# Journalism

Introducing Bleeding Heartland's new tagging system

During the slow news week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I often reflect on my work and plan changes for the year to come. At this time in 2018, I was preparing to abandon the handle “desmoinesdem” in favor of a standard byline. Although I had valid reasons for choosing that pseudonym in the 2000s, I decided later that publishing under my real name had other advantages and was more transparent.

Over the past several days I’ve been implementing a change to this site’s tagging system, incorporating best journalism practices that should also make the site more user-friendly.

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Fake objectivity in action

Disappointing stuff from Lynn Campbell of IowaPolitics.com:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong has refused to take down his statewide radio ad, despite complaints and threats of legal action by the Iowa Democratic Party.

“We have no intention to take down the ad,” Marlys Popma, Fong’s campaign manager, told IowaPolitics.com today. “We’re very confident that everything in the ad is completely accurate.”

Fong on Monday launched the 60-second ad called “Iowa Dream” that focuses on introducing himself and outlining his story for Iowa Republicans, but also says: “We have a state government that borrowed almost a billion dollars to pay its bills.” Popma said the $830 million I-JOBS program will actually cost the state about $1.4 billion by the time it’s paid off.

Campbell goes on to quote Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan’s statement calling the ad “materially false and misleading.” Finally, Campbell quotes Popma as saying the Fong campaign hasn’t heard directly from the Iowa Democratic Party.

This is a perfect example of bogus “objective” journalism that offers readers nothing but “he said/she said.” If Campbell has spent even 10 seconds wondering whether the state of Iowa is borrowing a billion dollars to pay its bills, you’d never know it from her story.

Yet Fong’s claim can be disproved by minute or two of online research. The I-JOBS program is funding special infrastructure projects, not line items from the budget. If Iowa were borrowing money to meet ongoing spending commitments, the state would not have a AAA bond rating, and the I-JOBS bonds would not have a AA rating.  

For whatever reason, Campbell makes this story about Republican confidence and Democratic “complaints” instead of about the accuracy of Fong’s ad.

I recommend that the folks at IowaPolitics.com read this piece by Philip Meyer on “The Next Journalism’s Objective Reporting.” Excerpt:

True objectivity is based on method, not result. Instead of implying that there is an equal amount of weight to be accorded every side, the objective investigator makes an effort to evaluate the competing viewpoints. The methods of investigation keep the reporter from being misled by his or her own desires and prejudices.

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Some story ideas for campaign correspondents

CBS reporter Chip Reid is “embedded” with John Edwards’ campaign and posted this on the CBS blog:

I’m a bit unhappy with John Edwards. I’ve been covering his campaign for 10 days and he hasn’t made a lot of news. Let’s face it – a lot of what political reporters report on is mistakes. The campaign trail is one long minefield, covered with Iowa cow pies, and when they step in one – we leap.

I’ve done very little leaping – and I blame Edwards. While other candidates misspeak, over-speak, and double-speak, Edwards (at least in these 10 days) has made so few mistakes that I end up being transported — newsless — from town to town like a sack of Iowa corn .

He has a remarkable ability to stay on message. Not just in “the speech,” but even in Q and A. Nothing throws him off. He turns nearly every question into another opportunity to repeat his central theme. Global warming? We need to fight big oil. Health care? Fight the big drug and insurance companies. Iowa farmers’ problems? Blame those monster farm conglomerates. And the Iowa populists eat it up. We’ll see how well it works in other states.

He’s even disciplined in his daily routine. While most reporters use the campaign trail as an excuse to over-eat and abandon their exercise routines, Edwards squeezes in a run EVERY DAY, rain, sleet, or shine.

Come on John – relax. Step in an Iowa cow pie and let me do my job.

Like my grandmother used to say, many a truth is told in a joke. Reid is half-joking, but the truth is that journalists would much prefer to cover a gaffe than report on a non-eventful day on the stump.

Here’s an idea: how about coming up with story ideas on your own, rather than waiting for the candidates to slip up?

Reid could tell us what the crowds are like at the Edwards events he covers. How many people are showing up? What’s the average age? More women or men? Are the people at these rallies mostly committed Edwards supporters, or are there significant numbers of undecided voters?

Alternatively, he could spend some time analyzing an issue Edwards brings up in his stump speech. How does that issue relate to the lives of Iowans in town X where Edwards is speaking? How does Edwards’ approach to that issue compare to what other candidates propose?

On any given day, Daily Kos users post numerous substantive diaries about the various presidential candidates. Some are about candidates’ stand on important issues, and some are about campaign strategy.

While Reid complains that Edwards isn’t giving him anything to write about, the Edwards Evening News Roundups are packed with information every day.

If these citizen journalists can come up with something interesting to write about, why is a CBS reporter sitting around waiting for a candidate to make a mistake?

“Gotcha” journalism does not serve voters well. Reporters following the campaigns need to figure out a better way to do their jobs.

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