The two news articles I found were in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal and the Greenville News. The former, an Associated Press piece titled “DeMint facing nominal opposition in primary,” spent its first fourteen paragraphs discussing a primary challenge to DeMint by Susan Gaddy that the article suggested had little chance of success. Author Seanna Adcox then turned to Rawl, describing how he differed with DeMint on such issues as health care reform and offshore oil drilling. Professor Thigpen was quoted as believing that, even though Rawl’s general election prospects were “slim,” as a “more moderate, old-time Democrat” he might do better than expected. Greene was quoted as declaring he would focus on job creation and was described as a graduate of the University of South Carolina who spent thirteen years on the military.

Only the Greenville News, in a May 25 article by staff writer Liv Osby, provided a detailed look at the issue positions of each candidate, based on interviews with both. After brief descriptions of the candidates’ backgrounds, each was asked what he believed were the major issues; both were quoted on such important topics as the economy, whether to extend the Bush tax cuts, education, the health reform bill, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, immigration, and Social Security.

It seems clear that, for the most part, the news media failed to provide voters with the information necessary to cast an informed vote in the primary. The two-thirds or more of the electorate that obtains its news about elections from television knew little more than the occupations and residences of the two candidates, if that. Newspapers in the state capital of Columbia and the next largest city of Charleston did no better. Only in the smaller cities of Greenville, Rock Hill, and Spartanburg was useful information on the background and issue positions of Rawl and Greene available to newspaper readers. In those cities, voters who did not read the single article published were out of luck.

Even these three articles depended entirely on questions asked of the candidates, with no independent investigations of their backgrounds. The day after the primary, when Alvin Greene suddenly was thrust into the media spotlight, it was quickly and easily discovered that he had been charged with showing obscene material to a college student and that his discharge from the military although honorable, was not voluntary. Surely this could have been discovered and written about with minimal effort when voters could have had a chance to decide its relevance.

South Carolina’s media apparently decided that because Senator DeMint’s reelection is a virtual certainty, there was no reason to spend much effort or devote much valuable news space to the primary to decide his challenger. The result was a failure to do their duty to the public.

Bruce E. Altschuler is professor of political science at SUNY Oswego and a regular political analyst for WRVO-FM. His books include LBJ and the Polls and Running in Place: A Campaign Journal.