Monday, October 17, 2005

Poor Journalism and the Myth of the Independent Republican

by Kyle Michaelis
Columnist and political reporter Don Walton of the Lincoln Journal-Star has always come across as a very genial and good-hearted man. That's why it pains me to emphasize once again how intolerable his uncritical, near-thoughtless writing on the Nebraska political scene has become.

For one, I've never had much appreciation for the brain-droppings style of Walton and the Omaha World-Herald's Harold W. Andersen seemingly intended to convey some sort of downhome folksiness by skipping around from topic to topic without rhyme or reason. It makes for cheap and vapid journalism of less journalistic value than the football box score or the week's Powerball numbers.

As much as I frequently disagree with Andersen and don't like his style, however, he will at least provide some occasional analysis of issues, as opposed to Walton's increasingly inane recitations of the prior week's news that show little to no evidence of the intelligence he surely possesses.

For instance, in today's column, Walton writes:
Senate candidates Don Stenberg and David Kramer aim sharp criticism at the deficit-spending record of a Republican government in Washington that has sent the national debt soaring.

[Sen. Chuck] Hagel, of course, has demonstrated considerable independence in the Senate. He’s been a leading critic of Bush administration policy in Iraq, warning from the beginning against a precipitate U.S. military attack without broad international support and careful planning for the aftermath.

And, although he has an overall voting record predominantly in line with his Republican colleagues and the president, Hagel has steered an independent course on some high-profile domestic issues.

Hagel voted against the president’s No Child Left Behind education reform plan, against broad prescription drug coverage under Medicare and against the 2002 farm bill.

In the recent past in Nebraska, Doug Bereuter was the only other leading Republican officeholder who occasionally strayed from the GOP pack.

Perhaps independence is catching on around here.

First things first - there has not been a damn thing "independent" about the statements by Stenberg and Kramer. They've had no choice but to say the things they've said because the American people have awakened to the Republican incompetence that holds the federal government in its thrall. Neither has broken with their failing party on any issue of substance, instead choosing to portray themselves as more Republican, more conservative, and more destructively detached from reality than those whose ranks they hope to join.

Since when is extremism a form of independence?

Meanwhile, on the issue of Hagel's so-called independence, it was nice to see Walton at least mention (though, rather dismissively) his over-whelming record of VOTING right in line with the Republican Party. I don't mean to undervalue Hagel's criticism of the Bush Administration's disastrous foreign policy, but - at the end of the day - the votes by which history will judge him portray Hagel as a clear and continued enabler of these blunders.

Of course, the most glaring problem with Walton's mini-column is its failure to even mention the one man in Nebraska's delegation who might reasonably be called an independent - Sen. Ben Nelson, perhaps the nation's foremost conservative Democrat. Nelson's absence in an article on this subject is so glaring that it begs the question whether Walton is lifting his words directly from GOP Talking Points.

Moreover, former 1st District Congressman Doug Bereuter - a moderate Republican who served for more than 25 years and left office with a high-profile declaration that Bush's Iraq invasion had been a mistake - was replaced by partisan fundamentalist and sycophant Jeff Fortenberry. Fortenberry has yet to break with Tom DeLay's goose-stepping legions on any important vote, let alone criticize the rampant corruption that has become business-as-usual in the People's House under Republican leadership.

He is joined in Congress by Lee Terry of Omaha, emerging as a leader in the most reactionary and shamelessly partisan element of the House, and Tom Osborne, who in 5 years has yet to offer more than a peep of independence, seemingly erring on the side of doing the Republican Party's bidding rather than protecting the interests of Western Nebraska. With his popularity, Osborne doesn't even have the excuse of voting in this manner for political and fundraising purposes but rather out of laziness alone.

How does any of this square with Walton's suggestion that "independence is catching on around here"?

Wishing it certainly doesn't make it so. The mere suggestion, at least as framed by Walton, is laughable at best and blatantly deceptive at worst. I would be inclined to ask for a retraction, but I suppose this is a matter of opinion...even if it's becoming clear that Walton's opinion - where it concerns Nebraska Republicans and demands some degree of objectivity - doesn't really count.


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