Thursday, August 16, 2007

Partisan Sensationialism at the Lincoln Journal-Star?

by Kyle Michaelis
Yesterday's Lincoln Journal-Star ran a Letter to the Editor that pretty well nailed the paper for framing the city's budget process as nothing more than a partisan showdown:
I watched much of the City Council budget meetings Aug. 6 and 8. I found the seven members of our Council to be voting for themselves (or, rather, their constituents) more so than down their respective political lines.  
Why, then, must Journal Star coverage mislead us where partisan politics are concerned? The Aug. 9 article on the budget mentioned the dreaded R & D words nearly 10 times. Might we remind the reporter that mayoral elections are not partisan and nowhere on the general ballot was there an R, D or any other letter by the candidates' names.  
I wish the paper would report the news, not create it. That's why we have FOX News.  
Barbara Arendt, Lincoln
Maybe we should look at the article Ms. Arendt was talking about to understand the merit of her accusation:
It came down to streets, police officers and firefighters Wednesday, as the Lincoln City Council spent several hours putting the final touches on the municipal budget. Campaign promises not to increase the city's property tax rate made for difficult decisions.....  
As usual, the fire department budget provided fodder for controversy. In July, Councilman Jon Camp proposed cutting its budget by $175,000. Wednesday, he reduced that to $100,000. The four Republicans on the council went along with that, over the objections of the three Democrats....  
Republicans rebuffed a last-minute attempt by Councilman Jonathan Cook to restore the money by using several revenue sources that materialized since the mayor prepared his budget - such as money from a new StarTran advertising contract. Instead, Republicans moved the unallocated money into the city's contingency fund.  
Cook said later he was shocked they refused to restore money to the fire department after doing so for the aging and police departments. "What does that say?" Cook said. "I don't believe many councils nationwide would refuse to appropriate that money to its fire department"....
Democrats were unable to dissuade Republicans from cutting the Affirmative Action office in half and folding it into the personnel office.... Republicans on the council were dogged about diverting more money toward street construction and maintenance, and had succeeded in moving about $800,000 toward that end until the end of the meeting. But in a last-minute move, Cook convinced two Republicans to instead move a portion of that - the general revenue - to the police department. After the meeting, Budget Officer Steve Hubka said it amounted to nearly $328,000.
In all fairnes, there does appear to be a partisan divide in Lincoln politics where the Fire Department is concerned - as their union has been an important source of support for local Democrats with Republicans frequently targeting the Fire Dept. because of that relationship. But, otherwise, the letter writer makes an excellent point.

There seems to be a general trend in the Nebraska press towards over-emphasizing party labels at the local level in an attempt to make local politics (hence, local news) more sexy. While the subjective interpretation of local politics through the prism of partisanship sometimes has merit, this isn't the first time a reporter's laziness has resulted in some spin and manufactured conflict along artificial lines.

Then, at the same time, reporters continue to turn a blind eye to the decade-old Republican political machine running our state government that derives its whole power from that label. Ironic, don't you think?

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