Thursday, June 10, 2010

When Politics Aren't Going Your Way ...

Blame Partisan Media

I was arrested by a statement said by a candidate for the Austin School District Board of Trustees regarding the race for this nonpartisan position.

“I think what’s happened is, through some partisan electronic media, it’s become more partisan,” said Julie Cowan in the Austin American-Statesman, June 10, 2010. It’s the now tried and true tactic, when you are on the defensive, attack the media. After all, it’s the media’s fault anyway. Right? Ms. Cowan had just finished debating her opponent Tamala Barksdale on a local radio station, a form of electronic media.

The early vote for this runoff is tiny, worse than the 2 ½ % turnout for the May election. Mainstream media coverage of this important race barely scratched the surface of voters’ awareness. Now, in the final days leading up to the vote Saturday, May 12th, the race is getting some attention, but according to Ms. Cowan, the problem is the partisan electronic media.

Although the school board is nonpartisan, Ms. Barksdale makes no secret of the fact that she is a Democrat. She says it in her literature. It is no secret. In fact, it is refreshing to know up front about a candidate’s politics. Ms. Cowan does not talk about her political leanings. She did work for a Republican who was a state representative at the time.

I should also mention early on that I hosted an event for Barksdale at my home, and I am a Democratic Party block captain. (It is so liberating to be able to have unabashed politics now that I am no longer part of the mainstream media.) Does that make me part of a downtown political machine?

Most all working reporters and news managers do vote. Some do not vote in primaries, because they say it reveals their party preference. Since one can vote in either primary without being a member of that party, I voted in the primaries. I argue that it deprives me of a Constitutional right when often races are decided at the primary level.

Just because a journalist votes doesn’t mean a journalist cannot be professional and, therefore, balanced and objective.

Certainly, there are “partisan” people in electronic media and print media at the national level, but I challenge Cowan to name the local electronic media who have been making the school board race more partisan. It rarely happens at the local level. Listeners and viewers are so close to their audiences, that it could cost journalists advertisers and even their jobs if they were less than professional. In fact, it has happened.

Lately, candidates on the defensive when asked a tough question, they shoot back, “That’s a ‘gotcha question’, and I refuse to go there.” Then, they return to their prepared “talking points”. I’m sorry. It’s not a “gotcha question”. The simple truth is that it got you, and it might not be in the candidate’s best interest to answer it truthfully and fully.

So, once again, even at the school board level, it’s the media’s fault, specifically the electronic media. Shoot the messenger. The interesting thing about the broadcast or electronic media is that most of a candidate’s machinations are recorded. “The Camera Never Blinks”, was a book by Dan Rather, but of course he too was biased. Right?

© Jim McNabb, 2010


Anonymous said...

You forgot to add: "This message brought to you by the Tamala Barksdale for AISD School Board Campaign...Jim McNabb, Treasurer." Wow, talk about going out of your way to be "arrested" (offended) so you can write a Barksdale for School Board piece. But then again, I'm sure you will tell us that wasn't you're intention...right?

NewsMcNabb said...

Editor's Note: To my "Anonymous" friend: Clearly you failed to understand the post or you chose to ignore it. I was upfront with my politics. You, however, took those few sentences and ran with them. I didn't use the word "offended", by the way. "Anonymous", I'm sorry if you, like so many others in politics today, are closed minded and unable to see past your own preferences. To answer your sarcastic question, no, you're wrong. You can't paint me with a broad brush. I won't let you. What's your name, by the way?

Anonymous said...

Mr. McNabb...Allow me to begin by congratulating your candidate of choice on her victory. Though you choose to paint me with a broad brush, I assure you I embrace our democratic system. I admire all who choose to seek public office and put themselves through the intense scrutiny of the public, interest groups, the media and - yes - even well-intentioned bloggers such as yourself. I wish Ms. Barksdale the best as she represents our interests and more importantly the interests of our children.

I must admit you were up front with your politics...deeming it important enough to bring up in paragraph four (some 222 words into your post). I would suggest that a true journalist (which I believe you fancy yourself as) or columnist would have been "up front" much earlier - maybe with an editor's note - so readers were aware before you laid out your premise.

You say I missed the point of your post. Allow me to walk you through your own writing...and please let me know what I missed:

1. You were "arrested" (not offended) by Ms. Cowan's statement that there may exist some partisan members of the electronic media.
2. Though AISD elections are non-partisan, you want to make sure your readers know that Ms. Cowan is an R (I guess, because she worked for one) and Ms. Barksdale is a D.
3. YOUR DISCLOSURE: You are a member of the electronic media and you're a D. You like Ms. Barksdale and support her - going so far as to host an event at your home.
4. Journalists are people who vote and have opinions...but that doesn't mean they can't be objective (NOTE: Thankfully we have bloggers such as yourself to play pounce should they get out of line with something that doesn't mesh with YOUR beliefs like a Facebook posting - reference your Robert Hadlock posting of several months back).
5. As a member of the electronic media, you have no idea who Ms. Cowan might be talking about and challenge her to name names.
6. You end by assuring us that these phantom partisan electronic media members on the local level (who - if they existed - might, say, write a blog posting making sure everyone knows the political leanings in a non-partisan race and who in the race the professional/objective writer supported) don't exist.

Exactly what point did I miss?

Blue said...

Uhhhh, yes, Dan Rather was biased. It's what ultimately led to his dishonorable departure from CBS ( but i'm sure you don't see it that way). And, uh, yes, Helen Thomas is a racist.

NewsMcNabb said...

Editor's Note:

@Anonymous: The post was not about me, it was about the practice of desperate campaigns blaming the media. Therefore, I did not lead with the "up front" acknowledgement that I supported Barksdale.

Further, I CAN support candidates now that I am liberated from day-to-day reporting. Working journalists cannot/should not support candidates or political causes, and I didn't for close to 40 years. Two-hundred twenty-two words aren't very many. (I can't believe you counted them.)

Ms. Barksdale identified herself as a Democrat in her literature. I believe Ms. Cowan should have been specific if she was being the target of bias coverage.

Yes, Anonymous, you covered my points, but I don't think that you got the point.

@Blue: Dan Rather was accused of bias but actually in his younger reporting days he was just tough. Here is what Mr. Rather was--sloppy. That's why he is no longer at CBS. "Sloppy" can get a journalist sued. I gave a speech shortly after his departure from CBS saying that Rather and his entire staff should have been dismissed, and CBS should have sanitized their offices.

Regarding Helen Thomas, it was a sad and sloppy ending to a long and productive career. Her remarks were racist.