Awkward Page

AP's "awkward" article on the candidates' Hispanic outreach efforts

An AP article that got picked up yesterday, among other places, by The Miami Herald and the Arizona Daily Star criticized both the Obama and McCain campaigns for their “awkward” outreach to Hispanic voters. Instead, it was the article itself that was awkward, flubbing a chance to raise a legitimate topic of concern: the efficacy of both campaigns’ efforts at reaching out to the all-important Hispanic vote.

The story doesn’t work for several reasons. First, it simplifies the Arizona senator’s stance on immigration: “McCain is respected by many Hispanics for refusing to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment over the years.” It makes no mention of McCain’s realignment on the issue of border security, done in order to cleave more closely with the Republican base. (Media Matters calls the article on this here.)

Second, the article’s language is baffling, and its generalizations crude. At one point, it states: “Obama’s vitality and soaring oratory appeal to Hispanics just as they do to others.” Rather tritely, the “whoops of approval” during Obama’s speech to the League of United Latin American Citizens last week are presented as proof. A semantic quibble? Maybe. But it compartmentalizes (and unnecessarily characterizes) a significant voting bloc, and it dumbs down the reporting as a result.

The article goes on to list Hispanic voters’ concerns regarding Obama. Many were stalwart Clinton supporters, some are concerned with his inexperience, and, finally…“there are tensions between blacks and Hispanics.” Wait, really? The context comes later, but far too late in the story to save this simplistic comment, which, unanalyzed at the end of a paragraph, sounds as awkward as a dangling modifier sounds to grammarians.

This leads me to a third, more overarching gripe: the article seems to conflate a general frustration within the Hispanic community with actual Obama campaign flubs.

One quoted voter calls Obama’s relationship with Hispanics “shallow,” and says that the candidate “has made little effort to communicate” with them. But the article makes no effort to pair the quote with relevant news from the campaign trail that would easily corroborate it. The San Francisco Chronicle, for instance, commented yesterday on the fact that Obama didn’t take questions after his speech this weekend to the National Council of La Raza in San Diego (in contrast to McCain, who will hold his standard town-hall meeting, Q&A style, in Albuquerque today). It’s one thing to say that some Hispanic voters are dissatisfied with how the campaigns are doing outreach, but it’s not particularly good reporting to call the campaigns’ tactics ineffective without addressing them more directly.

Such careless writing (in both content and style) disappointingly backs up some of the criticism that has been directed at AP Washington bureau chief Ron Fournier for advocating a more personalized style of journalism among his reporters (which Politico noted yesterday, and which my colleague Liz Cox Barrett mentioned in a recent Kicker post). If the AP’s renewed emphasis on stronger stances and voices results in sloppy reporting and writing in important articles, I’ll take neutrality over those results any day.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.