Paul Nitze: Regarding Pop Tart politics
July 28, 2010
Colorado’s gubernatorial circus is also a media smile factory. Every time Tom Tancredo or Ken Buck opens his mouth, newspaper sales bump up, local news broadcasts get more eyeballs, and talk radio hosts know how they’ll fill the morning drive. Not only do media outlets make more money; they also get to pat themselves on the back for their “coverage” of the big statewide races.
With Aug. 10 around the corner, now is when Colorado voters need to be informed about the choices in front of them. What they need is a real meal, but what the media is feeding them is Pop Tart politics. It’s fun to read about Buck’s misogynist one-liners and birther takedowns, but it’s no substitute for meaningful reporting on the man’s past, his politics, or his ethics.
Before you think I’m living in candyland, let me assure you that I know why the Us Weekly at my dentist’s office is dog-eared and the Atlantic hasn’t been touched. Foot-in-mouth disease sells a lot more papers than news analysis. But we can reasonably demand at least a few scraps of substance from our local outlets.
Colorado’s political reporters haven’t exactly showered themselves in glory over the years. No one gave us an inside peek into the Owens or Ritter administrations. But it’s gotten a lot worse, especially on the Democratic side. Most of the substantive coverage of Michael Bennet and Andrew Romanoff has come from the national press.
I’m talking about David Sirota’s reporting on how Sen. Bennet changed his positions on several key issues, like the public option, once he knew Romanoff was entering the race. Or John McArdle’s column on how the Yale-educated Bennet has turned himself into a salt-of-the-earth hayseed on the campaign trail. Or Dana Milbank’s snarky takedown of Romanoff the cynical opportunist.
But to get that reporting you’d need to subscribe to, in order: Rolling Stone, Roll Call and The Washington Post. Here in Colorado, the statewide Democrats have gotten a mostly sweet ride this cycle. Before you cry liberal media bias, an explanation I don’t entirely discount, let me offer a different theory.
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What we’re seeing this cycle is what happens when you take an already hapless media and you gut it. This is the first election cycle we’re going through without the Rocky Mountain News. Other papers have been decimated. The Denver Post has more sports columnists than political columnists. And other outlets, like television and radio, don’t have the budgets for serious political reporting.
So why is the press able to report on Scott McInnis’s plagiarism problem, Dan Maes’ grotesque mileage reimbursements, and Buck’s loose lips? Do you think it might have something to do with the Democrats’ huge money advantage so far this cycle? What the press hasn’t done a great job of telling us is where they’re getting their information.
Democrats have been able to afford trackers who follow McInnis and Buck around the state to all of their public appearances. It was a tracker who caught Buck bad-mouthing the Tea Party last week. The Republicans have no such tracker following John Hickenlooper. Which means that no one is there to catch Hickenlooper slip up at the end of a long day.
That kind of political flotsam shouldn’t decide which way we vote, but when the fourth estate abdicates its responsibility to get into the meat of a campaign, that’s the stuff we’re left with. And what does get out there is less a product of independent reporting than which campaign can spend the most money on opposition research.
The Republican side of the governor’s race has become a circus because the Republican candidates have done everything they can to light themselves on fire. Can’t blame the press for that. But if the coverage of the race goes on like this, voters will have been done a huge disservice. I intend to cast my ballot for Hickenlooper for governor, but he doesn’t deserve a free ride, nor does he deserve to use the press as his personal PR outlet.