Some campaign observations

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Because of close elections and voting problems, this year's U.S. senate elections may still be up in the air for several more days. There's not much that we can do except pray that God will give wisdom to leaders of both parties to choose integrity and honor over political cynicism and partisanship. Won't you join me?

Minnesota debate

I watched the Minnesota senate debate on Monday and was impressed with the debating skills of both Walter Mondale and Norm Coleman. The two faced each other head-on with only a touch of moderation by a two-person panel, who were comfortable asking questions and then letting the candidates go back and forth uninhibited by time constraints. This format swept away the artificiality of the kind of debates we watched in Missouri, where the candidates often seemed programmed for soundbites.

The result of the debate for me is that both men displayed themselves to be capable. They articulated two distinct perspectives about government, and the discussion was good for the democratic process.

MSNBC's poor reporting

After watching the Minnesota debate, I quickly surfed the cable news channels for their initial reports. Catching my eye was a MSNBC reporter waving a flier in her hand and denouncing Republicans for suppressing voter turnout in Maryland by spreading lies about the election date and voter requirements. Her proof was the anonymous flier. The self-promoted "tough and fair" anchor pushed back weakly at the reporter by pointing out, "This could be the work of a rogue group" (suggested to be close to the Republicans) and not the official Republican Party.

The fact is that reporting such stuff without knowing anything about the flier except that it was given to the reporter by a Democratic operative -- how convenient -- is the height of irresponsibility. One of the oldest and most shameful tricks in the political game is to commit a grievance against yourself and then blame the other guy. The moral indignation that results among core supporters about being wronged or denied is a great motivator. How did MSNBC know that Democrats didn't manufacture the flier simply to get the incendiary charge about Republican dirty tricks on the air to drive their turnout?

MSNBC didn't know this, which is why their report was irresponsible. Such information -- especially on the eve of an election -- is too explosive to handle so carelessly.

By the way, re-read the above three paragraphs and switch the words Republican and Democrat. Does it change how you think about this issue? It shouldn't. In both cases, you should be disappointed in MSNBC for stupid journalism.

High School Harry

When I was in college, an acquaintance of mine ran for student body president. During the campaign, his opponent charged him with pulling down competing signs. I'll never know for sure what really happened, although my friend has always protested the charge. What I do know is that later this friend was found pouring water on his own chalked messages around campus with the intent of blaming his opponent. He told me that he did it out of frustration because he was tired of being blamed for something he didn't do and he wanted his opponent to be blamed as well. I spoke out against his tactics publicly and lost some friends over the matter (although the candidate later apologized to me). But such cynical gamesmanship has no place in democracy -- at the high school level, college level and certainly not at the state and national level.

Jon K. Rust is co-president of Rust Communications. You can e-mail him at

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