connolly for her Thursday horse-race article about Kerry in New Hampshire. Aeolus made the criticism that Connolly didn't say much of anything about the policy stances Kerry outlined during his campaign events on Wednesday, the day in question.

I agreed that a little more policy substance would have been good, but I also defended Connolly a bit by saying I didn't mind seeing some horse-race coverage right now since we're a few days from the vote in New Hampshire. My view is that the candidate's style on the stump, tactics for appealing to voters, etc. are significant insofar as they move votes and determine the outcome, and the outcome will be pretty significant in the nomination fight, and by extension in determining the future course of the country. Knowing how well these guys campaign is crucial to assessing whether they can beat Bush in November. The issue then becomes whether the press molds perceptions of candidates or just reports them, and of course it does both. There's a fine line to be drawn, though, between a news report that seeks to portray a candidate in a certain way that maybe isn't supported by the evidence, and one that instead reflects what people really are thinking and saying about a candidate already. I will be criticizing the first type of coverage and praising the second. As horse-race coverage goes, I think Connolly's Thursday article was pretty fair, as I explained, fitting into category #2.

Aeolus responded to my defense of the horse-race stuff (which I've now fleshed out a bit more) with the more general complaint that mainstream media never cover policy in depth, instead focusing on the drama and the politicking.

Whether Connolly is the one deciding how she covers the candidate or someone else at the Post makes that call, I'm not sure. In terms of assigning responsibility, I would hold Connolly responsible for not having a little more background on Kerry's healthcare proposals in the Thursday article, and I would hold the Post's editors responsible for not arranging to have more articles covering the substance of the healthcare issue throughout the campaign cycle. This is a meta-critique one could make of media in general, I feel, and bashing Ceci Connolly day after day for covering politics more than policy would make the Watch get stale pretty quickly.

In short, I'm not going to use the Watch to criticize the reporter on the basis of some other article I have in my head that I would've preferred seeing in the paper instead. I'm going to focus on whether the reporter cites accurate information, fairly representing events, positions, etc. I was inspired to follow Connolly on the basis of urban legends like Gore's claim to have invented the Internet or discovered Love Canal from 2000, and I am watching for similar transgressions this time around.

Of course, this whole adopt-a-reporter thing is new and the idea will continue evolving over time, I'm sure.

Reading Kurtz's debate notes I learned that ARG's latest tracking poll has Howard Dean in third place! Kerry 31, Clark 20, Dean 18. Wow.