Monday, August 14, 2006

The Globe's Coverage on Dunkelbarger

As I said, the Globe has has a story on Dunkelbarger's campaign to unseat U.S. Congressman Lynch of the 9th District. The Globe's Political Editor, Donald Dahl, also blogged about it here. Kudos to the Globe for writing the story as the public deserves to know about the campaign. While I have no statistical evidence to back it up, four years of political science classes and a lifetime of being a news junkie has me believing almost no one in the 9th knows who Dunkelbarger is, never mind what he stands for. If we - as a culture - want government to be democratic, we need a system that gives small-money candidates a chance, especially when they hold views that resonate with the public. If Congressman Lynch didn't enjoy the status of an incumbent and a 1-million dollar plus warchest, there's no way he'd be considered a favorite - nevermind a shoe-in.

While I'm very happy the Globe covered Dunkelbarger for the first time in years - and I think the article was decent - there are a few ways it could have been improved. For starters, the article suggested Dunkelbarger is an one-issue candidate. While Dunksl is probably most upset with Lynch's support of the Iraq war, that's hardly the only reason why he's running for Congress.

Indeed, there are lots of reasons most progressives, liberals and even moderates would be upset with Lynch's congressional record. Lynch is not only Pro-War, but also Pro-Life, has a weak record on Civil Liberties (including supporting the "Patriot Act") and voted against an expansion to the Endangered Species Act that has already been exceptionally successful in saving such American icons as the Bald Eagle from extinction.

However, the Globe was very effective in touching on the differences of the candidate on the Iraq war and how their campaigns are run. Lynch has a million bucks in his pocket and dismisses his opponent and therefore the Democratic process, while Dunkelbarger has only spent a couple thousand on the campaign and is meeting with local groups and individuals to win. Candidates like Ned Lamont and Deval Patrick are showing that the old conventional wisdom no longer exists: grassroots, especially in tandem with netroots, can compete with anything the establishment has to offer.

So, when the Globe's article suggested Dunkelbarger has no chance, it's a little disappointing, especially with no information to back it up. How far out of touch was it?

Amy Walter, an analyst for the influential Washington-based Cook Political Report, said she does not see any incumbent House or Senate Democrats in trouble from antiwar primary challengers. She noted that many states have already had their primaries.

So, Amy Walter doesn't see the race as a significant threat - and uses the fact that there have already been primaries to bolster that fact? Two words: Ned. Lamont. Hello - the primaries have PROVED even incumbents are in trouble. In fact, Ned Lamont wasn't the only one to surge past an incumbent. The same day Ned Lamont won there were three incumbents defeated across the country. Ned Lamont was the first candidate for Senator to defeat the incumbent in a primary in 26 years.

Even when the establishment has already lost primaries, they don't even see it. It didn't seem like the Globe saw it either, despite their extensive coverage of the Lamont-Lieberman race. Journalists and political "experts" around the country are blinded by the old, DLC-style political reality that was failed then and no longer even relevant now. If time has taught us anything it's that DLC-style politics isn't the answer - sure, Bill Clinton won as a centrist, but that was because he was such a fantastic candidate and people believed him when he boasted his DLC-type issues (whereas when other candidates have shifted to the center in the past, voters see past it and know it's just political manuevering - the average voter may be uninformed, but they aren't stupid).

With no polls and a serious lack of media attention thus far, it's ludicrous to suggest a pro-war, pro-life candidate in Massachusetts is safe as a clam. Well, maybe Lynch is safe as a clam... safe as a clam at a seafood raw bar with lots of hungry costumers. It's an uphill battle for Dunkelbarger to win the primary, but no one thought either Lamont or Deval Patrick had a chance just six months ago. Lamont won and Patrick's winning the race for Governor despite the fact his competitors are Swiftboating him and spending millions on TV ads while Patrick hasn't spent a dime. Dunkelbarger has his work cut out for him, but we have a very angry electorate and a lot of soldiers in Iraq who are waiting to come home. People are just starting to tune in as the election heats up.

My last suggestion for the Globe is to end the article better. Here's how they did it:

Lynch's supporters dismiss Dunkelbarger as a threat. With a strong record of constituent service and delivering aid to local communities, Lynch should coast to reelection, his backers believe.

``He's a hands-on politician and congressman," said state Representative Kathleen M. Teahan, a Whitman Democrat. ``I don't think people in this district are one-issue voters."Jim Regan, a plumber for the Braintree public schools, noted the blue-collar roots of Lynch, a former ironworker.

``He is the one that represents me -- the guy who wears work boots and carries a pail to work. He represents the values we have," Regan said.

Now, I get there was a lot of quotes in the article that made Dunkelbarger look like a great choice and Lynch a schmuck. Furthermore, I get that the Globe is a newspaper and thus wants to appear impartial and balanced. But, to end the article this way would make a lot of readers believe that Steve Lynch is a great 'ol guy and shouldn't be facing a primary threat. Lieberman loved to spout how he voted with Democrats 90% of the time - and the media swallowed every bit of it. After all, Iraq was just one issue...

So, fine, put in those kinds of quotes. But don't end the article like that! If anything, the article should have started with Dunkelbarger's issues and statements, then moved onto Lynch's and had third-party political advisers to wrap it up. However, the third parties should also include honest reflections: no one knows where this race stands because there are no public polls. In essence, this is a race that presents a lot of issues and shouldn't have favored either candidate at the end. Isn't that journalism 101?


One final note to the Globe:

Keep covering the race! So far voters know Dunkelbarger is an anti-war candidate, but they don't know where he stands on other issues. At least a week before election day, voters deserve a comprehensive look at where the candidates stand on all of the issues. Furthermore, voters also deserve to know just how each candidate is spending their time on the waning days of the election. How people run for government is almost as important as what they stand for - plus, since I'm pragmatic, readers tend to like those somewhat fluffy articles too.

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