Interestingly, given the demand for fact-checking, many of my respondents seemed to be unaware that we have a site like that in the Buckeye State—Politifact Ohio, a partnership of The Plain Dealer of Cleveland and PolitiFact.com. On the site, PD reporters and researchers rate the accuracy of candidates’ and politicians’ statements on a Truth-O-Meter. The states’ other newspapers don’t carry those stories, though many do run ad watch features.
Many in the crowd pleaded with the media to focus on issue-based coverage, with some arguing that the candidates’ personal lives get too much attention. “Just let me know the facts on things that are relevant to leading this country,” said Bonnie Watson, an investment analyst. “Personal lifestyles are personal and not material for debates or decisions.” And John Mason, a psychologist, said there is “too much effort made on Newt’s sex life as opposed to challenging ideas, such as firing school janitors and making the inner city kids do the work.”
Joe Smith, a former radio journalist who now works in marketing, said policy coverage can be obscured as the press agenda gets set by campaign events such as debates, or by the campaigns themselves. “The great contributors to news coverage, like H.L. Mencken, David Broder, Don Hewitt, were great because they sat back in their chairs, rubbed their chins, and said to themselves, ‘I think there are more important issues to cover than what’s in this campaign news release,’” he said.
And Paul Long, a former reporter now living in Northern Kentucky outside of Cincinnati, had a unique suggestion for a way the press might push back—adopting the message-of-the-day tactic used by candidates, only with a twist.
“Perhaps the press corps should get together and have a ‘question of the day’ that a candidate must answer satisfactorily,” he said.
And Hank Wilson, a journalist-turned-university communications director who still identifies with his former colleagues in the press, called for a more confident, aggressive media.
“I really want the press to get back to their role as the people that call out folks for lying and exaggerating the truth,” Wilson said. “Fight back when a blowhard like Gingrich attacks us and point out that he is not answering the questions. Really, I want us to grow a pair.”