The Fighting 29th - Debates Election debate coverage. en Debate Tonight RNews, the Time-Warner cable news outlet in Rochester, will broadcast a debate between the two candidates for the 29th seat at 7 p.m. tonight. The debate will also be re-broadcast on Time-Warner's On Demand system, which is channel 108 in Rochester.

I don't have Time-Warner cable, so I won't be watching the debate.

]]> Debates Tue, 28 Oct 2008 12:23:18 +0000 Rottenchester 5120 at
WENY/Star-Gazette Debate
  • Near the beginning of the debate, Kuhl thanked WENY for having a "free and open debate" in contrast to what WETM and the Leader were willing to do. I guess Kuhl is at war with one of the most influential, and most conservative, newspapers in the Southern Tier. I don't understand it, but there you have it.
  • There were more questions about gas prices than the 13-WHAM debate. I don't know if that indicates more concern about that in the Southern Tier, or it's just moderator choice.
  • At the beginning of the debate, Massa told watchers to get a piece of paper and mark an "X" every time Kuhl said Massa would raise taxes. Kuhl said that people ought to mark an "X" every time Massa linked him to President Bush. I think that cut down on both of those little sayings.
  • Randy Kuhl doesn't understand, or doesn't want to understand, privatizing social security. He supports partial privatization, but denies that's what it is. Also, any return on investment that's better than what the government gets implies risk. Politicians always gloss over the details when private accounts are mentioned. Either we accept that people can invest their social security money, and possibly lose some of it, or we reimburse those who are bad investors.
  • Unlike the 13-WHAM debate, the moderators in this debate were clockwatchers. They cut off a lot of good discussion. The more clockwatching, the lower quality of debate.
  • Randy talked about cellulosic ethanol in the limousine with Bush? No, he didn't. Kuhl's conversion to cellulosic ethanol happened this year.
  • Kuhl is for term limits. I hadn't heard that before.
  • In general, the earmarks conversation really went off the rails. I have no idea why Massa thinks that the bowling alley in Canandaigua is such a powerful example, but I really don't see it. Randy wants to abolish the appropriations committee? It's not the committee that's the problem, its the rules under which it functions.
  • Even worse than clock watching is "sprint rounds". "How and when do you withdraw troops from Iraq, in 30 seconds?" That was just awful.
  • ]]> Analysis Debates Mon, 13 Oct 2008 23:59:02 +0000 Rottenchester 5069 at
    Tonight's Debate Thanks to Exile from The Albany Project for live blogging, and to all the readers who commented. It was fun, and I hope we can do it again.

    Tonight's 13-WHAM debate was far better than last night's WXXI debate in NY-26. Moderators allowed the candidates to answer at length, there was some direct exchange between the two candidates, and the questions were pretty good. Sean Carroll and Don Alhart did a standout job.

    Readers who missed the debate can watch a stream at 13-WHAM. I'll publish a link when it's posted. The debate video has been posted at the 13-WHAM video page.

    ]]> Analysis Debates Sat, 11 Oct 2008 02:38:43 +0000 Rottenchester 5062 at
    13-WHAM Debate Live Blog

    ]]> Blogversation Debates Sat, 11 Oct 2008 00:43:24 +0000 Rottenchester 5060 at
    Still More on Debates Sean Carroll, the moderator of tonight's 13-WHAM debate, has posted six more questions for the campaigns to answer this weekend.

    Following up on my earlier post on the low quality of debates, here's a bipartisan group launched today who are asking for better debates: The Open Debate Coalition

    ]]> Debates Sat, 11 Oct 2008 00:15:43 +0000 Rottenchester 5061 at
    Reminder: Debate Tonight The first Massa/Kuhl debate is at 9 tonight on 13-WHAM.

    We'll be live-blogging starting a little before 9 p.m. tonight.

    ]]> Debates Meta Fri, 10 Oct 2008 21:50:20 +0000 Rottenchester 5059 at
    Debate Format Matters Howard Owens has a post at the Batavian about last night's debate in NY-26. I only sat through half of that debate, but I agree with his conclusion that voters didn't learn much from it.

    In anticipation of tonight's debate in the 29th, let's drill in on one of Howard's points: "to be fair, the format sucked".

    After watching the first Presidential debate, and comparing it to the other two, I've come to realize how much format matters. The first Presidential debate was much better than the second (or the Vice-Presidential debate) because it allowed the moderator to ask followups and, most importantly, it let the candidates go at each other during those followups. To accomodate that format, each issue took 5-10 minutes of debate time instead of the usual 4 or 5.

    Traditional debates like last night's, which had a one-minute response and a 45-second followup, are much easier to game than the long-answer debate. If a politician can spit out 60 seconds of talking points, followed by 45 more seconds of evasive rebuttal, they can easily turn any "debate" into a series of short speeches. It's much harder to spit out canned bullshit when you have to talk about a topic for 5-10 minutes and answer your opponent repeatedly.

    The long-form debate also keeps politicians on topic, since they can answer their opponent's charges directly. This is what really kills the traditional debate. Politicians almost always add a rebuttal of the last question to the next question, which just increases confusion.

    National media amplifies the bullshit quotient at traditional debates by looking for a "winner" and fixating on "gaffes". Most media pundits watch debates like hockey fans waiting for a fight, or NASCAR fans waiting for a crash. The longer debate doesn't eliminate this tendency, but the short debate feeds it, because each politician is pressured for time and is more prone to try for cute comebacks rather than real analysis.

    I know a lot of people who aren't very interested in politics, yet they take time from their schedules to watch debates. Campaigns put huge effort into them. Yet, the end product of so much effort and expense is almost always a low-information, tedious affair.

    I believe local media sincerely wants to do better, but they're already operating at a handicap when then copy the terrible, time-limited, non-debate "debate" format that was pioneered back in the 70's.

    Just as folks threw away their Earth Shoes and disco albums, we need to trash the Ford/Carter-style debate and use a lengthier, more meaningful format.

    ]]> Analysis Debates Fri, 10 Oct 2008 17:10:52 +0000 Rottenchester 5058 at
    Debate Live-Blogging Tomorrow night we'll be doing something new - collaborative live blogging. Around 9 p.m., Exile from the Albany Project will join me in commenting on the 13-WHAM debate.

    We'll be using some new software that allows everyone to comment in real-time. It's more like IM or a chatroom, so it should be pretty interactive. If you're watching the debate and near a computer, stop in and participate.

    ]]> Debates Meta Thu, 09 Oct 2008 11:11:59 +0000 Rottenchester 5052 at
    Friday's Debate Will Be Prime-Time 13-WHAM's Sean Carroll says that Friday's Massa-Kuhl debate will be broadcast at 9 p.m. on Rochester's channel 13. This will be the first non-cable Rochester-area debate for the two candidates.

    ]]> Debates Wed, 08 Oct 2008 10:35:41 +0000 Rottenchester 5045 at
    More Debate Cancellation Coverage Reader Tom sends the Star-Gazette and Corning Leader [gif] (jump [gif]) stories on the Bath debate cancellation.

    Susan Multer of the League of Women Voters is quoted in the Star-Gazette:

    "It's a sad day for democracy when elected officials are unwilling to
    participate in local candidate forums," Multer said. "It shows great
    disrespect for the public for a congressman to take five months and a
    state senator to take six weeks to tell the sponsoring organization
    that they will not participate and give no reason."

    Update: WETM also has a debate story.

    ]]> Debates News WNYCongress Fri, 12 Sep 2008 13:06:10 +0000 Rottenchester 4971 at
    Bath Debate Canceled Syracuse News 10 is reporting that the League of Women Voters debate in Bath has been canceled. Both Randy Kuhl and George Winner [R-SD-53] declined to attend.

    I covered this debate in 2006. Compared to the usual televised debates, it was a tea party. The League screens the questions. Kuhl was born in Bath. It's the friendliest imaginable format in a Kuhl stronghold.

    I had thought that Kuhl's delay in accepting debate invitations was just political jockeying. But now it looks like he's trying to minimize his debate appearances.

    At the Massa press conference two weeks ago, Eric Massa claimed that there were 10 debates scheduled in the 29th. I was skeptical about that claim, and asked his campaign to sent me a list. It turns out that ten non-partisan third parties really do want to hold Congressional debates. This includes WHAM, which has offered to post those debates on their website.

    Conventional wisdom says that incumbents who are ahead in the polls shouldn't debate, because debates give your opponent legitimacy by appearing on the same stage. If there's a poll that shows Kuhl way ahead, his campaign hasn't paid for it recently. The last public poll in this race was taken on November 7, 2006, and it was pretty tight. And I doubt that there's anyone in this district inclined to listen to debates who hasn't heard of Eric Massa.

    Kuhl has accepted only two of those ten debate invitations. He's stopped town hall meetings. He spent a good part of last month in Washington participating in a silly, meaningless protest that isn't even supported by his party's President or Senate. I don't know if there's a master plan underneath all this, but from where I'm sitting, it sure looks like Kuhl is simply hiding from the press and the public.

    ]]> Analysis Debates WNYCongress Fri, 12 Sep 2008 11:14:07 +0000 Rottenchester 4970 at
    Debate and Vets Reader Elmer sends today's Corning Leader (front [pdf], jump [pdf]), where Randy Kuhl reacts to Eric Massa's challenge to debates similar to those proposed by John McCain. Kuhl says he's open to those debates and then goes on to say how busy he will be, so it looks like we'll probably have a few debates late in the election, as we did last year.

    I'm sure Randy Kuhl isn't going to take my advice, but I really don't see a major downside for him if the 29th were to have a good number of freestyle debates along the lines of McCain's proposal. When you have a few, highly structured debates, then much more is at stake in each event. And when those debates are so close to the election, a "gaffe" can be used by one's opponent, with little chance for the person who made a slip of the tongue to correct his statement. Debating early and often makes each individual debate a less stressful and more productive discussion.

    The Leader also covers Kuhl's role in the creation of a bi-partisan Veterans' Mental Health caucus in the House.

    ]]> Analysis Debates News Fri, 06 Jun 2008 16:33:33 +0000 Rottenchester 4802 at
    Debate Aftermath Rochesterturning has the most in-depth coverage of last night's debate.  Rnews's short story on the debate is the only other piece I've seen.   It sounds like not much new ground was covered.

    According to Rnews, in a question on Katrina, both candidates agreed that FEMA should be a stand-alone agency, and Kuhl was "was totally amazed at the inability and failure of FEMA just a year ago during Katrina".  That's a bit of a switch from his response in Canandaigua, where he played up the speed at which Congress appropriated money during the Katrina disaster.

    Rochesterturning reports that Massa gave a defense of same sex civil unions.  Kuhl repeated his opposition to gay marriage.  The issue of equal rights for homosexuals is an interesting one for Republicans, since the Foley scandal has revealed the hypocrisy that surrounds this issue in the upper echelons of the Republican party.  Closeted homosexuals are apparently OK, as are openly gay advisors, as long as neither group demands equal rights.

    ]]> Debates Tue, 17 Oct 2006 12:59:43 +0000 Rottenchester 4125 at
    Debate Non-Coverage The final debate of the campaign has just finished.  I didn't see it, because, like many of my suburban Monroe County neighbors, I don't subscribe to Time-Warner Cable.

    Debates are only important if voters watch.  Here's the list of debates in the 29th and the coverage of each:

    1. 10/5:  Rotary Club, Canandaigua.  Seen by 200 people.
    2. 10/10:  WETM, Elmira.  Broadcast on the WETM Time-Warner cable channel in Elmira during prime time, and then re-broadcast on WETM UHF channel 18 the following Sunday morning.
    3. 10/11:  Bath LWV.  Another 200 or so people saw this debate.
    4. 10/12:  WLEA, Hornell.  A low-powered radio station with a "distant" signal radius of less than 40 miles hosted this debate at 3 p.m. on a Friday.
    5. 10/16: Rnews, Rochester Time-Warner Cable.  This debate will be re-broadcast on Time-Warner affiliates in the Southern Tier.

    None of these debates were broadcast in prime-time on an over-the-air station.   The one over-the-air TV broadcast was during off-hours on a low-coverage UHF channel. 

    My conclusion:  there's no reason to think that the debates were widely watched, or that they will have anything but minimal impact on this race.

    ]]> Debates Tue, 17 Oct 2006 02:14:23 +0000 Rottenchester 4124 at
    Bathos Number Two When we last checked in with our intrepid debaters, they had just finished answering a question on detainees.  Let's see if Lassie will come to the rescue, or if that careless little bastard Timmy is finally going to drown in the well.

    The next question dealt with the bill that coupled a minimum wage hike with a repeal of the estate tax - would the candidates support a minimum wage hike on its own?

    Kuhl's answer:  "Yes".  He explained that he voted against raising the state minimum wage as a New York legislator because that would create a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states like Pennsylvania.  Now that he's in Congress, he co-sponsored a minimum wage hike.  The minimum wage/estate tax bill failed in the Senate because there weren't enough Democratic votes to ensure cloture (60 votes are required, only 5 Dems went along, so only 55 votes were for cloture).

    Massa took exception to both of these points.  He said that Kuhl's position is inconsistent with his earlier statement that he wants to put the interests of the local area over those of the rest of the US.  Moreover, he argued that only in DC could the majority blame the minority for the non-passage of a bill.  He then listed off the failings of the 109th Congress, including the Delay legacy of corruption, the bankruptcy bill and "Every Child Left Unfunded".  He also pointed out that Congress had raised its pay by $30K in the years since the last minimum wage hike, and $30K is the average salary in the 29th.

    A number of audience members wore "I'm a Health Care Voter" stickers, though perhaps "I Keep My Teeth in a Glass by the Bed" would have been more apropos.  The next question was for them: "Do you support universal, single-payer health insurance?"

    Massa led off with an emphatic "Yes".  He pointed out that those who threaten you with fear, such as those who run ads saying he'll raise taxes by $2K, the same people who tend toward country-clubber attire and happen to be standing two feet to my left (just kidding, that last part is mine), ignore the hidden tax of health care embedded in every financial transaction.  Massa's point here is that we all pay for health care as part of the price of goods sold by companies that must insure their employees.

    Kuhl's "No" on this one was just as emphatic.  He repeated the same "look on the bright side" argument as in the first debate, noting that 250 million people have health care.  He put some numbers on universal health care:  a mere $1.83 trillion annually.  That's $6,000 each, for the non-arithmeticians in the audience.  That's 60% of the annual budget for non-politicians in the audience.  His alternative:  better access, HR 676, HSA plans, associated health care plans, etc.

    Now we come to the point in our program where the blue-haired ladies of the LWV fucked up, though I'm sure they wouldn't use quite the same term.  On the face of it, the question was long-winded and innocuous.  My notes render it as follows:  "October is domestic violence month, blah blah, what would the candidates do to bring this to the forefront blah blah".  Kuhl was up, and gave an earnest answer, mentioning the Sheriff of Steuben County who was in the audience and had been to DC recently to visit and discuss issues like this.  Massa, who's a little brighter than the Steuben County LWV, said that he wanted to apologize to Mr Kuhl. He said that "we all know what that question's about", and said he wanted to hold a higher standard of campaigning.  Then, uncharacteristically, he shut up.  Read Kuhl's Wikipedia entry if you want more info on this question, which I agree that has no legitimate place in the campaign.

    Bathos means "anticlimax", and, in that spirit, let's move on to Social Security, the subject of the least informative and most craven debates in American politics.

    Massa actually showed some spine on this one, for which I'm sure he'll be rewarded with a negative ad.  In addition to pointing out that Bush's push to privatize social security wasn't shooting the alligator closest to the boat (i.e., it wasn't the most important problem at the time), he pointed out that 401Ks are a poor analogy to use for a social program that provides guaranteed retirement earnings, using MCI and Enron as examples of poor 401K investments.  Finally, he claimed that removing the cap on contributions and re-indexing contributions back to 1983 dollars would fix the problem.  (I don't know if I transcribed what he said with 100% accuracy, but I think that's close to the mark.)

    Listening to Kuhl, I wondered if perhaps Al Gore had emerged from retirement and written his answer for him.  First, he said that Massa's plan (which he characterized as "eliminating the cap", which is different from Massa's actual plan to eliminate the cap and re-index) would only move the problem out 7 years.  Kuhl pledged that he wouldn't change benefits, raise the retirement age, and he wouldn't privatize.  He characterized Massa's position as wanting to raise taxes and cut benefits.  In the 240 town meetings, he heard his constituents say "stop taking the money" - leave it in the Social Security trust fund.  Kuhl has submitted a bill that would do exactly that.  Gore and the Democrats called it a "lock box" back in 2000.  Kuhl didn't use their spiffy name, but he has all of their talking points.

    I have a million-word rant stored up on the politics of Social Security, but I'll take my medication and move on to the next question:  economic development - how do we get some of that in the Southern Tier?

    Kuhl took this opportunity to recite his committee appointments and relate them to bucks that came to the district.  He's the only guy from the northeast on the Ag committee.  He's on the transportation committee, and look at shiny new I-86 and soon-to-be I-99.  He's on the education committee, and he wants to fully fund mainstreaming of kids.  In other words, more government funding (and lower taxes) will lead to economic development.

    Massa took the opportunity to blast CAFTA and other free trade agreements, note that the labor unions (including AFL-CIO) endorsed him, and point out that Kuhl was part of the New York legislature that voted in the taxes in the 29th.

    Those last two questions were a bit of a snooze, but naptime is over, because here comes Iraq and a couple of personal cracks:  The last question of the debate asked how we could reduce our military expenditures.

    Massa went first, and started with his usual talk on the war:  It isn't making us safer, Afghanistan wasn't finished, and the Iraq invasion was purely political.  He detailed his partition plan.  What was new was a pre-emptive defense of the plan.  He said that those who say it will be a human rights catastrophe are ones who made the mistake in Iraq, and we can't trust their judgment in this matter.  He pointed to a lot of retired generals who say we must leave Iraq.  Finally, he said that Kuhl has made this election a referendum on Iraq because of his trip there.  He cracked that Kuhl's "boots on the ground in Iraq were Sperry Top Siders."

    Kuhl shot back that he doesn't wear Sperry Top Siders.  (My guess is that Randy prefers Bass Weejuns.)  Then he accused Massa of never having been to Iraq, and not knowing how hot it is there.  After that informative exchange, he pointed out that we've spent about $1/2 trillion on the war so far, and the current budget's appropriation is $70 billion.  The rest of the $400+ billion is to maintain the military.  When the war is over, the extra expense will stop.  He doesn't like the war, and wishes it could be over today.  But (voice rising) he also didn't like losing friends in 9/11.  This country is at war - "People are out there trying to kill us.  I don't want them to kill you."  His rejoinder to Massa's partition plan was that the majority of Iraqis (78%) want a unity government, and that walking away will create a humanitarian tragedy.  He also noted that leaving Iraq would lower our standing in the world community.

    With that, and not a moment too soon for an audience squirming on church pews, it was time for closing statements.  Kuhl went first, explaining that he sometimes gets emotionally involved.  He's been "servicing you people" for 26 years.  (He used the same expression in the first debate).  His goal is to be a "district Congressman", emphasizing constituent service.  A lot of earnest discussion of how proud he is to serve, to walk the steps of the Capital, etc.

    Massa started with a letter from a Marine colonel in Iraq, reading a couple of quotes, including the one comparing VIP visits to rocket attacks.  He pointed out that he does know how hot it is in Iraq, since he served in the Middle East, and he took exception to comments made in the Olean paper that he has no experience.  Then he went through a list of problems with Congress, including the Foley matter, the deficit, debating procedure instead of solving problems, campaign finance and lobbyists. Democracy has been taken away, and only you can take it back.

    He closed on this note:  Regardless of who you think can represent us best, everyone has an obligation to vote.

    As the kids say, "True that."

    ]]> Debates Thu, 12 Oct 2006 17:06:19 +0000 Rottenchester 4116 at
    Bathos - Part 1 The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan, "good government" organization that sponsors debates and lobbies to make sure the voting process is fair.  That usually means that their events are tedious and hyper-informative, over-scrupulously fair and mind-numbingly dull.  Last night's debate in Bath was all of these things and more -- it displayed the best and worst of the League and the candidates.

    As I walked into the vestibule of the ancient church where the debate was held, I saw a table full of League members sifting through questions provided by the audience. An old lady was squinting at one through thick glasses, muttering "stem cells, that seems controversial".  Needless to say, a question on stem cells wasn't asked at the debate.   Well, it turns out that her notion of controversial, like her overall circulatory system, was a bit anemic, as will soon be apparent.

    The debate was prefaced by a half-hour "meet the candidates" for local Assemblyman Jim Bacalles and Senator George Winner.  They were running unopposed, and hold Randy Kuhl's old seats in the legislature.  Later, Kuhl mentioned later that he usually ran unopposed also.  That's a powerful statement about Southern Tier (if not New York State) politics - contested races are rare and a legislative seat is a lifelong sinecure.  I'll have more to say about this part of the event in another post.

    After the non-debate by the two shoo-ins, the real debate began.  The format was 5 minute openers and closers, and three minute responses to the audience-supplied and league-edited questions.

    I think Massa's opener was a bit influenced by the surroundings, because in addition to his usual bio, he mentioned that he's a lifelong Roman Catholic.  He ended his statement by saying that Washington doesn't care and Albany has all but abandoned the 29th.  Kuhl, who was born "just around the corner", laid on the local-boy charm, and remarked to the Massa-heavy crowd that he didn't seem to be convincing anyone to take off their Massa buttons and don Kuhl's.  He ended by saying he went to DC to solve problems and make a difference.

    The League got the first question: they're concerned about the midnight sessions in Congress where representatives have been pressured to vote.

    Kuhl's response was that he'd only seen it happen a couple of times, he's generally against it, his experience in the legislature showed that it was a bad idea, and he'd be for reform. Massa pointed out that the 109th Congress has met even fewer times than the "Do-Nothing" 80th Congress made famous in the 1948 election.  He used the Schaivo case as an example of how the issue was priorities, not procedures, likening changing procedures to "rearranging the deck chairs on a ship headed for an iceberg."  Finally, "It shouldn't be so hard for citizens to understand what their elected officials do."

    Question two was immigration.  Massa began with a comment that a son of this town should listen better to what people in the area are saying, and then read a letter from the head of the Farm Bureau who was lamenting how tough the immigration bill is on farmers.  Massa was for a three-part approach:  Secure borders, deal with the immigrants already here by deporting some and keeping those who could take jobs US residents don't want (like farm jobs), and deal with the reasons that immigrants leave their home countries.  Kuhl's plan is similar to Massa's, but it hit the enforcement note harder, and didn't specifically mention an exemption for agricultural workers.  He used the question to point out that he's visited all of the towns in the district twice, and that immigration was the only issue that he's heard about consistently in the last two years.  He also mentioned the "virtual fence" legislation recently passed by Congress as evidence of a start in the process of reform.

    The third question was how the energy bill affected the district.  Kuhl's answer was "very positively".  His answer focused on the alternative energy portions of the bill, especially the ethanol provision, which will create 8 million barrels a year, and bring some ethanol plants to New York.  Massa pointed out that 8 million barrels is not much, and that the energy bill was a "special interests bill" that was created in a non-transparent manner by the Vice-President to serve oil interests.  He also said that alternative energy is no silver bullet, but the seriousness of the administration's commitment to alternative energy can be judged by their desire to drill in ANWR.  "We can't drill our way to energy independence."

    The next question dealt with the detainee bill, and here's where the fireworks began.  The phrasing of the question pointed out that the President could name a US citizen an "enemy combatant" and imprison them.

    Massa went first, and he began by saying that the bill was a "forward assault" on everything he defended during his career in the Navy.  He quoted Mike McGrath, a Navy vet who was imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam, who told Massa to fight against the bill.  Then he pointed to SEAR training he received in the Navy.  This training is designed to help captured airmen resist torture, and it includes some mild torture.  Massa said his experience showed that "it doesn't take much to get people to say anything they want to say."  In his view, the challenge isn't just to fight the war on terror, but to bequeath to our children a nation which has preserved the values of our founding.

    Kuhl's response was that the war on terror has "threatened us as we've never been threatened before".  He explained how the Hamdan decision had required a new procedure for dealing with terrorists, that the initial bill from the President was not accepted by his "friend and supporter" John McCain, so it was altered to preserve the Geneva Convention requirements.  The resulting bill, he said, provides "untold freedoms and rights of appeal to prisoners who are trying to kill all of you!"  Immediately after he said that, some audience member made a remark and he looked in that person's direction and paused a moment.  Then, he ended by saying he went to Washington to "protect all of you", not to be a rubber stamp.

    The Massa campaign has posted a heavily edited video of the debate, the first part of which includes the "kill all of you" remark.  The dirty look after that remark is Kuhl's response to whatever the person in the audience said.  Unfortunately, the whole combination makes him look a little wild-eyed and dangerous, even though this was probably one of two times in the entire debate where Kuhl raised his voice.  Update:  link fixed, thanks RochesterTurning.

    Continue to Bathos Number Two for  Health Care, Wages, Iraq and the question that made it through the blue-haired gauntlet.

    ]]> Debates Thu, 12 Oct 2006 13:36:30 +0000 Rottenchester 4114 at
    Debate Coverage I missed last night's debate.  If WETM posts it on their site, I'll watch and report.  In the meantime, here's the area media coverage:

    The Star-Gazette had the longest coverage, including a short issues round-up.  The Corning Leader's piece was shorter, but mentioned an exchange on negative ads, where both claimed the other had been doing it.  (Of course, the difference is that the Kuhl campaign originated their negative ad, and the anti-Kuhl ad was made by a third party.)

    WENY's online story mentioned that Kuhl called Massa a "carpetbagger".  Massa is a career military vet and the son of another career military vet.  He grew up in military bases all over the world, and moved all over as part of his career.  Though I've always found the home-town boy claim a poor reason to vote for anyone, Massa had no home prior to retirement, when he chose to move to the 29th.  That's different from the classic carpetbagger, who leaves a long-time home somewhere else to live in a district where it's easier for him to win.

    WETM's story is brief and covers the reductive "Yes/No" portion of the debate. One question where both answered "Yes" was supporting stem cell research.  The devil is in the details on this one, because Kuhl voted against it last year.  Either he changed his position, or he supports research on existing lines or on non-embryonic stem cells.  Those last two are just a dodge.

    ]]> Analysis Debates Wed, 11 Oct 2006 12:05:01 +0000 Rottenchester 4112 at
    Tonight's Debate The Elmira and Corning papers are running debate preview stories this morning.  Both are examples of the kind of lazy formulaic claptrap that passes for local political journalism.

    The Star-Gazette story is a "man on the street", an amalgam of ill-informed quotes used to argue that voters really care about the economy and taxes, not war and terrorism.  Never mind that the other Gannett paper in the 29th just published a poll where 82% said the war will play a major or minor role in their vote.   I think I'll trust that poll over the feelings of the first five strangers some reporter bumped into an hour before deadline.  Even though Elmira and Rochester are different, they're not 82% different.

    The Corning Gazette piece is actually a little better, though it begins with a pure TFP line:

    U.S. Rep. John R. Kuhl Jr., and his Democratic challenger Eric Massa will likely trade barbs...

    Those fucking politicians - why must they always be trading nasty barbs?  Can't they trade something less sharp and pointy, like baseball cards or beanie babies?

    ]]> Analysis Debates Tue, 10 Oct 2006 13:19:33 +0000 Rottenchester 4110 at
    T.F.P. 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.)

    ]]> Analysis Debates Fri, 06 Oct 2006 14:53:04 +0000 Rottenchester 4103 at
    Another Debate? The D&C story on the debate includes one in Rochester on October 16 on RNews, the Time-Warner cable channel.  This looks like news to both campaigns, since neither has it on their calendars. 

    (Update:  Kuhl just posted it.  Massa also has it on his Debate Page.)

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