The coverage of yesterday's non-debate in Canandaigua was a prime example of what's wrong with local media.  In their own special ways, each media outlet made sure that the story was jammed into a template I call "Those Fucking Politicians are At It Again", or "TFP" for short.

TFP is a product of the shallow, easy cynicism of the local news outlets.  It begins with the lazy assumption that issues are a yawn: Nobody wants to hear the bullshit that these fuckers spout, so at least half of the story has to be about the ephemera surrounding the debate, or someone will turn the channel.  Some of that ephemera must be local, because we're local news, not national news.  Plus, it's a debate, right?  That means it's a confrontation, so we need to put conflict front and center.  And let's look for a "gotcha" or "gaffe", because one or both of the "politicos" (media-speak for "fucking politician") will say something stupid we can laugh at.

The Gannett coverage is a good example.  The Star-Gazette's headline, "Kuhl, Massa exchange barbs in Canandaigua", was perfectly wrong, yet  pure TFP.  A "barb", which is a term that fits nicely in a headline but is never used in real life, is a nasty, cutting remark.  Not a single barb was uttered at the event, but no matter, TFP demands conflict, so there must have been barbs. 

The Gannett story led with the some TFP ephemera: the "overflow" crowd full of somewhat boisterous Massa supporters, and Kuhl's comment that he didn't bring an applause group.   Here's the real story on the crowd:  that room was the usual location for the weekly Rotary meeting, and it was barely big enough to hold the Rotarians.  It was crowded, not a crowd.  But facts don't matter to Gannett:  they'd call two people in a phone booth an "overflow crowd" if it fit their template.

The D&C's picture of the crowd is a two-fer because, in addition to showing that the room was in fact crowded, the expression on the crowd's faces shows that those fucking politicians are bo-ring.

WHAM's actual story at least began with facts about the debate rather than facts about the room.  However, as you can see in the video, anchor Don Alhart's intro was already pointing us to the meat of the matter:  Randy Kuhl is uncomfortable with debates.  This sets us up for one of the two TFP components in the WHAM coverage, the gaffe.  Today's gaffe was Kuhl's not-too-bright statement about Katrina.  The Massa campaign is eating it up, but in a sober moment I'm sure even they agree that gotcha politics are pointless and stupid.

More importantly, Kuhl's aw-shucks comment that he's not comfortable with confrontation was pure horseshit.  The debate wasn't confrontational, and he's a career politician who's actually pretty good at public speaking.  That comment was made to add a faux underdog air to his campaign, and Alhart ate it up just as Kuhl intended.

The second TFP component in the WHAM coverage is the local angle.  Just like clockwork, a Massa supporter and a Kuhl supporter are interviewed.  Guess what each of them thought and, moreover, who gives a shit?

WHAM will probably devote 20 airtime minutes this year to the campaign in the 29th district.  If, like last night's story, 1/3 of that is devoted to some random asshole's partisan opinion, and another third is a gotcha moment, that leaves something like 7 minutes to report on matters truly relevant to the election.  For this election, 7 minutes is nowhere near enough time to form an educated opinion.

(If anyone's actually read this far, you might be interested in two other media-related stories.  The first is a study showing that the Daily Show's reporting on the '04 election was as substantive as mainstream media, and actually focused less on the hype. The second is Michael Kinsley's recent piece on the role of opinion in journalism.)



I sympathize with your opinion of the coverage of the debate; I was not able to drive to it due to work commitments, but I was saddened to see that a 30 minute debate centered on 1) 200 people in the room and Eric Massa's supporters were "loud", 2) Randy Kuhl is "uncomfortable" in debates, 3) Randy Kuhl's gaffe regarding Katrina and government support and 4) Randy Kuhl should have had a "cheering section" like Eric Massa.

The coverage did include issue commentary, but you had to look further down the page to find it. What is surprising is that neither campaign seemed to "win" the debate (though Massa's site suggests he won). One thing I was surprised about (actually, I do not think I was) was the selective cutting of the comment that Randy made about Katrina. While I wholely agree with the fact that the government bungled the rescue operation in Katrina, I believe Randy was talking about the monies that were given to survivors (though that is a problem as well, since there is also rampant corruption in the monies given, according to some news reports). What is disappointing to me is that, as an ardent supporter, I want to know what happened; maybe a transcript or video or something. Not everyone can make these debates, and it would be a good thing to make the entire event visible to the public.

P.S. I read the whole post and appreciate your frustration.

I don't think anyone "won" the debate, because I don't see how anyone could win in a forum where statements by one candidate aren't challenged by the other.

You're right that a transcript would be of great value. Unfortunately, with all the money spent on live trucks, color presses, etc., the local media can't put together the few hundred bucks it would take to have a pool stenographer at an event like this. But they're all stuck in a pre-web paradigm.

Of course, one could also argue that a better blogger would have taken digital video and posted it to youtube. I just stood in the back and took half-assed notes.