ABC’s daily political semi-blog, The Note, written by Mark Halperin, Elizabeth Wilner and Marc Ambinder, has some interesting rules for political coverage as the November elections creep closer:
- We are writing on the ABCNEWS blackboard 1,000 times each the rules of political journalism that we hope to follow assiduously for the rest of the campaign.
They work well for network and local news, print and broadcast, and wouldn’t it be grand if we all adhered to them from now until election day?
1. Don’t let polls – particularly suspect ones, but even perfectly good ones – become the way to frame every bit of coverage each day. (And yes, this especially includes Zogby polls.)
2. Don’t cover debates as if you were a theater critic or a sports writer – debates shouldn’t be just about gaffes and fights.
3. Don’t play up “video press releases” – campaign and interest group TV ads that are produced and then barely aired, but given to the press as “real” ads so they will get earned media – on the air EVER. Or, if you must, when you air them or write about them, make it clear that they aren’t “real” ads.
4. Don’t confuse the various accurate definitions in dealing with sources and reporting (or not reporting) what they say:
a) “on the record:” “Ed Gillespie says … ”
b) “on background:” “A leading Republican strategist says, [insert exact quote here].”
c) “deep background:” “Republicans are saying [paraphrase of what Republicans are saying].”
d) “deepest background:” simply enters the reporter’s brain, where it mixes with all other reporting, with no direct or specific reference.
e) “off the record:” not to be reported or repeated, unless permission is given to do the latter in order to confirm something elsewhere.
5. Don’t mistake the “natural tightening” that occurs in the polls at the end of most races in competitive states for a true surge by the trailing candidate.
6. Don’t leave insufficient reportorial resources available for truth-squadding ads, phone calls, etc., right up through election day.
7. Don’t treat ad watch boxes as afterthoughts; don’t fail to scrutinize every ad; and don’t write them up as tactics and theater criticism, but as truth-squadding to help voters sort out the messages.
8. Don’t treat Democrat-aligned special interest groups, such as unions and pro-choice groups, and the money they spend to influence the election any differently than you treat Republican-aligned groups, such as business and the NRA.
9. Remember that Democrats’ cries of “voter intimidation” could lead to GOP concerns about “vote stealing,” and vice versa.
10. Don’t forget about provisional ballots, early voting, and absentee voting.
In fact, the New York Times ‘ Nagourney has a nice story on early voting today, and how it “has forced candidates and their advisers to rethink every facet of how they run for office, from what to say to when to say it, from how to run a get-out-the-vote operation to when to broadcast their first television advertisements.”
Amazingly candid: I wonder if anyone in their own newsroom will actually read this. The fact that they feel the need to voice #8 is especially telling, and I am not a Republican (not a Democrat either).
Incidentally, with elections approaching, we intend to cover the media covering the campaigns and elections: hear that political blogcritics?