Another veteran Ohio journalist, Jack Torry, was not critical of the media coverage of the Swift Boat controversy. Like some other journalists here, he faulted the Kerry campaign for not responding more aggressively.
But Torry, the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for The Columbus Dispatch, had a suggestion for campaign coverage that might give reporters more time—and that he said would shift attention to the “issues,” and away from the horse race.
“If I had my way, I would ban reporters from traveling on the candidates’ planes,” Torry said. “Instead, larger newspapers should do more zone coverage—putting people in the key states of Ohio, Florida, Missouri, Pennsylvania, etc.”
Newspaper campaign coverage here has shifted notably in at least one way since 2004: major papers have become more aggressive with “ad watch” stories, which many journalists see as an effective tool in blunting mud-slinging campaigns. Some Ohio political reporters would like to see newspapers go even further and run ad watches on the front page.
But others are more skeptical. Newspapers are no match for the power of television ad campaigns, said Brent Larkin, retired editorial director and now a weekly columnist for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.
“The TV message matters more than anything else,” said Larkin. “Sure, newspaper coverage on this stuff matters, but the fact is that readership declines means it matters less than a decade ago The sad truth is a story on Page B-1 of a major metropolitan newspaper hardly has the impact of a $500,000 television buy.”
It’s a fair point. Which means that the task of scrutinizing the campaigns’ claims can’t fall only on print journalists, and also that reporters of all types will need to be not just careful and dogged, but also creative, in helping voters uncover the truth—especially considering that, as Larkin said, “nothing that happens in 2012 will surprise me.”
“People are throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. It’s not like that is new, but it is more amplified,” says Hallett. “It’s more difficult for readers to sift through what is real and not real.”
Like fake beards.
Correction: This post originally misspelled the names of William Hershey and Joe Hallett. The errors have been fixed. CJR regrets the errors.