To-Do List

What reporters could do in the days before the election

There are thirteen days until the presidential election, and, as Liz mentioned earlier, the media seems to be stuck in a holding pattern. Here are a few suggestions for how the press could fill their time and their column inches:

1. Look at local ballot initiatives on topics of national interest. Many local proposals deal with high-profile issues, including the same-sex marriage propositions in Florida and California. Montana has an interesting proposal to provide health coverage to the state’s uninsured children, and both Michigan and Massachusetts will vote on proposals to decriminalize marijuana for severely ill persons or in small quantities for personal use.

2. Consider how national election outcomes will affect local issues. For example, the Las Vegas Sun offers a discussion of how an Obama presidency would impact unionization because of his pledged support for Employee Free Choice Act, which grew out of labor organization efforts in Las Vegas casinos. We could stand to see more stories like this.

3. Address issues undercovered during the campaign. Immigration, for instance. In June, NPR reported that the candidates don’t differ on the issue, partially because both McCain and Obama supported the McCain-Kennedy Bill that would have “stepped up enforcement at the border and in the workplace. It also would have expanded guest-worker programs and, most controversially, legalized millions of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. if they paid fines, paid back taxes and learned English.” Ultimately the bill failed, and NPR also reported that McCain told Tim Russert that he would not support the bill as president. It’s time to revisit this and other underreported issues.

4. Write about Congress. There is a chance, slim or not, that the Democrats may attain sixty magical seats in the Senate. There’s been a fair amount of coverage of the permutations of the races that the Dems would need to win to hit 60, but there are bigger questions beyond that, like: What would a Democratic House-Senate-President triumvirate actually do? Last time the Democrats controlled all three was during Clinton’s first term, which gave us, among other things, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” How might such a setup actually play out in 2009 and beyond?

5. Dust off the old policy packages. This one’s easy, folks: every paper worth its salt has now done a side-by-side comparison of the candidates’ proposals on taxes, health insurance, national security, education, and so on. A review of the issues would not only help undecided voters, but may even encourage those previously on the sidelines to get out and vote.

Or we can keep talking about Sarah Palin’s shopping spree. Your call.

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.