Saturday, March 29, 2008

Truth matters. Good journalism vs. Bad journalism

There's a big difference between the story about last night's Supreme Court debate, and the Associated Press story.

Lead from AP story: "State Supreme Court challenger Michael Gableman defended a campaign ad Friday that has been widely condemned for misleading voters about incumbent Justice Louis Butler's role in a case 20 years ago."

Lead from story: "Burnett County Judge Michael Gableman repeatedly attacked Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler as a judicial activist while touting his own conservative credentials Friday night in their final debate before next week’s election."

additional line from story (more than halfway through the story): "Gableman has come under fire from some quarters for an ad that featured Rueben Lee Mitchell, a sex offender Butler represented as a public defender more than 20 years ago."

Analysis: Reporters aren't supposed to just report all facts neutrally, when the facts themselves don't objectively lead to neutral conclusions. The AP story gets it right - the ad was "widely condemned." And the lead is also correct that this was the clearest and most important point of contention in the debate.

The story is terrible for many reasons. The whole set-up is Gableman attack, Butler response, Gableman attack, Butler response. The lead could have been written by the Gableman campaign. And worst of all, the words "under fire from some quarters" is incredibly underdescriptive of what happened. Even my best friend Charlie Sykes said the ad was "misleading" and "dumb." What actually happened. The most important fallout. The letters from the DA and the cops. Newsweek weighs in. Judges aren't so excited, and that is news.

To write this story and suggest that the ad was only under fire "from some quarters" is just bad journalism. Any bets on whether "McMedia Matters" will cover this?

UPDATE: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has the most balanced story. "Milquetoast," as others have described their coverage, but fair.

The lead is "In their final meeting before Tuesday's election, Justice Louis Butler and Burnett County Circuit Judge Michael Gableman engaged Friday in a sometimes-tense debate over their candidacies in the state Supreme Court race."

Which is, you know, factual. Down below, the twit's ad is described thus: "which many have called misleading." Again, much more reasonable than the story, although they buried the controversy fairly deep in the story.


illusory tenant said...

Well spotted. Welcome to the 'sphere, Chuck.

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