The Argus-Leader’s self-inflicted wounds

You don’t need to look to guess the right and pro-Thune people are crying “bias” over this morning’s Argus-Leader article headlined “Debates may not sway election.” The headline is one more example of the Argus setting itself up for this type of criticism.

Quoting an SDSU poli sci professor, the thrust of the story was most people have already made up their mind in the Daschle-Thune race and the undecided are unlikely to attend joint appearances. The reporter, Terry Woster, was careful to say Thune proposed “joint appearances” and even the prof distinguished them from a “debate.” The headline, though, plays right into the hands of Thune spinmeisters.

Many, including the circle jerk bloggers, tried to spin Thune’s proposal as a version of Lincoln-Douglas debates and took Daschle to task for declining to participate in “democracy.” Lincoln and Douglas actually engaged in a series of formal political debates. That is not what Thune proposed. His announcement makes clear he suggested joint appearances and so-called town meetings over the month of August. Not once does he mention or say “debate.”

How did the Argus step in it? The headline creates a perfect opportunity to cry pro-Daschle bias. Ignoring Woster’s accurate distinction, the right will cite the headline to claim that rather than reporting Daschle is dodging debates, the Argus is taking Daschle’s side by saying “debates” are meaningless and irrelevant. Sometimes the media can’t win for losing. But you can’t feel much sympathy when it provides perfect openings to spin a claim of bias.

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