I’m not sure it was the reporter’s intent, but a recent World-Herald article, as I see it, put the effort to recall Mayor Jim Suttle in proper context:
Do Omahans want political style or political substance in the mayor’s office?
Suttle admittedly lacks the political charm, the friendly style of his predecessor as mayor, Mike Fahey. So what? Should Suttle be voted out of office in the recall election January 25 because he has a tendency to cut directly to the heart of the problems he faces without the political style that some politicians display?
Being mayor of Omaha—as in the holding of any political office—is easier when the officeholder has an appealing personality. But Mike Fahey’s good intentions and pleasing personality didn’t prevent him from making mistakes which Jim Suttle had to address with unpopular but necessary tax increases.
(Some of the tax increases represent corrective action going back to the administration of former Mayor Hal Daub, whose previous popularity wasn’t enough to win him the election against Jim Suttle in May, 2009.)
But political elections should be decided on substance, not style. (Some of President Obama’s critics have said consistently that Obama’s problems in his first two years in office have resulted from the fact that he was elected largely on the basis of style and color, not experience or substance.)
Suttle Faced ‘Difficult Political Straits’
In the long World-Herald story with its emphasis on Suttle’s lack of style or political charisma, there were these words on an inside page, starting with the 42nd paragraph in a 48-paragraph story:
“Assuredly, Suttle had little time before he found himself in difficult political straits.
“The city was in bad financial shape when he took office, with the recession helping the city’s tax revenue plummet. And he ran into a firestorm amid proposals to close swimming pools and reduce library hours.
“In addition, he inherited a looming deficit in the police and fire pension fund. Last year, he presided over $30 million in tax hikes and $13.5 million in spending cuts.”
Council Majority Voted For Tax Increases
(“Presided over” is journalese, I guess, for the fact that Suttle himself did not increase taxes or make budget cuts. His recommendations in those areas were reviewed and revised and made into law by a majority vote of the City Council.)
Those three paragraphs, as I see it, help Omahans focus on the heart of the issue with which Omaha voters are truly faced January 25.
Why is a mayor facing a recall vote after closing a $34 million budget gap and balancing the budget in a city otherwise doing so well—with the lowest unemployment among the 100-largest U.S. cities and recently ranked the No. 2 city in the nation for business?
If a majority of Omahans who vote January 25 believe that a mayor should be judged by the substance of what he achieves, not by the style in which he attacked the problems he inherited, Jim Suttle will be retained in office as mayor.
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Grief Over Killings Should Be Linked
To Emphasis On How To Stop Them
The dominating national and local story in recent days (so far as Omaha is concerned) has been, of course, the murder of a beloved assistant high school principal at Millard South in Omaha and in the shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona which killed six people and left a Congresswoman with a bullet wound in her brain.
Mentioned in passing but given entirely too little emphasis, in my opinion, was the ease with which two mentally unbalanced teenagers obtained the murder weapons.
In the Arizona case, a teenager who, we are now told in various news stories, was a mental case, simply went to a gun dealer and left with a legally-purchased semi-automatic pistol.
In Omaha, the teenager obtained the murder weapon because of carelessness of his policeman father, who simply left his handgun in a closet instead of in the gun safe which the Police Department had provided him.
Mike Kelly Points Out Parallel To Von Maur Killings
The Omaha case quickly brought to mind—to some minds, that is—the gun-easily-available parallel to the 2007 Von Maur tragedy, in which eight people died from wounds inflicted by a 19-year-old who had access to a weapon which should have been under lock and key. This Von Maur/Millard South linkage got its first significant news media attention four days after the shooting in a Michael Kelly column last Sunday.
It seems to me that along with the understandable expressions of compassion and community support for Millard South should have come a prompt, clear call for steps to prevent such tragedies by whatever legal means are necessary to keep teenagers from unsupervised access to potential murder weapons.
One possibility, raised by State Senator Brad Ashford, is to make the owner of the gun criminally responsible, guilty of a felony, if a non-owner of the gun used it to either kill himself or others. Ashford’s proposal appeared on an inside page in the final three paragraphs of a story emphasizing Millard South’s effort to “get back to business as usual.”
A week after the Millard South shooting, the emphasis was still on the tragedy, without any comparable emphasis on how to keep lethal weapons out of the hands of potential killers.
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Governor Could Have Wished For Wider Gap
Between Tough Talk And Four Inaugural Celebrations
Governor Dave Heineman, as I see it, might have wished for different timing rather than the back-to-back appearance of two news stories featuring him, color pictures and all, in two quite different roles last week.
First, in the Friday morning edition of The World-Herald, there was a Midlands Section story on the governor’s tough budget message to the Legislature during a brief inaugural address after taking his oath of office. The headline read: “Budget may be cut with cleaver.” The subhead read: “Governor says full programs must go.”
A color picture showed the governor at the rostrum in the legislative chamber delivering that tough-talking message.
The next day, on The World-Herald’s Midlands News section front page, there appeared two color pictures dealing with the governor’s four-stop celebration of his inauguration. The pictures depicted scenes from two of the four stops, which were in Gering, Grand Island, Lincoln and Omaha.
The next day, last Sunday, there was a story carrying this headline: “State’s first couple have a ball.”
Again, two color pictures, this time one of the pictures showing the governor and first lady Sally Ganem in formal attire on the dance floor at the Qwest Center in Omaha.
Other governors have settled for one inaugural celebration, the traditional Inaugural Ball. Heineman said he wanted to share the celebration with more people by having several stops.
One news story said the events were “privately-funded.” Privately-funded or not, one wonders if the governor had considered how such a statewide celebration of his re-election might play with the people of Nebraska two days after he had told the Legislature that entire state programs will be eliminated to help address the state’s budget woes.
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On And On It Goes, Media
Misrepresent Voter Poll Results
USA Today continues its irresponsible reporting of public opinion poll results.
If you read to the very last paragraph of the front page story, you would learn that a recent Gallup Poll of 1,025 adults—with a range-of-error possibility totaling 8%–was used as the basis for the story with this headline: “U.S. split on repeal of health care law.”
The opening paragraph read: “Americans are closely divided over whether the new Republican-controlled House should vote to repeal the health care law that was enacted just last year, a Gallup Poll finds.”
The Gallup Poll found no such thing. It reported the opinions of a miniscule percentage of the American population—1,025 adults. Forty-six percent of those 1,025 adults said they want their representative in Congress to vote for repeal of Obamacare and 40% said they want the law to stand.
When will the news media—local as well as national—learn that you are not honestly reporting the results when the poll involves a very a limited sample of voters but the results are reported as clearly representative of the feelings of all of the voters on the local, state or national issue which is the subject of the poll?
There Is An Accurate Alternative
Why not report something like this: “A poll of 1,025 Americans showed 46% of the respondents favoring repeal of the Obama Care health care legislation and 40% against repeal. The Gallup pollsters describe the results as an accurate projection of the feelings of American adults with a plus-or-minus margin of error of eight percentage points.”
And never, never, in the opinion of this journalist, play a poll story as the top news of the day.
For one thing, polls taken late in a political campaign can influence the results rather than simply attempt to predict them.
For another thing, poll results often turn out to be widely inaccurate reflections of what actually happens when the voters go to the polls. A recent example is the fact that Representative Lee Terry, Omaha Republican, defeated Democratic challenger Tom White by a margin substantially larger than had been suggested in a pre-election poll.
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TV Newscasts: Just Be Patient,
We’ll Tell You The Facts Later
It’s bad enough when, early in a 30-minute so-called newscast, a television station anchor person tells you that later in the telecast you will be told the results of a sporting event.
The object presumably is to hold your attention through all the commercials and self-promoting ads assuring you that the station in question has the most news staff, is the most watched, is the only station with a representative in Lincoln, etc., etc. ad nauseum.
The practice becomes increasingly irritating—or perhaps irresponsible is not too strong a word—when a one-hour telecast is involved, as was the case on Channel 7 last Sunday evening.
Early in the telecast we were told that Creighton had played Evansville that afternoon (we already knew that) and the newscasters would tell us the results of the game later in the broadcast.
Much later, as it turned out. Fifty-one minutes into the 60-minute broadcast, viewers were informed that Creighton had defeated Evansville, 74-69.
During those 51 minutes, viewers had been exposed to a few paid commercials but a veritable deluge of self-promoting commercials telling you what a great service Channel 7 provides to its viewers.
(Channel 7 isn’t the only offender, of course. CNN regularly promotes interesting news items which appear much later in the telecast.)
‘Different Amounts Of Snow In Different Places.’ Really?
The Channel 7 telecast Sunday evening provided a new version of the “we’ll tell you all about it later” tactics—this one approaching absurdity.
With weather stories dominating a good share of the telecast (we were told among other things that “different amounts of snow are falling in different places”), there appeared on the screen pictures of widespread damaging flooding, the kind that creates a crisis for affected communities.
Viewers were told that “we’ll tell you where this is” later in the program. I speculated on the possibility that it might be in some southern state.
After a commercial break which dealt again with all the ways in which Channel 7 serves the community, the focus returned to weather news, including winter storms in some southern states. Then came the news as to the location of that troubled area in which serious flooding threatened cities—the area which had been depicted before the commercial break.
It turned out that the flood-threatened communities are in Germany.
Reluctantly, as a man with some 70 years of experience as a writer (that includes student days, of course), I struggle for an appropriate comment on this particular piece of television gimmickry, except perhaps to say it is, even for television newscasts, an innovative way (too charitable a description, I suspect) to try to hold an audience through a long commercial break.
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