On the hustings

The good and the bad of Rocky's, Post's campaign trail coverage

May 19, 2007

by David Kopel

As in the past, the Rocky Mountain Newsand The Denver Postare sending some of their most experienced staff to cover the campaigns in person. This year, the staffers are writing blog entries to supplement their print columns. How are they doing?

The weakest of the group is Mike Littwin of the Rocky.Although Littwin is one of the smartest guys in Denver journalism, his overattention to cleverness often gets in the way of providing insights about the story itself. Call it a mild case of Maureen Dowd Syndrome.

Consider Littwin's May 1 article previewing the first Republican presidential debate, at the Reagan Library in California.

Littwin asked, "How strongly will which Republicans line up tonight with Bush - when polls show Americans want a way out of Iraq?" He answered his own question: "We'll watch (Rudy) Giuliani, who wants to talk tough on the war."

But Littwin can't read minds, and he was wrong about what Giuliani "wants" to say on Iraq. The weekly New York Observerhas been doing a great job with presidential election coverage, especially of the New York candidates. The Observer'sApril 24 issue pointed out that Giuliani has assiduously avoided talking tough about Iraq: "Mr. Giuliani has found a way to avoid rendering either explicit opinions about the troop-level increase or suggestions about what to do if it fails." Hence, "when it comes to Iraq . . . the former mayor has forgone substantive policy speeches . . . "

During the debate, Giuliani uttered not a word about Iraq - contrary to Littwin's telepathic prognostication, but exactly as a reader of the Observermight have expected.

Littwin also asserted that "McCain is the candidate who doesn't demonize immigrants." It's true that John McCain does not "demonize immigrants," but it was false for Littwin to imply that the other candidates do. The Republican candidates, like their Democratic counterparts, make a point of praising immigrants.

Some, including Tom Tancredo, criticize (or in Littwin's hyperbole, "demonize") illegal aliens. But Littwin insults (and thus, in a sense, "demonizes") legal immigrants by falsely conflating them with illegal aliens.

The Rocky'sWashington bureau chief, M.E. Sprengelmeyer, has been dispatched to Iowa, where he serves as Des Moines bureau chief. He provides reports that can come only from following the campaigns on the ground. For example, in a May 10 blog entry, he reported how Barack Obama's staff dealt with a disappointingly small turnout for an Obama speech in the small town of Indianola, Iowa. A sign that Obama's momentum is slowing? For readers who follow politics carefully, it's an interesting data point.

Sprengelmeyer's coverage of the daily details would be enhanced by a greater knowledge of the historical record. His May 9 article noted the controversy about former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney changing his abortion position from pro-choice to pro-life. But this single change isn't Romney's problem; Ronald Reagan and Vice-President George Bush also switched to pro-life, and were strongly supported by pro-life activists.

Romney's problem is that he's performed a double flip-flop. He used to be pro-life until he ran for Massachusetts governor, when he underwent a change of heart that made him pro-choice. Then, after being re-elected in Massachusetts and setting his ambitions on the presidency, he changed his heart again and became pro-life.

At the Post,John Aloysius Farrell writes for the print edition and for a weblog. The weblog presents some interesting analysis, such as an explication of McCain's difficulty in changing his persona from a 2000 maverick to a 2008 Republican regular, and a comparison of Fred Thompson to the kindly but insignificant curmudgeon, actor Wilford Brimley.

Farrell's Posttext would be more readable if he would insert a blank line between paragraphs, as Post political writers Dan Haley and Anne Mulkern do in their own blog entries.

As for Web layout of the political blogs, thePostgets the edge. On the first screen of a typicalRockyblog entry, the text occupies only about 15 percent of the screen, which is crowded with three columns of commercial advertising and news cross-promotions.

Postcolumnist Dick Kreck (May 14) cited with approval a bigoted comment on the Colorado Media Matters Web site: "Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were Christians and they plotted the Oklahoma City bombing." Kreck should have researched the issue himself. McVeigh was raised Catholic, but he told Timemagazine that during his years in the Army, "I sort of lost touch with the religion. I never really picked it up . . . " According to the biographyAmerican Terrorist,McVeigh claimed "Science is my religion." In a letter to the British newspaper The Guardian,McVeigh described himself as an agnostic. He did, however, receive Roman Catholic rites immediately before his execution. There is no evidence that McVeigh was a Christian at the time he planned or perpetrated the Oklahoma City bombings.


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