Reporting on the Endgame

AP and Dallas Morning News successfully cover candidates' closing statements

As E-Day creeps closer, the political press seems to be a bit confused as to how to handle these last few days of campaigning. And understandably so—it’s been a long campaign, and at times it seems like everything that can be said has been said. Nevertheless, there’s a news hole to fill, and many publications have decided to fill it by reporting (and I use that term generously, in some instances) on the candidate’s endgame stump speeches.

Two examples stick out in particular: one from the AP, the other from the Dallas Morning News.

On Monday, the AP’s Beth Fouhy took a closer look at McCain’s latest stump speech. While Fouhy credits McCain for a “well crafted speech, with stirring references to McCain’s five and a half years as a prisoner war of Vietnam and his plans for the nation,” she’s quick to note that “he goes off track when it comes to Obama’s policies.”

Fouhy goes on to recap and clarify the candidates’ stances on some important issues, in a good example of the AP’s new focus on “accountability reporting.” The press can’t be afraid to counteract misleading or inaccurate political rhetoric, as CJR and others have argued ad nauseam over the past eighteen months. Fouhy sets the record straight on Obama’s health care plan:

McCain’s central claim — that people will be “forced” into a new government-run plan under an Obama presidency — is not true. In fact, Obama broke with many Democrats and others who advocate universal coverage when he announced his plan would be mandatory only for children, and voluntary for everyone else. Obama would allow those who want to keep their current employer-based health insurance to do so. Rather than requiring everyone to purchase coverage, Obama’s plan is designed to bring down costs — make insurance more affordable so as many people as possible would choose to buy it.

This type of reporting is invaluable, regardless of what stage of the election we’re in. Simply regurgitating the candidates’ speeches or casually mentioning their well-rehearsed stump recitals does little for voters. While political junkies may think all the facts have been squared away, one would be surprised, for example, at the number of voters still convinced that Obama is a Muslim. If inaccuracies like that still permeate the public, it’s clear our job isn’t yet finished.

Another stump speech piece worth mentioning is the advice from editorial columnist William McKenzie, of the Dallas Morning News. In a two-part series, McKenzie decided to help Obama and McCain by letting them know what they should be saying.
For the most part, McKenzie’s advice would do little to persuade undecided voters. Merely name-dropping Senator Kennedy is unlikely to snag a vote, nor will this:

And those who would do us harm should know this: I will never back down from a fight, if a fight is what you wish. If we work together, though, we need not fight. We can live with our differences, instead of letting them lead us into bloodshed.

(That was your cue, Obama.)

While his advice for Obama has limited value, McKenzie does have a few valid points. Here’s one:

Let me say more about Senator McCain. He’s shown me what it takes to work across the aisle. And that is, you must be willing to make your own party mad.

According to McKenzie, it’s “essential” that Obama include his intentions to work across party lines as opposed to attacking the GOP. While Obama may be highlighting how Americans have worked together during these challenging economic times, he doesn’t mention his own commitment to encouraging such cooperation in Washington. It’s hard to say if that’s necessary to commit voters, but it’s a reasonable proposal.

When it comes to McCain, McKenzie’s advice is far from novel: lighten up on the defense.

“That’s not the way to win. You win by your own personality and agenda, not making the other guy look small,” writes McKenzie. But he also suggests McCain reaches out to Latino voters, a demographic that could save him on election night:

But we must move forward with this debate, and I want you to know that I believe in a welcoming society. That’s why I will work on immigration until we find a fair, honorable system. And to the rest of you: We either get the education/immigration issue right, or we fail ourselves.

Decent advice, although one can’t help wondering whether it’s coming too late. But more important is the concept behind the advice itself. Just as Fouhy continues to contribute substantive reporting, McKenzie saw an opportunity to look beyond the speeches. He could have written a piece detailing the psychology and anatomy behind them.

Instead, he looked to fill in the holes of the candidates’ speeches. Regardless of their potential success with voters, it’s a valid column in that it doesn’t just take the speeches at face value but, instead, looks for what they’re missing. You don’t need to agree with McKenzie’s advice to concede that his is a commendable approach.

Moral of the story: we only have a few days left. Let’s not drop the ball now.

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Megan McGinley is an intern at CJR.