Brent Boyer: Sorting through the debate spin
October 9, 2008
I was one of an estimated 63 million viewers of Tuesday night’s presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who walked away from the TV frustrated after 90 minutes of back-and-forth debate that failed to impress.
Besides, with all the accusations thrown back and forth, how are we to know what’s accurate and what’s spun?
Election season can be confusing for voters, with the onslaught of TV, radio and print ads espousing the virtues of one candidate or ballot initiative while denigrating those of his or her – or its – opponents.
While cable TV and the Internet provide more outlets for news and commentary than ever before, it can be daunting to find information sources that shoot straight with their readers. One such site is Factcheck.org, operated by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
In general, I still believe newspapers provide the most balanced and detailed reporting of political candidates and races. But even I have a hard time overlooking the biases of newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Times.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today isn’t immune from the perception of bias. Last week, we ran the unfortunate headline “Palin’s poise impressive” after the first and only vice-presidential debate between Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joe Biden. The front-page headline attempted to tie together two separate stories on debate-watching parties hosted by local Republicans and Democrats. Instead, readers were left to wonder why the Pilot & Today would make such a strong editorial comment in the midst of a closely contested presidential election.
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It wasn’t intentional, but it was careless. It also colors how our readers perceive future headlines and editorial decisions. And during election season, readers are as perceptive of those missteps as ever.
I think our special 16-page Election Guide does a better job of exemplifying the Pilot & Today’s commitment to providing balanced, relevant information to voters this fall. The Election Guide will be inserted in this Friday’s newspaper, as well as the Oct. 24 edition of the Steamboat Today.
The special section, which we produce every year, includes stories about local and regional races – those for state Senate District 8 and state House District 57, U.S. Senate, U.S. House for the 3rd Congressional District, district attorney for the 14th Judicial District and the Colorado Board of Education. There also are stories on Steamboat Springs ballot initiatives 2A and 2B, as well as articles on each of the 14 statewide amendments and referendums facing voters this fall.
We also included a sample ballot that, ideally, will help Routt County voters prepare for what could be lengthy lines Nov. 4.
The newspaper isn’t – and shouldn’t – be the only source of local election news and information. I encourage voters to take advantage of local election forums and candidate debates.
The League of Women Voters always puts together an impressive election forum. This year’s version is Wednesday. Two days later, the Pilot & Today, Steamboat tv18, the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors and the Routt County Republican and Democratic parties co-sponsor a candidates forum beginning at 5 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center. For those unable to attend, Steamboat tv18 will rebroadcast the debate in the weeks leading up to Election Day.
Another source of reliable information for voters is the 2008 State Ballot Information Booklet compiled and distributed by the state of Colorado. Often referred to as the “Blue Book,” the booklet should have appeared in local mailboxes several weeks ago. For those who didn’t receive a copy, download the PDF version at http://www.coloradobluebook.com. The booklet includes general information about all state ballot issues, as well as recommendations about the retention of judges. Each ballot initiative includes arguments for and against, as well as a summary of its fiscal impact.
Regardless of where you usually get your news and information, I encourage you to take the time to learn about this year’s candidates and ballot issues. An informed electorate is the best kind.
– To reach Brent Boyer, call 871-4221
or e-mail email@example.com