Okay, I’ll try my best to maintain my journalistic “objectivity” so as not to offend any of my friends in the traditional media, but the contrast between today’s Seattle Times and Seattle P-I present one of those classic illustrations of how the local electorate benefits from having two major daily newspapers… and engaged bloggers prepared to critique them. Both papers feature articles covering the current state of the 2008 gubernatorial campaign, but if you didn’t know better, you’d think they were writing about two entirely different races.
The P-I pastes its four-column headline across the top of the fold, boldly declaring:
Rossi run for governor?
All signs point to yes
A photo of Dino Rossi accompanies the headline with a caption quoting a party insider as saying close advisors “feel 100 percent confident that he is in.” And Neil Modie’s lede is equally blunt:
He doesn’t admit it, but Dino Rossi seems to have made up his mind to run again for governor.
Even as the 2004 Republican nominee faces an investigation of whether he illegally used his public policy foundation as a front for a 2008 campaign, he reportedly is moving toward an announcement of his candidacy sooner than he has indicated. Some of his 2004 campaign operatives have been touting his 2008 prospects.
The story? Everybody who is anybody says Rossi is running for governor… except for the candidate himself, who continues to officially hide behind his so-called foundation. The race is on, and “officially,” probably sooner than later.
Ralph Thomas’ story in the Times, on the other hand, appears on B1 (I haven’t yet seen a print copy,) and presents an entirely different take on the governor’s race:
Gregoire gearing up for ’08
OLYMPIA — If money matters — and who in politics would suggest otherwise? — the state Republican Party has a problem.
Though the 2008 election is more than a year away, Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire already has raised nearly $2.7 million in campaign cash. The Republicans, meanwhile, still don’t have a candidate for governor.
The story? Gov. Gregoire is raising big money, but the Republicans… they don’t even have a candidate yet!
It’s not until more than halfway through the article that Thomas even mentions the status of Rossi’s efforts, and when he does, he initially allows Republicans to characterize it in their own words:
Like most Republicans, Esser is hoping former state Sen. Dino Rossi — who barely lost to Gregoire in the 2004 election — will soon announced a rematch. In their last race, Rossi matched Gregoire nearly dollar for dollar in fundraising.
Rossi has said he will decide by the end of the year whether to run.
486 words into the 600 word piece — well beyond the attention span of many readers — Thomas finally mentions that Rossi has not been “sitting idle,” but again allows him to characterize his own efforts:
For months, he has been traveling the state, giving speeches and raising money on behalf of the Forward Washington Foundation, a nonprofit group he formed last year.
Rossi says Forward Washington is simply an effort to engage the public in finding solutions to the state’s biggest problems.
It is only in the closing paragraphs that Thomas briefly presents what “Democrats contend”….
But Democrats contend it is a de facto “Rossi for Governor” campaign. They point out that, at his Forward Washington gatherings, Rossi uses many of the same pitches that he used in 2004.
In July, the state Democratic Party filed a complaint accusing Rossi of using the foundation to sidestep state campaign-disclosure laws. That complaint is being investigated by the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Compare that to Modie, who spends the bulk of his P-I article — and nearly 600 words of bullet points — laying out the evidence that Rossi is in fact running for governor, including a rather definitive quote from Tacoma News Tribune editorial page editor David Seago, who blogging after “an informal ed board” interview with Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, wrote: “McKenna said there’s no doubt Rossi’s going for it.”
Notice that like Thomas and Modie I have up until now attempted to avoid editorializing. As far as I know, neither Thomas nor Modie got a single fact wrong; likewise, I have made a sincere attempt to present an accurate and neutral close reading in an effort to understand how a typical reader’s perception of the governor’s race might be shaped, depending on which paper they read. I do not believe that my characterization of the two articles was any more consciously biased than the articles themselves.
That said, no doubt I prefer Modie’s take, and believe it presents a more accurate, nuanced and useful understanding of the current state of the governor’s race. It probably could have benefited from a paragraph or two on Gregoire’s fundraising lead, but “Incumbent raises buckets of cash” is not exactly a “Man bites dog” sorta headline… which I suppose explains why Thomas’ money-focused article ran on B1 instead of A1.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not intending to impugn Thomas’ motives or his reporting skills, and the Democrats’ impressive statewide money lead is certainly newsworthy; these are two different articles focusing on two different aspects of the same race. But the fact that the Times and the P-I, on the very same day, would so dramatically diverge on the status of Rossi’s candidacy, gives lie to the traditional paradigm that proclaims objectivity as even a possible, let alone worthy journalistic pursuit. Modie’s lede claims Rossi has “made up his mind to run again for governor,” whereas Thomas’ lede says Republicans “still don’t have a candidate.” Both are technically correct, but I’d wager political insiders from both parties would privately acknowledge that Modie’s take is the more accurate characterization of Rossi’s intentions.
Think about it. Rossi will certainly generate obligatory headlines when he finally and officially announces his candidacy, and I suppose the event will be at least as newsworthy as the first half-dozen or so of Mike McGavick’s many campaign kickoffs. But should Rossi shock the political and media establishment by announcing that he will not seek the governor’s mansion, well, that would be a huge story. Modie’s lede acknowledges this on the ground reality. Thomas’ lede does not.
Two newspapers, one governor’s race, two very different takes on Dino Rossi’s intentions. Objectivity just isn’t all its cracked up to be.