Monday, October 8, 2007

Those nasty, thieving Montana Republicans (Don't believe us? Just ask Matt Gouras at the AP)

Republicans aren't satisfied with grinding children under their heels. In this state we even stoop to beating up on a defenseless woman.

Today's Lee newspapers throughout the state carry a nice little piece that tells the story of how mean Republicans have stolen Linda McCulloch's domain name.

We have a big smiling picture of Ms. McCulloch (after all, she and her party are above all of this,) with the caption telling that "her domain name,, was bought by Republicans, using a ploy some people are calling ‘political cyberfraud.’"

We're curious, for starters, how Gouras come to write this piece in the first place? Was it because of his tireless scouring of the web for such things, or did he get contacted by state Democrats about doing a puff-piece on Linda McCulloch? A back-story would be interesting.

And then we have Ms. McCulloch herself doing the "woe is me" routine, showing how mean the Republicans are, likening them to criminals:

"In this day and age of identity theft, taking somebody's name and using it without their permission seems kind of like going into their house without permission," McCulloch said.

Did the state GOP buy up the MuCulloch domain name and put their own information about her on it? Certainly they did.

But how did this article on this subject come to be written in the mainstream Montana media in October? And why does it take until the very end of the article for it to be mentioned that was taken by Democrats?

And why doesn't the article say that the Democratic party grabbed Keenan's domain name way back in July, when the first rumblings were being made about a possible Keenan run against Max Baucus?

Given the depths to which the Baucus campaign stooped during the last campaign, against Mike Taylor, this website was little more than a political warning of what Keenan and his family could expect should he dare to enter the race. Not that Dems are any more worried about Baucus losing in 2008 than they were in 2002 -- personal assassination of a trailing Republican Senate candidate is simply worth it if it allows them to redirect the Baucus war chest toward state legislative races.

Gouras must be a reporter who isn't paying attention, since the state's premier left-wing blog was bragging about Dems taking the Keenan domain name several months ago. One would think that the Keenan domain-name grab would have been even more newsworthy, since the Dems took out a domain name to put up a website trashing a private citizen who neither was in public office nor had declared candidacy for a public office.

Getting McCulloch's domain name appears to have been part 2 of a tit-for-tat that was initiated by the Democrats. But you wouldn't get that from Gouras's article.

So why does the GOP get the bad press, then: the headline, the first 3/4 of the article, the photo, and the photo caption? Reading the comments in the Gazette online edition, it seems that the take-home message for most readers was indeed that Republicans were the bad guys.

How much work would it have taken for Gouras to establish a timeline? Was there bias involved on his part, or was it just plain lazy and careless reporting by a paid professional who should know better?

Whatever the answers, it simply confirms us as Republicans in our conviction that every election we run is not just run against Democrats, but rather against a Democratic opposition that is aided by a press that is indifferent to the appearance of bias at best, and outright slanted against us at worst.

There really isn't a lot of practical difference between the two choices, at least as far as the guys on the receiving end are concerned. The fact that the press doesn't intend to be unfair is reassuring for the consciences of editors and reporters, but that is small comfort for those of us who have to live with the results at the ballot box.

But while we should never stop patiently pointing out the bias in this sort of piece, no matter how tiresome it gets, the flip side is that Republicans should place alongside their "Rather Biased" bumper stickers ones that say "No Whining."

Pointing out bias and correcting the record helps with the voting public. Thinking that doing so will stop biased reporting in the media, however, is a pipe-dream. It won't.

If we want to win elections, we need to counter the one-two punch of Democratic advertising and the Montana media with our own message taken directly to the voters.

We need to carry it to enough people to make up for outsourced opposition research and advertising like this particular AP article (again, whether it was meant as such or not is irrelevant from a practical standpoint.)

No one is going to help us but ourselves. Sounds like a conservative attitude, doesn't it?


Ayn Rand said...

way to go GOP. It is time to fight fire with fire. Boo Hoo!

Anonymous said...

Here's what is fascinating and puzzling to me about stories like this.

The story obviously is biased, for the reasons you describe. I think even most liberals would concede that in private.

Anyway, you would think this story would set off alarm bells with the editors here at the Gazette. Why didn't they send it back to the reporter and tell the writer they wouldn't run it until he rewrote it to put the Keenan info up high? Is liberalism really so deeply ingrained in them that they could see something wrong with such an obviously flawed story?

I thought of this story today when I read about the new Gallup poll that reported that nearly 3 in 4 Republicans say the media is "too liberal," and that less than half of all Americans have a lot or a fair amount of trust in the media. The poll also found that 66 percent of Democrats express some faith in the media while only 33 percent of Republicans do, and that 45 percent of all Americans see the media as too liberal, while 18 percent see it was too conservative.
Anyway, the point of repeating all that is that the bias issue is nothing new, yet the newspaper industry never seems interested in addressing concerns about bias except to deny it exists.
But those poll results would tell me, if I were running a newspaper, that one of my most important assets, if not my MOST important asset -- credibility -- was in jeopardy. And once it was gone, my business would be in deep do-do.
Look at those poll numbers again. Sometimes it seems as though the media has just decided to write off half or more of its potential audience.
Imagine if you made widgets, and you decided that you were just going to make widgets that just appealed to a third to a half of your audience. You wouldn't last long, because Company B would come in and take those other customers.

The media has long gotten away with writing off those other customers, I guess because of the high cost of delivering news them. No one could afford to compete. But with the internet lowering the cost of entry, maybe it now might be getting more feasible for little mom and pa operations to enter and serve that audience.

One would think that the managers at the Gazette, and other papers for that matter, would be concerned about such a thing and would tell the staff that being professional and keeping the paper profitable is more important than whatever political feelings/agenda you might have. But they don't seem to do that. Isn't that really odd?

Montana Headlines said...

Anon --

I have a little different take. Most people get the Gazette to know when the artwalk is, to see if their friend's business is mentioned in a feature, to read the obits, to chuckle at the comics, to check the skiing and fishing reports, clip coupons, read classifieds...

In short, news is one of the more minor reasons for newspaper subscriptions, and thus the quality or fairness of the news is unlikely to affect circulation numbers or profitability all that much.

Especially when you factor in the fact that many of us read newspapers to see what the other side is thinking and to cuss at them. They know that even we will keep buying the blasted things.

Bias, in short, probably does little to affect circulation numbers. Take the Gazette and slant it sharply toward the Republicans, and you probably wouldn't see circulation numbers change much.

Think of it as reverse advertising. The standard theory is that people buy newspapers for the news and advertisers buy space to get the attention of the news-readers whose eyes happen to be on those pages.

It's probably just as often the opposite: people buying the papers for the advertisements and fluff, and the news folks grabbing the attention of those casual readers and getting a quick headline or photo caption into their heads. That's why headlines, photo captions, the photos themselves, and the first line or two of the story matter so much.

You can be as fair as you want to in paragraph 10, but most readers are on to the sports page before they even see it.

No, to the extent that a newspaper goes out of its way to be fair (and the Gazette is fairer than a lot of papers around the country,) it does it for reasons of integrity, not because being fair will make it more money.

Just an alternative thought.

Anonymous said...

You are right. People get the Gazette for a lot more than the hard news stories. Your argument makes some sense in that regard.

But my argument about bias doesn't just apply to political stories. It applies to the whole paper. When people start to question your credibility, they begin to wonder if you got the names right under the photo of the school kids. They question whether the wedding stories and the obits have accurate info. They question whether the sports stories have the right scores and stats. They worry that the business stories and consumer stories might be based on bogus info.

I don't want to be too melodramatic about this, and I agree that the Gazette isn't nearly as bad as a lot of newspapers on the East and West Coasts. But as the Gouras story shows, it still can be pretty sloppy when it comes to keeping bias out of its pages.

As for your argument that newspapers try to be fair for reasons of integrity, not because being fair will make it more money, I would note that it is interesting that there is so much more perception these days that newspapers aren't being fair. And newspapers also are less profitable than they've been in decades. (That's mostly because of the internet and other such factors, I'd guess. But the fairness/perception issue might have something to do with it, too.)