Idaho journalists, especially those who cover or write about politics at all, are having a difficult season on voter registration this year. The angst is contagious.
The rule for many years has been that while voter registration records - showing whether you've registered to vote, and whether or not you did - are open, no further information about votes and preferences have been. And journalists have been comfortable with that. But the rule changes this year. The Idaho Republican Party has chosen to limit participation in its primaries to people who submit a form declaring themselves Republicans. Or, more precisely, saying that "I wish to affiliate with the following political party," and choosing Republican. Democratic, Constitution and Libertarian options are also available, as is unaffiliated.
In the past, political reporters and editors (or any other voter) could walk into a voting place at primary election, go behind a curtain, and pick a party, or not, with no one knowing what choice was made. No longer: The choice has to be made out in public. (Though only in the case of Republican; Democrats are allowing others to participate in their primaries.)
For many journalists, this creates an issue. John Pfeifer, the publisher of the Twin Falls Times News, did a nice run-through on it today, outlining the issues and the questions involved, and it's worth a read. Among other considerations, what will the usual press critics do? (There's been some talk about Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, himself a former reporter, possibly publicizing those listings; but whether it's him or someone else, there's a good chance someone will.
Pfeifer writes "We’ve been told that reporters at Idaho Public Television have been instructed not to vote and Betsy Russell, political reporter for the Spokane Spokesman-Review and current President of the Idaho Press Club, has been instructed by her editor to do what she needs to do but with the caveat that if “it starts mushrooming into some kind of controversy” she might be reassigned off of the political beat." (Which would be something approaching a tragedy.)
Then he adds: "Really, have we in the media become that fearful of offending people? Have we subjugated our reporters to some persona-non-grata status where they can no longer express their opinions at the ballot box? Do we think that little of our readers? Do we think that little of our legislators? Are we really afraid that if someone broadcasts what ballot our political reporter requests on a single day in May it will affect how she or he reports the news the other 364 (oops, leap year — 365) days of the year."
He next questions whether that idea might be naive; but the view here is that it is not, that it should be pretty close to the responsive attitude on the part of journalists and their employers. In other words, spine up. (more…)