Politics from the stump to the Web

A few tips for navigating the '08 campaign

Jan. 12, 2008

by David Kopel

If you're as fascinated by politics as hundreds of thousands of other Coloradans are fascinated by the Broncos or the Rockies, there's never been a better media environment. Here are some media tips for politics-watchers.

First of all, remember that following a campaign through the media filter is no substitute for actually going to a rally and listening to a speech. Media reports of speeches tend to focus on a few interesting lines, but rarely convey the flavor of a rally. Attending a speech in person is a great way to learn about the intensity of a candidate's supporters, and the power of his presentation.

For example, if in 2004 you had listened to a speech by Democratic Senate candidate Mike Miles and then a speech by Ken Salazar, you would have seen why Miles could attract such a strong volunteer base which allowed him to wage a serious campaign against a candidate who had been anointed by the party's state and national leadership, but whose in-person presence was torpid.

In this year's U.S. Senate race, there will likely be plenty of polling by national pollsters, since Colorado probably will, as in 2002, have one of the most hotly contested Senate races in the nation. The Mystery Pollster (pollster.com) is an outstanding resource if you want to look behind the numbers, and assess the plausibility of various polling claims and methodologies.

Mystery Pollster recently conducted a poll of its own, asking professional pollsters for their opinions of the quality of their peers, in regards to Iowa and New Hampshire polling. The runaway winner was the ABC/Washington Post poll. Also highly respected were CNN, CBS/New York Times and The Associated Press. The runaway loser was Zogby, with Survey USA and American Research Group also faring poorly.

RealClearPolitics.com is by far the best national Web site for following politics. Among its many virtues are comprehensive polling results. In recent elections, RCP has averaged all the polls in a given race together, and the RCP average has proven very accurate at predicting winners.

But once in a while, there are elections where all the polls are wrong. Every poll whose sample dates began on Jan. 5 or later predicted an Obama victory in New Hampshire; only one of those polls (by Suffolk University) even saw that the race was close.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania runs FactCheck.org, a national Web site that does a great job of pointing out inaccurate statements by national candidates. Within 24 hours of a major presidential debate, FactCheck can tell you which candidates had not delivered the whole truth.

For example, last June, FactCheck pointed out that candidate Tom Tancredo had overstated the effect of an executive order issued by President Clinton. The order required some (but not, as Tancredo claimed, "all") federal documents to be written in multiple languages. Of the remaining Republican contenders, Fred Thompson has compiled a notably good record of not making misstatements which require correction by FactCheck.

FactCheck is nonpartisan. In 2006, they debunked a smear advertising campaign by a national organization that attempted to link James Dobson, of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, with criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The ad insinuated that Dobson opposed gambling in order to benefit Abramoff's clients, even though Dobson has a solid record as a lifelong opponent of legalized gambling.

Bill Clinton was right to complain that the media have been much harder on Hillary Clinton than on Barack Obama. Rachel Sklar, who edits the "Eat the Press" subsite at the Huffington Post, suggested that the media, herself included, treat Obama with a care bestowed on no other candidate. Mark Halperin of Time, Howard Kurtz of Newsweek, and Lee Cowan of NBC have made similar observations.

Unlike ordinary citizens, credentialed representatives of the media are allowed onto the floor of the Colorado House and Senate. Under a new policy of the House and Senate leadership, a committee of Capitol reporters is making recommendations about who should receive floor credentials. The objective is to deny credentials to political activists who are posing as journalists.

This week, the committee recommended rejection for Colorado Confidential, because the Web site is funded by the Center for Investigative Media, which is in turn funded by major Democratic power brokers, such as George Soros' Open Society Institute and Colorado's Gill Foundation.

I say give them the credentials anyway, since there doesn't seem to be a shortage of room for more journalists on the floor. Many high-quality print magazines, such as The Nation and Mother Jones have long been subsidized by partisan ideologues. And while Colorado Confidential is not known to speak ill of favored Democrats, it does do serious journalism, such as its ongoing reporting of Colorado State University logo products being manufactured by a Chinese sweatshop.


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