Monday, February 23, 2009

Opinion: Our Local Media is Killing Our Democracy

The election for the 20th Congressional District is about 40 days away. Three candidates have announced. Our local news is ignoring one of them – it’s as simple as that – and now they’ve been so brazen as to tell us why.

NCPR’s political reporter Brian Mann ran a story entitled “Lightning-fast 20th race pits experienced Republican against a fresh-faced Democrat” – no mention of the other candidate, or links to his website, although the other two are linked. Then he told us on his blog:

My job is to reflect reality in my stories. So I will be covering Mr. Sundwall, though I’ll generally treat him as an “issue” or a “protest” candidate. How much coverage he receives will depend on a) how interesting, thoughtful and compelling he turns out to be; and b) the degree to which his ideas influence the campaign debate.

The Glens Falls Post Star‘s managing editor Ken Tingley posted to his blog this week that “With two new candidates from last fall’s election, we want give our readers a chance to get to know the candidates. We are planning on doing personality profiles on each of the candidates.”

When it was pointed out to Tingley that there were three candidates, not two, he replied:

Right now there are only two candidates on the ballot. If a third candidate makes the ballot that has a legitimate chance or seems like an interesting candidate, we would always consider doing a profile on them as well.

Tingley went on to say that talking about a conspiracy against third-part candidates is “ridiculous” and “hard to take… seriously.”

So there you have it – plain and simple bias. Two local media figures – one using public owned airwaves – who are defining who our candidates are, and are not.

The reasons this is bad are laid out at the blogs I’ve pointed to fairly succinctly (and here at MoFYC), but I guess there’s a need to say it one more time.

– There are three candidates right now, not two. If Eric Sundwall fails to get on the ballot, then there will be two candidates.

– The third candidate has more history in politics then the Democratic candidate. He also lives in the District – the Republican candidate does not.

– It’s ass-backwards to say a candidate doesn’t have a chance in winning and then use that statement as a reason to exclude them from coverage. If our local media only covered Sundwall favorably and the others unfavorably – he would probably win, particularly in this political climate.

– The idea that people aren’t interested in third party candidates is wrong, according to a Zogby poll. It is also patently ridiculous and not the basis for media reports. How many articles in the local news are of direct interest to only a few readers/watchers/listeners? Why is reporting the bridge results more important that a candidate for the 20th CD?

Finally, just so we’re clear that what these folks are doing is unethical political bigotry, I’ll excerpt the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, which tells journalists to:

– Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.

– Examine your own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.

– Avoid stereotyping by… social status.

– Support the open exchange of views, even views you find repugnant.

– Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.

It’s not a lot for citizens to ask.

Related Stories


John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




8 Responses

  1. Eric Sundwall says: