( – promoted by Clark)

Following up on dissonentdissodent’s claim that the msm won’t cover negative stories about Rodney Hubbard and Hotflash’s story about the Hubbard/Roos controvery, I’d like to lay out in a little detail why I find the Post-Dispatch’s lack of coverage of this story disturbing.  Basically, I worry that the different standards the Post-Dispatch applies towards coverage of different candidates makes it far too easy for the political agendas of reporters to change the rules of the elections.  Follow me below the flip and I’ll explain why.

On July 17, reporter Jake Wagman posted a story about State Rep. Jamilah Nasheed on the Post-Dispatch’s blog “Poltical Fix”.  The story was an allegation, via a press release, that Nasheed had “bullied and intimidated” and even “physically threatened” workers for her primary opponent Kim Gardner.   Nasheed agreed that she had a heated discussion with Garner supporters she encountered but denied making any threats or using intimidation tactics.  And that was where the story ended.

In my opinion, this was merely a case of she said/she said.  Here is what I wrote in the comment section:

We live in a digital age. Gardner or anyone else who makes accusations like this need to provide evidence for this kind of claim. I personally don’t think “Political Fix” should even post stuff like this because it would so easy to manufacture a story.

At the time, I was thinking that it’s not a good journalistic practice to just print stories from press releases, even if you get quotes from the other side, because we all know that false stories can stick in people’s memories and this would make it far too easy for candidates to make up stories in press releases and expect them to be printed.  As long as you have a situation like this, where there is no way for the accused party to prove their innocence, it seems like it is (from a purely self-interested perspective) always in the interest of a campaign to make up false stories that will find their way to public attention.   But of course, it’s even worse when the standards are applied unevenly, and only one candidate can count on having press releases printed while others can not.  Throw in the fact that Wagman claims that “some would say” that Nasheed is an “agitator”, and you have a situation where’s its really easy for a reporter’s political biases to put restrictions on what some candidates but not others can do.

Anyway, the story is not really over.  A few days later, Wagman, perhaps in the interest of “balance”, put up a new post of one of Nasheed’s press releases claiming that Gardner supporters had tampered with some of her signs.  Now I thought again the language was a bit biased against Nasheed; the title of this post was “Nasheed, accused of bullying, says her signs were roughed-up,” whereas the title of the previous post was “Rough stuff? Rival accuses Nasheed of harassing workers.”  Both seem to me to cast a bad light on Nasheed, but I realize this is nitpicking.  The more important point for me is that this story again is a printing of a press release that basically can not be verified.  Did a Gardner supporter damage the sign?   I’m pretty sure I’ll never know, but that didn’t stop Wagman from printing the story.

OK, so now to the point.  In Hotflash’s article, Hubbard accuses Jim Roos of stealing and defacing Hubbard’s political signs.  Roos replied that Hubbard signs were put up at stores and service stations without getting the owners’ permission, in some cases taking advantage of foreign born owners.  Thus, apparently, Roos is claiming that he merely was taking down (and defacing) signs that the owners already didn’t want.

So is this case like the other two stories about the Nasheed/Gardner controversy?  Kinda, but not really.  Because in this case, unlike the other two, there actually are facts of the matter to be investigated!  Yet this case is the one that the Post-Dispatch decides not to report on!  In both of the other cases, we were left really with a story of two conflicting opinions, with no real way for reporters to decide who was telling the truth.  But in this case, all the reporters need to do is to follow up with Roos and actually go talk to the business owners whose Hubbard signs were removed.  After they get statements from them, the reporters can then check with the Hubbard campaign to see if there are some other stores that perhaps Roos did not show them that now are missing signs.  It really would be a fairly simple investigation, and one that speaks volumes about the credibility of either a candidate running for an important local office or about a prominent community activist.

What bothers me then, is that by reporting on the Nasheed/Gardner dispute, but not the Hubbard/Roos dispute, even though the latter but not the former case actually had facts to investigate, the Post-Dispatch makes it all too easy for the political biases of reporters to affect the elections.  If a reporter has a bias against one political candidate (and I am saying if) and covers unsubstantiated press releases against that candidate, or if a reporter shows favoritism towards a candidate and doesn’t print unsubstantiated press releases about that candidate, then the rules are effectively different for the different candidates.  One candidate will be able to use a dirtier style of politics than the other, because one but not the other can get away with it.  Thus, a reporters biases can pretty easily give an advantage to candidates the reporter likes.  

In my opinion, the Hubbard Roos controversy should have been reported on because there are relevant facts to the matter.  And the Nasheed/Gardner stories should not have been covered because there was no way of substantiating the charges.  But a second best option would be to at least apply an equal standard: if you’re going to print the press releases of one candidate about sign damage & response, then you should do the same for other candidates.  The Post-Dispatch, in my mind, got their reporting priorities exactly wrong in these cases, and I hope they can apply their attention more evenhandedly in the future.