Friday, August 27, 2010

Real Media Bias

Neil Sinhababu is confused -- and we can learn something from it:
What's struck me about the primary defeats of Bob Bennett in Utah and (apparently) Lisa Murkowski in Alaska is how they seem to have just come out of nowhere...As far as I know Murkowski and Bennett basically thought they were doing fine up until they suddenly lost primaries (or in Bennett's case, nominating convention votes) that they completely expected to win.
While I wouldn't be surprised if the candidates themselves thought they were in the clear, I'm pretty confident that Sinhababu is dead wrong to say that these upsets came "out of nowhere."  Hm...on closer look, what he's saying is that they seem to have come out of nowhere.  That's closer to the truth, and that's the story.

My impression is that Bennett's demise was essentially expected by anyone who was carefully following reported news about the Utah Republican Party.  And while I'm not sure the same was true about Murkowski's election (which may not have been expected, but probably should have been given the known facts; see Nate Silver's discussion in his new NYT perch, and from on the scene see more from Mudflats).  But certainly one would have had to be an extremely diligent reader of political news to know much of anything about either of these contests.  The national press didn't care.

And yet, these contests are actually quite important.  If Miller's lead holds up, we're talking about bumping two of the least conservative Republicans from the Senate and replacing them (probably) with two hard-line conservatives -- or, perhaps, one hard-line conservative and (in Alaska, although  I doubt it) a Democrat.  Single votes in the Senate are often quite important -- one would think that after the last two years, the press would need no reminders about that.  And for all the talk about polarization in Congress, which is certainly true to a large extent, there are plenty of times when small numbers of Senators cross party lines and make a difference -- again, something we've seen plenty of in the last two years. 

But the press, as usual, doesn't care very much about Congress.  They pay little attention to Congressional elections, except occasionally when a national figure such as John McCain is in a close race.  The press doesn't pay much attention to things that happen in far-away and obscure states such as Utah and Alaska (far away from what?  From the newsrooms of the big national newspapers and TV networks).  And so they missed these stories.

The funny thing is, and I'll admit that as a political junkie I'm hardly the normal target audience, but as far as I can tell these are both terrific stories.  You would think that the press would be be able to sell the Palin/Murkowski feud to viewers; Bob Bennett wasn't the most thrilling pol ever, but he did have a somewhat interesting story, and his opponents (and Joe Miller in Alaska) fit right in with the Tea Party story the press is fascinated by. 

These elections were more important than a dozen Glenn Beck rallies, or a dozen Pew polls showing that the American people have goofy beliefs.  And they're good stories.  A good press would have been all over both of them.

1 comment:

  1. I agree more on Bennett than Murkowski, simply because I pay more attention than the average person, and Bennett was widely reported to be in potential trouble in the weeks prior to the kerfuffle, but there really wasn't any polling getting released in AK. Last I'd seen had Murkowksi up 40 points or so, but that was months ago and the race had been ignored because it seemed like a laugher. I think there was more evidence before the Bennett ouster that he was in trouble, but there was also an excuse: it's not your typical way of pre-nominating people. So, a reporter from outside Utah could be forgiven for having no idea that this potential hurdle was out there; I know I didn't know it was a potential hurdle until a month or so before it happened.

    Of course, what I know is gained from reporters, so there you go. But I don't think there was much reason to pay for a new poll in AK, and there's a real problem getting a sense for the state if you're in the bigger cities because Juneau and Anchorage can be fairly moderate compared to the rest of the state, and it's not exactly easy to get around. In UT, it's damn hard to get a good bead on what's going to happen in these things, what with polling the actual people who will make the decision being tough to do. So, while I have little love for lazy reporters, I issue a pass for AK and a partial pass for UT.


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