Saturday, October 10, 2009

Musings on the Topic of Candidate/Voter Apathy:

The Standard-Examiner again falls down on its Fourth Estate obligations

By Curmudgeon

Standard-Examiner executive editor Andy Howell has some interesting comments on the election in his "Behind the Headlines" column this morning [behind the firewall]:
We all know voter apathy. What about candidate apathy?
He wonders if the abysmal turnout among voters in the primaries should be attributed not so much to voter apathy as to candidate apathy. What's he mean by that? This:
If candidates decline to outline any positions outside of the usual “I want to serve my community” statements, then it is understandable that voters would be less than enthusiastic about taking the time to vote.
He's got that right. He goes on:
Some candidates seeking municipal office in the Top of Utah feel that the support of friends and family is enough to get them elected, so there is no need to take a stand on an issue and risk offending someone. Sadly, they may be right.
He's got that right too. He goes on to complain about candidates giving mushball answers to questions the SE has asked them.

Right again. But the SE has to shoulder some of the blame for that. The questions the paper posed, for example, for the Ogden Council candidates to answer on camera for the SE to post are very general [I'd say mushy] questions that all but invite puffery in reply.

But then Mr. Howell goes off the rails. He notes that his reporters have attended some "Meet the Candidate" events, only to gain background for covering the election. Of these meetings, Howell says this:
However, if a fistfight breaks out, they will file a breaking news story. So far, that hasn’t happened.
While I can sympathize with Mr. Howell's not wanting to fill his news columns with stories of candidates repeating campaign boilerplate at event after event --- I wouldn't either --- he conveniently forgets in his little homily this morning, the SE's reporting on the "debate" [politely so called] arranged by the manager of the tax-payer financed Channel 17 [aka The Godfrey Channel] on which nothing appears without the prior approval of the Mayor and his staff [so Mayor Godfrey's CAO, Mr. Patterson told the SE]. The questions were to be determined and asked by the host of the Mayor's own TV Show on taxpayer-financed Channel 17.

The SE did a story on several candidates refusing to take part when the Mayor's secretary summoned them to appear. [The SE has now reported several times claims by the head of Channel 17 that the Mayor's office had "nothing" to do with arranging the so-called debate, but the SE has yet to inform its readers that it was the Mayor's secretary who summoned the candidates to appear.]

The first story, which ran on the Top of Utah front page, was certainly appropriate. But then the SE ran three more stories, two on the front page, highlighting the Administration's claims that it couldn't understand why some candidates refused to take part, and repeating Channel 17's insistence that the Mayor's office had nothing to do with the debate, and reporting the Administration's offer to give the non-participants "another chance."

In short, the SE, by its coverage made the non-participants refusal to take part a campaign issue as it dutifully kept repeating the Mayor's Channel and the Administration's take on the matter. Four times.

So Mr. Howell is being disingenuous when he states now that at the recent Meet the Candidates forum for Ogden City Council, there was nothing to report, and wouldn't be, unless someone threw a punch. The news was that the candidates all appeared and took part, and that they all handled questions put to them by voters, not by a staffer of the Administration's TV channel. Having repeatedly reported the Godfrey ticket candidates' take on why their opponents did not appear at the Godfrey-arranged forum at Channel 17, the SE had an obligation to report that all the candidates did appear at the most recent one. And why.


Dan S. said...

"Disingenuous" is Mr. Howell's middle name.

There was plenty of news to report from Tuesday's event. All but one candidate rejected the mayor's golf course condo development proposal. There was disagreement over how the Windsor Hotel situation should have been handled. Most candidates mentioned communication and openness, with suggestions that council agenda packets be share with the public and meetings with the mayor be tape recorded.

But perhaps Howell doesn't know this. He wasn't there himself, and Schwebke was busy twittering about the blue haired ladies.

Anonymous said...

When a newspaper reports that there seem to be a lack of newsworthy stories regarding a local election, two points come to mind: a glut of poor reporting and slanted editorial bias, and behind the scenes machinations by incumbents.

And it gets more interesting and newsworthy with every absent lead story.

Ogden could be Screwed said...

It cracks me up how every wet-behind-the-ears "newbie" council candidate runs on a platform like this:

"I have unique God-Given Gift which will allow me to grease the treads toward better adninistration/council communications."

Sounds like a snake oil sales pitch, dunnit?

Muni election after Muni election... about how THEY are gifted with the unique skills to facilitate "happy" Administration/council dialoge:

Here's what happened the last time around. The highly socially comptetant Caitlin Gochnour got elected to the council, at least partially due to that patheticly unrealistic theme.

What happened after the election? Boss Godfrey ignored and attacked her, and let her know quite pointedly that he would never yield in his Godfreyite delusions, and that she was now "Godfrey's political enemy."

Note to all city council candidates: This Kumbaya tactic has been tried many time before by council candidates in re: the little dipshit mayor.

We suppose some of our new council government body will have to learn this lesson again... the hard way.

Caitlin's certainly learned the lesson.

Curmudgeon said...


You bring up another good point: the questions came from the audience, and so were, some of them at least, specific and pointed. And so the candidates had to reply with specific and pointed answers or seem to be waffling and dodging [not a good way to seem in a campaign]. That's one of the real advantages of holding unscripted events like this one, with the question coming from the voting public. They're like Forest Gump's box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get. And, being unscripted, the answers can be newsworthy even if not a single punch is thrown. They were this time, collectively considered.

ozboy said...

Mr. Curmudgeon

Astute "musings" as usual. Damn man, you'ze be spoiling us here with your daily pearls of wisdom!

However, the link to Howell's piece does not seem to work. All I get is a page that says: Error 404, whatever the hell that means. My initial reaction was that the computer, in all its wisdom, found 404 errors in Andy's piece and therefore found it unworthy for public consumption.

Probably something much more benign however, something like the electronic gods not wanting me to read it for fear my blood pressure might boil over and loose a torrent of verbiage directed at the immoral and incompetent Godfreyite regime and their shameless lackeys at the Standard Non-Examiner.

How the hell does a guy like Howell look at hisself in the mirror and not puke? (This question is prompted by his past performance, not the current article that I have not read)

Curmudgeon said...


Rudi put the link in.

Danny said...

Newspapermen tend to be poorly paid, but influential.

They therefore develop huge egos far in excess of any ability or accomplishment. They are therefore, the natural travelers with politicians, about whom the same can be said.

They also become insular, because there is no effective way to criticize them, at least not with the barrels of ink they buy.

Andy Howell's opinion is not relevant, interesting or useful.

Why read it? Hardly anyone does.

People should read this blog, instead.

south bench said...

I have subscribed to the SE ever since moving to Weber County in 1963, and I have noticed the shrinking of news space, and the growth of underwear advertisements, junk inserts for scams, and local color pieces with such a narrow focus as to be all but useless to me.
If I am going to subscribe to a paper, I want it to have all of the news that I need for the day. A local paper should have a few pages of world and national, a page of state news from one of the state news organisations, and then, as the focus of the whole paper, the news I could not get anywhere else: local news. And not just human interest stories.

If a newspaper Is going to squeeze the closing eye of the needle, it is going to have to be good. It is going to need a visionary person in charge who will invest, underpay, burn the oil, and find again what was surrendered to new-media realities: quality, on paper, all in one spot, for a reasonable monthly rate. Worth the readers time.

And don't blame your failure on computers or a decline in all forms of reading. Blame it on yourself for not seeing the change coming, and adapting accordingly early on. As large city papers go down, smaller personal newspapers will rise, albeit smaller. I wish it would be the SE. Its got some history behind it.

get er' done said...

I fist fight Andy Howell and then he can write about it. I know that I can give him a bloody nose and a fat lip. Come on Andy right after the school bell rings, lets head off to the back alley. All my friend will be there to watch you bleed all over your self. So don't go running home to mommy now.

Curmudgeon said...


You wrote: "Andy Howell's opinion is not relevant, interesting or useful."

Afraid we disagree on that, compadre. Mr. Howell's complaints about the vapid campaign boilerplate of most candidates was, I thought, right on the money, and I agree with him that that probably plays some role in turning voters off. And I'm afraid he may be right when he speculates that a campaign built on "my friends like me and my family has been here a long time" is often enough to win.

More generally, I find his columns interesting. Don't always agree with him, but they're interesting none the less because they offer a glimpse into the decision-making process at the SE.

As for relevance, well Mr. Howell is one of the gatekeepers: he determines to some extent what gets in the paper and what doesn't, and so to some extent what a number of voters learn and what they don't. I wouldn't dismiss anyone with that kind of gate-keeping muscle as irrelevant.

And despite the fact that the SE has so far fumbled its Council election coverage and should be ashamed at how easily it was played by the Phipps/Patterson/Godfrey troika on the sham debate story, I have some sympathy for newspaper editors who often catch it from both sides of an issue --- some complaining because the paper didn't print what they said, and some complaining because it did print what they said with embarrassing accuracy.

Frank said...

Even a horse turd like Howell is relevant in a one horse town. Unfortunately his opinion does count like Curm pointed out. This is very unfortunate for Ogden citizens. He and the whole bunch of suits at the Standard wouldn't amount to a pimple on the ass of a decent newspaper. They are just all very lucky they have no competition or they would all be unemployed. I'm with whoever said it was a mystery how they could look at themselves in the mirror without barfing. These bastards from Ohio are contributing in a large way to the financial destruction of Ogden and I hope the creeps and their sleazy newspaper go broke sooner than later. I for one can't wait to piss on their grave.

Curmudgeon said...

Since the topic seems to be "the press" and its failings, came across something funny today, I thought, in "American Profile" [one of those color inserts in the SE... I think. Maybe the SL Trib. Can't recall.] Big headline on the front cover: "Soup's On: A Former Navy Seabee Builds Hearty Soups For Fall."

Okay... I figure any day now, then, we'll see an "American Profile" cover headline saying "Former Top Model Revises Small Unit Combat Tactics"

OgdenLover said...

I think it's time to mention "the elephant". I think many voters are apathetic because they feel that the LDS church supports certain candidates, thus giving those candidates a huge advantage. In '07 I canvassed for Susie in Godfrey's ward and was often told "don't you know this is his ward?" as if there were no point in my being there. Perhaps everyone knew and loved him, but I suspect not.

In the South, Black churches have been active since the Civil Rights Movement in registering voters and walk a fine line between encouraging participation in politics and electioneering. Churches can lose their tax-exempt status for political activity, so it's not something they want to advertise.

Since I'm not LDS, I don't know what goes on inside the temple or ward house, but I do sense a uniformity of thought coming out the door. I'm actually quite curious about this, so if someone here can enlighten me, please do so.

LDS lover said...

Ogden Lover

Leaders are appointed by God.
God would not appoint them if they were not worthy and capable.
People should obey leaders.
Leaders should never be questioned.
It is God's will.
Get used to it.

Anonymous said...

We find ourselfs incarnate in an awesomely vast post-modernist universe of accidental origin amongst semi-intelligent apes grasping for emotional gratifications, power, personal identity and answers to silly questions, whilst trading these commodities between themselves.
Yet the recommended gratifications and socially-approved identities seem such dull travesties of what two whole kilograms of brain might achieve.

Worse still, the apes' gods and Gods, for all their cosmic pretensions, appear as laughably-parochial anthropomorphisms, abstracted from faulty language structures, compounded by the pack-animal urge to obeisance.

You create gods when you lie to yourself.

OgdenLover said...

Sorry, I have only a PhD. Could you please rephrase your last post so I can understand it?

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