The Cleveland Plain Dealer Fails, Fibs

One week ago, the Plain Dealer published an item by Mr. Ted Diadun about “The challenge of covering a race when there is no race.” Like a lot of things involving the Plain Dealer in the 21st century, it’s basically just a lot of sad piled on top of more sad. Essentially, Diadun indulges in some whining about what an unreasonable hardship it is for his colleagues that the Democratic candidate for governor has sunk low in the polls and looks unlikely to revive. Even we can’t fake a competitive horse-race narrative from this, it’s just unfair!, etc. Then, Diadun goes on to announce that, events having simply forced abandonment of standard practices, the Plain Dealer will actually publish some information about other state races (but only the big two party nominees, of course)! 

You could just picture Diadun with his chest puffed out, simply beaming with pride about what good sports he and his pals are, and how generous it is of them to make such an effort for the community in this way. Unfortunately, I found myself unable to summon up the adulation he seemed to be anticipating. I just couldn’t work out a coherent concept of what he believes political journalism is for, making it difficult to evaluate the Plain Dealer‘s predicament and response on its own terms.

I wrote an e-mail to Mr. Diadun outlining my questions. His official profile declares: “As the reader representative, I encourage comments, complaints, suggestions, compliments, debates, questions about fairness or anything else dealing with The Plain Dealer that a reader might want to talk about. I respond to calls and e-mails…” Sadly, a week has gone by and I still have received no response from “the reader representative.” More sadly, I have never received any response to any missives directed to tdiadiun@plaind.com and must conclude that “I respond to calls and e-mails” is basically just empty BS. Saddest of all, possibly, this may have something to do with the fact that Mr. Diadun has no good answers to the following questions. You be the judge:

Sir,

I’m confused by your latest peek behind the curtains at PD/NEOMG/cleveland.com political coverage.

Of the “race where there is no race” for governor, you write “Journalists cover these things to help people make decisions.” I’m afraid I’ve missed something, though, because I can’t see how.

You make some oblique references to something called “policy,” but this seems to lie outside most of your remarks, being separate from coverage of “politics.” Policy “is generally covered out of our statehouse bureau,” while politics is something else. Its emphasis, you quote Mr. Gomez as explaining, “is always on the political strategy machinations.”

Could you, or perhaps Mr. Gomez, please explain to me how coverage of political strategy machinations “help people make decisions?” Jay Rosen posed similar questions a few years ago, in an interview with The Economist, and ever since I have been struggling to find anyone who can answer them. Could you describe a sample process in which information about political strategy machinations usefully contributes to my decision making as a voter?

In Rosen’s words, “journalists fall into horse-race coverage, where they ask: Who’s going to win? What’s the strategy? Is it working? … But how does this pattern help voters make a decision? Should they vote for the candidate with the best strategy?”

If the answer is “yes,” I would greatly appreciate being appraised of it along with any details you can provide; it would mean that I have completely misunderstood the purpose of elections for my entire life, but better late than never.

Please do share any insight you may have.

Sent Sept. 7, 2014; unanswered to date

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