Writings and observations

Back in the 19th century, most political journalism was overtly partisan – newspapers specifically called themselves Republican or Democratic (less often, independent), aligning themselves with one of the parties in news coverage as well as editorial comment. In the 20th century, as the number of newspapers shrank and the business model called for reaching most of the population – to pull in broad-based advertising – political reporting changed, recast in ways that would (or at least was intended to) more fairly represent the news and views of both parties. “Objective” would not be the right word for it, but done well, it could be a generally fair and neutral reportage.

Are we moving back away from that, toward more overtly partisan coverage – two sets of coverage, two sets of reality, one each to match your inclinations?

A new article on AlterNet highlights the Idaho Reporter, a web-based news organization tightly linked to conservative groups (and specifically a subsidiary of one Idaho lobbying group). The article, by Joe Strupp, goes into the background and associations of the site and the way it is part of a growing development of ideologically-based news coverage. Such groups are a growing force in statehouses around the country; conservative news agencies associated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity have been expanding rapidly around the country.

Meanwhile, as the article noted, “A 2009 American Journalism Review study found that 355 newspaper reporters and editors were covering state capitols full time, a 30 percent decrease at the time from 524 in 2003.” The decrease may be even larger than that in the Northwest’s statehouses. Will ideological coverage reach a point where it starts to drown out conventional nonpartisan coverage?

The Idaho Reporter (and its parent, the Idaho Freedom Foundation) may take issue with the description of its product as ideologically-driven, but its website describes it specifically as “your source for uniquely watchdog and free-market oriented coverage.” That’s a fair enough indicator for what they’re about. But what do the benefactors of this widespread, national effort expect will be the result? And what other ideological perspectives will get the money to launch effort to promote any other ideas – or does it matter if, down the road, the only one we get is this one?

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rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

The other day, someone said to me “The 2012 national election is going to see a housecleaning in Washington. We’re going to put a bunch of those freeloaders and nuts out of work!” I nodded and changed the subject. That was preferable to starting an argument.
Ain’t gonna happen. Not now. Not ever. Under our current system of voting, it’s just flat not gonna happen!

Sometime ago, I used this space to describe the “good guy-bad guy” syndrome and the effect it has keeping incumbents – no matter how looney or undeserving – in our national congress. Now, the Gallup polling organization has reaffirmed that theory in spades! Again.

The latest finding is the anti-incumbent attitude among likely voters is the highest it’s been in 19 years. That time period is important for purposes of comparison because, 19 years ago, there was a Republican wave that put the GOP in charge of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years and sat ol’ Newt in the Speaker’s chair. From which he was subsequently forced to resign by his own party for numerous ethical and legal violations. But that’s several other stories for several another times.

Gallup’s latest sampling of voters found 76% – 76% – believe most members of congress deserve to be fired. Posthaste. That’s the highest point of dissatisfaction since – wait for it – 19 years ago. As for the 20% who’d keep the same bunch, that’s the lowest percentage since – you know.

Among Republicans, a surprising 75% believe a clean sweep is due. Democrats agree by 68%. But Independents want to clean house by more than 80%! All those are new highs.

Now, back to the “good guy-bad guy” thing. Most of us have a target or two in congress we call “bad guys” and we’d like to see them gone. My list starts with two-thirds of the Texas delegation and expands nationally from there.

Then there are the “good guys.” We never seem to have enough of them. Those are the ones swimming upstream against the current tide of ideology, ignorance and self-service fouling up our congress. Good guys in both parties. Showing up for work and even getting some things done. We want more of them. We NEED more of them.

Problem is, as this new Gallup sampling points out, though most answering the questions said a majority of current members should be thrown out, 53% said that didn’t apply to their own guy who they felt was doing a great job. In other words, “My guy’s the good guy and your guy’s the bad guy. I want to keep mine but I want to get rid of yours.”

Therein lies the reason we won’t get rid of the “bad guys.” Oh, there might be some shifts in party numbers one way or the other. Maybe even a different party in the majority in one house or the other. Or both. But many “bad guys” have been there for 30 years or more, surviving previous voter efforts to clean up the place. They hang on like a stubborn bathtub ring.

So, while we out here in the hinterlands can’t expect a new wave of sanity and cooperation to overcome congress in January, 2013, it’s worth noting what happened in 2010. We had a 63-seat change in the U.S. House from Democrat to Republican. And at that time voters were less unhappy than they are now. Less mad.

Does anti-incumbency work for Democrats or against them? Does anti-incumbency threaten more Republicans or help them? What effect will the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court decision (Citizens United) allowing unlimited and anonymous hundreds of millions of dollars loose in the political system have on the process? Questions without answers. For now.

But some things we do know. There’ll be no “housecleaning” to use a friend’s word. There’ll be no exorcizing of the “bad guys” en masse. While there may be less ideology and dogma, there’ll be no great shift to immediate action to solve our national ills. Getting rid of deadwood doesn’t automatically mean replacements will be any swifter or surer to act.

Maybe the best we can hope for is a few more good guys taking the place of some of the bad guys. My good guys, of course.

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