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GOP gubernatorial debate coverage

April 22, 2010

Yesterday, the five Republican candidates running for the Michigan Governor’s seat participated in a debate at MSU, a debate that was organized by the GOP Party.

The debate itself was only 1 hour long, which is hardly enough time to do more than provide introductions and engage in sound bite responses to very complex issues. The major West Michigan news agencies all ran stories about the debate, but none of them went beyond reporting some of what was said by each of the candidates.

All of the news agencies spent some time pointing out how the candidates “took a swipe at each other,” but not once did the reporters bother to verify any of the claims made by the candidates. Four of the five GOP candidates are serving in positions of elected office, which would allow reporters to look at their voting records which could shed light on what kind of track record each of them has. This is particularly the case for Hoekstra and George, since they have a voting record as a member of Congress and State Senator.

Another clear omission from the news coverage was the complete absence of any information about candidate platforms. Sure, there were sound bite responses on issues like jobs and taxes, but the reporters could have bothered to take the time and look at details of key platform issues from the candidate’s respective websites.

Instead, TV stations like WZZM 13 decided it was more valuable to have the head of the Michigan Republican Party and the director of Inside Michigan Politics comment on how the debate went. The WXMI 17 story also treated the debate like a sporting event and even included shorter stories with post debate comments from the candidates that provide no value to voters whatsoever. For example, channel 17 has this comment from Mike Bouchard; “I’m in a business where people shoot at ya, so if people want to throw words, that’s fine with me. I’m going to stay focused on jobs because that’s what people at home want to hear about.”

The Grand Rapids Press article was also short on substance, with reporter Peter Luke providing a summary of the sound bites that candidates gave. The article identified issues like taxes, jobs, education and pro-life stances, but no investigation was done by the reporter who thought it was more useful to point out what called the “intramural sniping” the five candidates engaged in.

WOOD TV 8 did pretty much the same kind of coverage as the other news agencies, but they framed the debate in more entertaining ways by using words like fireworks, blows and sniping.

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