What shall I do if a presidential candidate calls and asks if he can come to The Observer’s office to visit with me?
As the editor of a small-town newspaper, far be it for me to shrug off a visitation from anyone, regardless of stature.
The Observer and its sister newspapers, the Maquoketa Sentinel-Press and the Bellevue Herald-Leader — the triumvirate that comprises Sycamore Media — generally keep our distance from the political arena.
Several presidential candidates have held rallies in nearby cities, but you didn’t see me there. We’re not going to pursue stories about politicians running for office.
Keep in mind that there have been nearly three dozen Democratic candidates for president have jumped into the race over the past year. Even if we wanted to cover them, we couldn’t. The Observer lacks the staffing and the budget to criss-cross the country to ensure equal coverage of the candidates, so the wise choice is to not enter the fray at all.
It would be difficult for a small paper to run enough political content to appease both sides of the political spectrum (the left side being “liberal” and the right side being “conservative”). I’m unaware of ANY community newspaper that is eager to put itself in a position guaranteed to irk half of its readership on any given day.
Then there’s the question of whether rural-area residents even are clamoring to be bombarded by national political news. There’s a reason most people avoid political discussions like the plague.
By definition, journalists have an obligation to be impartial. Whatever personal biases I may have are discarded at the door when I arrive to work each day. If anything, I will bend in the “opposite” direction of my political proclivities when I select or edit news content.
But I spent 25 years editing news at a daily newspaper, with the majority of that news being of the political variety. To edit political news objectively, one has to respect both sides of each argument pertaining to divisive issues.
What seems readily apparent to me is that many Americans have lost perspective. Common sense has been replaced by tomfoolery. During an era in which the middle class is shrinking and the “working poor” is expanding, people are vulnerable to whatever angry propaganda is launched their direction. A bombardment of competing narratives has had the desired effect: Voters are losing touch with reality.
Oftentimes, when someone learns what I do for a living, some wise guy will make a tiresome crack about the “mainstream liberal media.” Some people think that repeating the same lie over and over somehow makes it fact.
The wise guy will point to surveys that say most editorial staff members in the U.S. are Democrats (actually, most editorial staffers identify as Independents). But even if the know-it-all was correct about the allegiance of low-level employees, he’s still dead wrong.
Pick any newsroom in the country, then answer the following: Who is in control of editorial content? Whose allegiance and political affiliation will matter much more than that of 1,000 reporters and editors? Who will hire publishers and chief executives who hold political views aligning with his or her own? That’s right, the owners of media companies.
There is empirical evidence that conservative political, corporate and advertising interests significantly shape U.S. news coverage. There also is evidence that those interests are far to the right end of the political spectrum than the average American.
That is not to say that all media organizations are owned by right-wingers. That also is not to say that news organizations are intentionally slanting the to the right, either. But the notion that low-level reporters and editors are conspiring to elevate liberalism to a more-favorable light not only is absurd, it’s impossible.
Not if the these reporters and editors want to remain in good standing with those holding their paychecks.
Ironically, there’s a school of thought that suggests that it was the rise of the conservative media that led to the election of Donald Trump. Conservative commentators have been accused of running off the rails, fueling extreme hostility toward government. They say the result was desperation to anoint an outside isolationist, even if that person was the prototypical “know-nothing.” Most of those who have latched onto Trump have embraced his theatrics, not his politics.
Conservative thinkers theorize that fear-mongering commentators had constructed a cult-like bubble of resentments and conspiracy claims. Instead of adhering to their principals and hanging onto their conservative ideals, voters subscribed to a false narrative of betrayal and demanded a fighter to “blow up the place.”
Congratulations. Now what?
So, as we steam toward another election, here are two questions: Is it possible that many Republicans overreacted to a false narrative when they chose Trump?
Secondly, are the Democrats headed in the same direction? Right now, the top tier consists of four candidates, two of whom are calling for Medicare and free college for all.
If you think that’s an overreach, I would say, “Amen, brother.”
The other two top-tier candidates include the former vice president, who has a spectacular history of embarrassing gaffes, and an untested, 37-year-old mayor from South Bend, Ind.
Here we go: The pendulum that had swung right off its hinges past conservatism into “know-nothingism” now is headed back the other way. It no doubt will fly past liberalism into never-never land.
Yet I digress.
When the two-term senator from Colorado asked to visit me at my office, I could not say “no.”
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is the only candidate thus far to even slow his car down in Western Clinton County, much less stop at the newspaper office. The Observer will not be chasing down candidates, but the office door remains wide open to the other 14 candidates still standing.
A quick look at Bennet’s resume screams out that Iowans might want to hear him out. He has been on the Senate Agriculture Committee for all 10 years he has been in the Senate and has worked closely with Sen. Chuck Grassley and former Sen. Tom Harkin, helping to craft all-important farm bills.
“What I want to say to farmers on the record is, ‘I want to be your candidate because I’ll actually keep the promises that I make to you,’” he said. “I know a lot of farmers still think that Donald Trump has some master plan. I just want to be there when the master plan doesn’t work out, because I’d like them to have a place to go.”
Before seeking public office, he was the superintendent of the Denver School District. When he took the helm, it was a long-troubled district with the lowest test scores in Colorado. The 95,000-student district now is performing among the top half of the state’s districts.
He says he is a pragmatic centrist who is the only candidate to win two elections in a swing state. He has a demonstrated ability to work both sides of the aisle.
“I don’t know whether there’s a market for truth or not, but I hope there is,” Bennet said. “I am all about restoring economic opportunity for all Americans and restoring integrity to our government.”
Asked whether he is a proponent for Medicare and free college for all, he said there are many other things worth fighting for.
“I don’t want to spend the next 10 years fighting a losing battle for Medicare for all,” Bennet said. “Instead of college, I am much more interested in free preschool so kids get off to a good start. I don’t think anybody should graduate from high school unless they’re prepared to earn a living wage and have a year of community college and apprenticeship programs under their belts.”
As for the things he does want to fight for?
“People come to me and say, ‘We’re killing ourselves, working two, three jobs,’” he said. “We can’t afford a middle-class life. We think that our kids are not going to have as good a life as our parents led. That’s not the way this is all supposed to work.
Hmmm, seems like a formidable candidate, particularly in Iowa. What do the polls say: 0%.
I get it. Bennet was a relative unknown in Iowa when he jumped into the race later than planned (after conquering a cancer diagnosis). And with nearly three dozen political candidates fighting for notoriety, a pink unicorn might have some trouble getting noticed.
I’m not endorsing anyone and I’m not anointing anyone, but if this guy can’t get 1% of the electorate to listen to him, I hope a few brave Iowans regain their composure before making their picks during the Iowa Caucuses on Feb. 3.