Some thoughts on covering West Virginia elections
A look at how Ogden and its political reporter do their part for the Republican Party
On Tuesday, I wrote about the Wheeling Intelligencer's editorial celebrating their birthday as a newspaper and in particular, the "wide range of opinion" found on their editorial page. Beyond the Intelligencer's "wide range," another sentence in the editorial got me thinking about the paper's election coverage:
Our allegiance is reserved to our readers, not special interests or rigid ideologies.
Here, then, are some thoughts on Ogden's 2020 election coverage.
Okay, what should be the role of newspapers be in elections? For starters, I would list:
• Educating voters on who the candidates are and what they stand for
• Providing opportunities to candidates to ensure their ideas are heard
• Providing space for citizen feedback to the candidates
• Educating voters on how to make sure that their vote is counted
On the last two, our local Ogden “newspapers” have published letters to the editors and listed polling places as well as information on mail-in ballots. But what about the first two? For those points, I've re-examined last year's coverage of the West Virginia senatorial race between incumbent Republican Shelley Moore Capito and the Democratic challenger, Paula Jean Swearengin. Here is what I found.
Throughout 2020, our local papers featured Senator Capito on a regular basis in news articles, feature stories and editorials. Okay, Capito is an elected official and some of that coverage is to be expected. However, contrast her 2020 coverage with that of West Virginia’s other senator, Joe Manchin, who was (and is) far more controversial, outspoken, and with more tenure -- probably more important. While Manchin did get Ogden’s attention, I doubt that his word count in our local papers was anywhere close to Capito’s. (He was not running for reelection, however.)
In June of 2020, for example, the papers devoted over 1300 words (a long article, by local standards) to a Steven Allen Adams report on Capito’s views on a Senate police reform bill. The next month, Adams spent 1400 words interviewing the senator on a “new” (even though it was introduced in 2019) infrastructure bill for which Capito had signed-on as a co-sponsor. Neither bill went anywhere but that obviously wasn’t the point – the locals' believed that we needed to read how Capito was working for West Virginians. (Rereading them today, they read like Capito PR releases.) Additionally, editorials, op-eds and feature articles regularly supplemented these supposed news stories.
For Swearengin, here is the only time the Democratic candidate’s name appeared in our local newspapers from the day after the primary election to the day after the general election. From Ogden's political reporter, Steven Allen Adams, on September 14, 2020:
As of Aug. 5, Sabato’s Crystal Ball also places West Virginia in the deep red for the U.S. Senate, where Republican Shelley Moore Capito is seeking a second term and challenged by Democrat Paula Jean Swearengin, the same person who challenged U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin for the Democratic primary for Senate in 2018.
That’s it, one mention in five months. There were no “Swearengin on the Issues” or “WV's Democratic Candidate Criticizes Capito on ____” news articles. There were no Swearengin op-eds or even editorials attacking her positions or connecting her to “the Squad” or other progressives. Needless to say, there wasn’t a two-part, front-page “Swearengin Visits Oglebay Park” feature story as there was for her opponent. One mention of Swearengin in six months; by any standard, our local papers simply ignored the Democratic candidate.
Of course, Tuesday's annual self-praising editorial repeated the lie they tell us every year: that they are “giving our readers the information they need to be educated on the issues currently facing our nation and world so they can make sound decisions for their well-being.”* Yes, Ogden looks like a small-city paper on most issues. But as soon as an issue involves politics, they quickly become the propaganda arm of the West Virginia Republican/Trump Party.
Steven Allen Adams trolls progressive Democrats
On Monday, Ogden’s political reporter, Steven Allen Adams questioned, for the second time in a week, the progressive Democratic group, WV Can’t Wait. In the first article, Allen described the group’s efforts to replace Joe Manchin. In Monday’s article, “Progressive Group Tilting at Windmills,” Adams first tells us about how popular his first article was. He then points out that the group, which supported liberal candidates in West Virginia in the last election, lost most of those contests. (He even mentions Paula Jean Swearengin!) From there, Adams offers advice to the group.
Sorry, why should progressives, liberals, or Democrats take any advice from a political reporter who ignored for the entire election cycle (with one minor exception) the duly elected candidate of the Democratic Party? Aren’t political reporters supposed to cover candidates regardless of their personal beliefs or candidate's chances of winning? (If I remember correctly, Adams made a big deal of his dedication to "objectivity" when he first took the job.) Yes, Democrats are having a tough time in West Virginia and would most likely have lost those elections regardless of whether Adams and Ogden covered the campaign. But that is, it seems to me, for voters (and not Ogden or Adams) to decide.
*I focused on the Capito/Swearingen race, but I could just as easily have used any McKinley election in the last six years to prove my point about Ogden’s election coverage. Here is some of what I've written about the locals ' lack of coverage of Congressman McKinley's Democratic opponents: