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Note from the editor: Putting campaigns back on track

Sunday, November 5, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:11 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dear Reader:

I could tell you to vote on Tuesday — that it’s an important election, that all elections are important to the democratic process, that giving up that right is like telling your boss “no thanks” when she offers you a bonus and a raise — but I figure you know that.

You read the Missourian, after all, so you must be pretty smart. Bill Kovach, a founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and winner last week of the Missouri Honor Medal for distinguished journalistic service, said the Missourian’s election coverage is among the best he’s seen this season. No asterisks. Period.

Anyway, for better or worse — and many people say the poison in the election campaigns is worse this year, though it seems we’ve said that with every election for the past 20 years — this one is in the books. You have information with today’s Voters Guide and even more from columbiamissourian.com’s “Smart Decision 2006.” All that’s left is for us to step into the booth.

So, while your impressions of this election are firmly planted, let’s jump ahead to ’08. What should be done to improve the process among politicians, voters, non-voters and media when the presidential election rolls around in two years?

I’m tired of bemoaning the state of misleading and downright false advertising; of non-relevant issues covered as if they were vital to your vote; and of special interests pushing me to vote on a single issue rather than a whole package.

Kovach gave a great example of the culpability of the press in this decline: Check out the Washington Post’s “List of Key Issues in the Battle for Congress.” Four of the eight, he said, weren’t about issues at all. Whether Republicans can take the Northeast or Democrats make inroads in the upper South aren’t issues at all. They’re about tactics and predictions. They are about politics as a spectator sport, not participatory obligation.

(Look for yourself at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/bellwether/index.htm.)

I suspect you’re tired of other things. So let’s start talking about what you’d like to see. No idea is too outrageous or too small.

Here’s one: What if we demanded that television stations devote five, 2-minute segments daily of programming time to a “yes, but ...” report? These would require reporters to fill out some of the statements made by political ads that may be true but so out of context as to be misleading. Mix the segments in among the political ads on prime time TV, not during the half-hour broadcasts.

Surely we can come up with better ways to run this railroad.

Surely we can give a young political reporter of mine more hope. In his weekly journal, he couldn’t understand why the stem cell amendment ads were so simplistic, patronizing and misleading — on both sides.

“If this is really mobilizing people to vote, it paints a sad picture of America,” he said. “I don’t think millions would be spent if they don’t think it’s effective. … Are viewers that dumb?”

Let’s start, right now, figuring out ways to make for smarter campaigns in ’08.


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