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Tom – As they do every presidential election, the GR Press picks six local people to watch and comment on the debate. Without telling how the six people were chosen, the article identifies them as two Republicans, two Democrats, and two undecided voters. The results of the panel were, not unsurprisingly, that the Democrats thought Kerry “won”, the Republicans favored Bush while the two undecided voters split, one leaning toward Bush, the other Kerry. Most of the quoted comments from the panelists consisted of them reiterating what the candidates had said during the debate. The article was limited strictly to the realm of opinion, with the focus being on who “won” the debate, not on actually looking critically on the content of what the candidates said.
Linda – In the article on of the panelists is quoted as saying “ I think I really have to do research on them both.” Did the Press solicit comments for anybody who might be more knowledgeable about the candidates?
The GR Press did solicit comments from two local “experts” on presidential politics, running a side banner called “The Local grade”. In this section, two local professors “graded the candidates performances on a variety of categories such as “personal style”, “emotion”, and “Leadership qualities”. The first, Randy Byterk of Calvin College, gave both candidates a overall grade of “B”. The second, Gleaves Whitney of Grand Valley, gave Kerry a “B” and Bush an “A”. Interestingly, before heading the Center for Presidential studies at Grand Valley, Whitney spent eleven years speechwriter for former Michigan governor John Engler. The fact that Whitney was employed by a Republican administration for over a decade might indicate a bias on his part, and yet the GR Press did not feel it necessary to tell its readership this before presenting him as an “objective expert”.
Linda – Jeff, did the local TV stations do any better in their coverage of the debate?
Jeff – – Not really. All 3 of the stations we monitor did provide a summary of the debate, but tended to focus on who won, as opposed to analyzing and verifying the positions taken by the candidates. This seems to be a flaw in much of the reporting, which discusses whether or not a candidate looks and sounds Presidential, as opposed to fact checking the candidate comments.
Linda – What else did the TV news report?
Jeff – Fox 17 spoke with two moms who have sons serving in the military in Iraq, channel 8 had responses from 6 undecided voters who watched the debate in their studio, and WZZM 13 relied on a political analyst from Lansing, Graig Ruff, who is with Public Sector Consultants. When asked what will undecided voters be looking for with Kerry & Bush, Ruff responded “more than likely, it’s like going out to a restaurant in the evening and being asked by a collegue in the office the next day, ‘How was it.”
Linda - From what you are saying it sounds like the mainstream coverage of the debates is more about style than substance. Tonight is the second debate between Bush and Kerry, where can people go to get independent information and analysis of the debate?
Tom – As for TV, Democracy Now provides some very good debate analysis. After the first debate, they had a very interesting interview with noted British Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk. In his comments Fisk critiqued not only the candidates stated positions on the Iraq war, but also talked about middle East foreign policy issues that were not addressed in the debate, notably, the ongoing Israeli/ Palestinian conflict. As to other alternative sources of information, there are numerous places online that provide a variety of independent news and views about the 2004 election, many of which are linked to at the GRIID website under the Election Watch 2004 banner.
Linda – Along with transcripts of these news analysis pieces, links to all sources mentioned during the show will be available at the Catalyst Radio website. Democracy now airs on Cable Channel 24 livewire, weekdays 8 – 9 am, which, along with GRTV channel 25, broadcasts here at the Community Media Center.
Linda – Jeff, is there anything else that the news media has left out as it relates to the debates?
Jeff – Yes, one last aspect that hasn’t been getting much attention in mainstream media, is the debate process itself. The Commission on Presidential Debates was created by the Republicans and Democrats in 1988, effectively taking the process out of the hands of the League of Women Voters, which ran the debates for years as an independent, non-partisan organization. George Farah, author of No Debate says that the hijacking of the debate process by the 2 major parties was motivated by a fear that Independent Party candidates might influence the outcome of the Presidential Elections. One question for people watching the debates might be “how can democracy be best served when the debate process is controlled by the 2 biggest political parties?
Linda - For more information on the Commission on Presidential Debates and how the 2 parties have taken over the debate process go to the online source at Open Debates.
Linda – On September 30, channel 13 ran a short piece on a war memorial exhibit in Lansing on the lawn of the state capitol. What was omitted from this story Jeff?
Jeff – The story mentioned that hundreds of pairs of boots were on display to represent the US soldiers who have died in Iraq, but what the channel 13 story left out was that there were also names of some of the 11,000 Iraqi civilians who have been killed as well, since the beginning of the war. This has been a consistent pattern of reporting in the US, with attention primarily given US casualties, but not Iraqis who have been wounded or killed, which the online source Iraq Body Count has been meticulously documenting.
Linda – Channel 13 also omitted who is organizing this exhibit, which is touring the entire country.
Jeff – That’s right, the Eyes Wide Open Tour is traveling throughout the US and is organized by the America Friends Service Committee, a long time Anti-War organization. An important piece of information that the channel 13 story left out.
Linda – For more information on the Eyes Wide Open exhibit go to www.afsc.org