Editor’s Note: This is the eighth article in a series about Nebraska politics, particularly as pertains to the Nebraska Republican Party and closely connected groups and their relationship to the “tea party movement”. We recommend starting with the article “Nebraska’s Ruling Class and the Perils of (Assisted) Political Suicide” which includes links to all other articles in the series.
There’s a subject we haven’t addressed because every time we’ve considered doing so, we’ve asked ourselves if we should spend time pointing out the obvious. The more I ponder Nebraska’s political landscape, however, the more it seems that there are aspects of this subject that are not so obvious.
For anyone trying to figure out the reasons why Nebraska has become a one party state with a ruling class elite, the subject of the Nebraska media’s role in that paradigm must be considered. While there are many aspects about which we could write, in this article I will focus on one newspaper in the state, one reporter, and one story to illustrate a few points.
At the end of July, LJS ran something written by Don Walton about the announcement by Lt. Governor Rick Sheehy that he will be a candidate for the 2014 gubernatorial election. I said LJS ran “something”. I can’t call it a “story” or an “article” as in a news story or a news article because it belongs in some catty New York socialite’s gossip column, a U.K. tabloid, or perhaps most appropriately, the political section of Playboy[1. No, I have no idea what’s actually in Playboy besides the obvious. You haven’t heard about the reason given for men subscribing to Playboy? “Only for the articles”. Yeah, right.].
Let’s start with the obvious. Walton’s gossipy piece is most offensive for the double entendre title. Besides being just plain crass, what is the point?
As Linda noted in our discussion of this particular piece of Walton wizardry:
- Lincoln Journal Star puts itself forward as a community newspaper, in other words, for all audiences. Is such base and pointless sexual innuendo appropriate for all audiences?
- Children are encouraged to read the paper in schools; is this appropriate fodder for current events discussions by children?
- What is Don Walton’s journalistic “beat”? Seems like it’s supposed to be local Lincoln politics, so what’s he doing “covering” a gubernatorial election?
- What exactly IS this thing about Sheehy? It appeared in the news section. Does this thing read like a news story? And it’s not really an editorial. WHAT, again, IS IT, exactly?
I’ll add a few of questions of my own:
- If Walton thinks the whole subject is such a pointless, yawn-inducing experience, why bother at all?
- Why ask a question about embarrassing and premature speculation after crafting three bullet points of embarrassingly premature speculation of his own?
- What is with the included photo of Sheehy? Bad lighting, anyone? Weird angle? Coincidence?
The only thing new here is the new low to which Walton sank. The bored-with-these-fools tone is nothing new when Walton writes such pieces, whether they be “reporting” on something like the Sheehy announcement or a public event. Other Walton writings are rambling streams of consciousness one can hardly follow.
Of course, Don Walton does not single-handedly write and reproduce his rambles; he does not run the printing press himself. Lincoln Journal Star has an editor and other staff who decide where to place his ramblings and biased reports and, more importantly, whether to run them in the first place.
So, let’s summarize the obvious:
Walton’s Sheehy article is offensive, stupid, and unnecessary. It included obvious political bias: A bald attempt to make Rick Sheehy, in particular, and Republicans, in general, look stupid. Bottom line translation for readers; Walton is a biased writer who takes cheap, tawdry shots at Republicans.
Nothing new, time to move on, right?
Not so fast.
Now for the less obvious.
Walton missed an opportunity for an actual story which required only a minimal effort in connecting dots. Had he bothered to do any actual reporting, preceded by a bit of research and actual thinking beyond seeing an opportunity to take cheap shots, he would have noticed a pattern worthy of pointing out to his readers, or at least of interest to himself, since he seems so eager to criticize Republicans. The NEGOP ruling elite’s practice of handpicking candidates which they will back (to the detriment of challengers) and the resulting lack of genuine primary election choices available to Republican voters is a legitimate issue calling for some real journalistic investigation and exposure.
Walton wouldn’t have had to harken back too far; this same crowning of a candidate had occurred within a couple of days after the November 2010 elections. Newly re-elected Governor Heineman announced he would not be running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Ben Nelson and in turn, just so very coincidentally, Attorney General Jon Bruning announced he was forming an exploratory committee for that purpose. Yes, that was just a coincidence.
Had Walton any actual desire to report subjects of real interest, possessed a minimal level of curiosity, or was even seriously gunning for GOPers, he might have connected the fact that a common factor in both of these events was the endorsement by Governor Dave, and very early, in each case.
One would think such early and loud endorsements of candidates for Nebraska’s highest offices by a sitting governor would indicate that said governor seems to believe he possesses some serious political clout or that he actually does. Either way, isn’t that an interesting story?
I can confirm first hand based on long term research that there are many interesting aspects to the whole story of who has political power in this state and what sorts of factors influence that power and we’ve only just begun to publish proof of that. The overwhelming majority of it is public information, available to anyone who cares to dig just a little for it. Understanding that makes the lack of inquiry astonishing.
It’s undeniable that the city of Lincoln is a stronghold for liberal Democrats – just one name says it all as proof – Mayor Chris Beutler. But local government control by the left does not mean that the majority of Lincolnites are left-wing, nor does it guarantee that the majority of LJS readers are left-wing. While, of course, LJS readership is likely majority Lincoln-based, there are subscribers from outside Lincoln proper.
As the only newspaper in the state’s capital city, it’s important to note that the paper is reporting from the seat of a state government whose highest offices are held by Republicans, whose state legislature is super-majority Republican, whose federal delegation has all but one Republican (4 of 5), and which, as a whole, has a majority of registered voters who are Republican; 549,105 to the 380,321 who are registered Democratic.
Don Walton is Deserving of Darts, of course, for being crass, lame, and pointless. But he’s far more “Deserving” of this distinction for his nibbling, very lamely, around the edges of actual news. And what about the decision makers at LJS who seem more than content with his work? Why is that? Does that make them “Deserving”, too?
It seems like the real question is: is the Lincoln Journal Star biased to the “left” and against Republicans? Or is it Progressive and biased towards the status quo? How does this all fit in to Nebraska’s political landscape?
In our anchor piece of this series, we included a list of questions:
- Who is a part of Nebraska’s ruling class?
- Who are its supporters?
- Who are the wannabes?
- Who are its clients?
- Who are its beneficiaries?
What is the answer when it comes to Don Walton and the Lincoln Journal Star?
As noted at the beginning, I’m highlighting one article in one newspaper by one reporter. Unfortunately, what I’ve laid out here is not the exception, it’s just one illustration of the rule. We hear complaints fairly regularly about the lack of actual reporting by Nebraska media and our publication of this series has actually provoked fresh frustration about the whole subject from people who have contacted us to comment.
Obviously, this subject requires more attention and we intend to focus on it going forward. We’ll kick the whole subject off with the following, which although focused more on TV news, seems wholly appropriate when pondering Walton’s Sheehy piece (check out the lyrics):
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