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The Press and Candidate Profiles: an exercise in superficiality

June 14, 2010

On Sunday, the Grand Rapids Press began a series of profiles on the Republican and Democratic candidates for Governor. These “profile” are in the Your Life section of the Press and read more like high school yearbook reflections.

The first candidate featured is State Senator Tom George, a Republican who has been involved in state politics for the past 10 years. The article includes some comments from George and a few of his supporters, but the bulk of the story is devoted to where he went to high school, his family life and his professional life as a doctor.

The article then concludes with the Press talking to political analyst Bill Ballenger and his assessment of why George will not win the Republican Primary. According to Ballenger George doesn’t have the money to do the advertising necessary to get enough name recognition. Not surprising that the Press allows such an assessment to go unchallenged, since they endorse the notion that money wins elections.

Unfortunately for voters, what is missing from this “profile” piece is any information on where George stands on issues. According to the candidate’s own web page, he considers himself Pro-Life, he favors the construction of new coal-fired power plants, that public employees contribute more to their health care benefits and he supports making Michigan a Right to Work State. These are basic positions, but information that one would be hard pressed to find in local news coverage.

Having served as a State Representative and State Senator over the past ten years also means that George would have a voting record, yet the Press in this profile piece and all previous coverage have not bothered to share any of that information with potential voters, but we do know that he likes to ride bike.

To add insult to injury, the Press editor Paul Keep in his Sunday column asks us to take a quiz on the gubernatorial candidates. The quiz, however, asks questions like “which candidate likes to have a Twix and Diet Coke for lunch?” The column is designed to further announce the candidate profiles for Governor that the Press will be running over the next two months, but most of the text is dedicated to banality. This is the type of reporting that contributes to a superficial political culture where people value what movies candidates like over substantive issues.

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