Then, of course, there’s PolitiFact Virginia, a partnership between PolitiFact and the Times-Dispatch. They’ve been busy, covering topics ranging from an Obama campaign ad to speeches by Kaine and Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell at the national conventions. The outlet’s most recent focus on ads in the Allen-Kaine contest dates from Aug. 31, when editor Warren Fiske scrutinized a Crossroads GPS spot attacking Kaine. It’s a strong item that unpacks the math of government and how state budgets work—typical of PolitiFact Virginia’s thorough and nuanced reporting. The only downside was a lack of timeliness: It dealt with an ad that first aired nearly three weeks earlier.
PolitiFact Virginia might better serve its readers by spending more time in the waning days of the campaign by vetting ads in heavy rotation or common stump speech lines, and putting projects like its series on McDonnell’s 2009 campaign promises on the back burner. Even so, with its staff of three, the outlet will be hard-pressed to address every questionable claim coming from the Senate campaigns.
Resources are stretched in other newsrooms too, of course, and most political reporters can’t—and shouldn’t—devote all their time to factchecking ads. And regardless of their accuracy, the messages in the ads reveal something about which constituencies the candidates are trying to appeal to; that’s news.
But too often, these ad write-ups read like the work of journalists on the hamster wheel—a short summary and a stray thought on the latest campaign message, posted quickly so reporters can keep fresh copy on the site and move on to writing up the next campaign message. It’s hard to hop off that wheel and take a moment to think and plan a more nuanced report when your editor wants you to spin it ever faster, but news consumers deserve more. They can read a press release or watch a commercial on their own. They’re counting on the reporters to help bring it into perspective, keep the campaigns honest, and make sense of it all.
This and that
A laurel to the Richmond Times-Dispatch for stepping up and out of its coverage area on Sept. 16 for a detailed look at how Prince William County in northern Virginia may be the county that determines how Virginia, and the nation, go in the presidential election.
It’s a solid thinker that succinctly covers a lot of territory (among other issues: how this county has gone from a GOP stronghold to an Obama pickup in 2008, its changing demographics, and efforts to court the Hispanic vote by both campaigns this year). It’s an interesting look at the micro-campaign aspects of the national race.