News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Book on Daschle/Thune race is still not reviewed

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader published a review of sorts of Jon Lauck’s book Daschle vs. Thune, which should put an end to the petulant whining about the newspaper not reviewing the book. It won’t. The whining will persist, you can be assured.

As book reviews are not news reports, those who wail and moan that the Argus Leader was journalistically remiss in not reviewing the book simply display an ignorance of what is reporting and what is feature-writing. The persistent complaint against the Argus Leader has been couched in terms of its partiality to Tom Daschle, but if one reads blogs and the comments on them, it is clear that the real complaint against the Argus Leader is that it does not cater to a conservative bias. Impartiality is not the issue

South Dakota has more newspapers that display a conservative agenda in their coverage and writing and editing of news stories than it has media that show any willingness to allow an impartial reporting on moderate and progressive views and people. The local Aberdeen newspaper is unabashed about giving favorable coverage to conservatives, no matter how extreme, and choosing to ignore progressive issues. When it does feel compelled to put on a demonstration of impartiality for the sake of journalistic credibility, it peppers its reports with snarky editorial critiques.

This was evident in the 2004 campaign. When John Thune came to town and made a speech, the paper treated him like a rock star, reported on how his supporters fawned over him, and treated his stump speeches as if they were always fresh and brilliant. When Tom Daschle and Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin came to town, the news reports commented on how their stump speeches contained the same, old messages and said nothing new. If they stayed on message, they were accused of being redundant. If they departed into different issues, they were accused of being unfocused.

I have not read all of Jon Lauck’s book, but enough to see that it is an extension of the complaints against the Argus Leader that his poltical blog and fellow bloggers took up during the 2004 campaign and his claim that they contributed to the defeat of Tom Daschle. Brent Lerseth, the reviewer for the Argus Leader, comments that a weakness of the book is that it does not give an accounting of how other media may have acted as a counter to the alleged bias of the Argus Leader.

With all the attention to the claims of the Argus Leader’s bias, no one has paid much attention to the editorial bias toward the conservatives that is reflected in the other media throughout the state. A survey of what is covered and how it is covered by the other media could provide a more definitive explanation of why Tom Daschle lost.

A book is waiting to be written from a more objective point of view on the 2004 campaign. Nationally, the campaign inspired a number of efforts at fact-checking because so much scurrilous and libelous information was put into circulation. One such effort was The Press Project headquartered in the Fargo area to examine the kind of political coverage and statements that was published and broadcast on the northern plains. The Project was largely devoted to fact-checking and analyzing the rhetorical practices for false information and fallacious reasoning. At first The Press Project was not going to examine blogs. The scholars and journalists who were doing the analysis did not think blogs were read by enough people at that time or were regarded as sources of information. In fact, at the time, according to the PEW Internet Project, only 11 percent of Internet users consulted blogs and a majority of those were for matters other than politics. However, advisors to The Project said that blogs did reflect the kind of thinking and tactics being used on the public and should be examined as expressions of what people were thinking and what was influencing them.

The Press Project compiled the raw data which was to be used as the basis for a definitive study of what kind of information and ideas went into the campaign. Initially, some prominent writers and scholars agreed to do such a study, but since then they have indicated that there is other work they would prefer to spend their time and effort on.
Reviewer Brent Lerseth stresses in his review that its purpose is not to evaluate the substantive claims made in Lauck’s book or to challenge or affirm them. In the election of 2004, fact-checking and rhetorical analysis became a huge issue. Scholars, journalists, and other writers became concerned about the kind of information that people were forming their opinions from. The salient and essential questions coming out of the campaign of 2004 is whether the people were being told the truth and whether they were being subjected to Orwellian mind-manipulation that fed on their fears, bigotries, and ignorance.

A comprehensive review of Jon Lauck’s book will address those issues of accuracy and veracity. It is part of the campaign material that needs a definitive analysis. And some of us are still waiting fo such a review.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States

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