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10/22/2018 10:29:00 AM
COMMENTARY: 'Us vs. them' election rhetoric exposes our bias

Bob Zaltsberg, Herald-Times Editor

The caller on Tuesday identified himself, then complained about the headline on a story that featured an interview with Liz Watson about her 9th District congressional campaign. The headline read: “Watson wants to be a true representative of the people.”

The caller was hung up on the word “true” and said that its use in the headline “just proves that this newspaper is biased” to the left. Then he just hung up.

Calls and emails on Monday came from opponents of Trey Hollingsworth, the incumbent Watson is trying to unseat. They criticized a story about him based on an interview conducted with the first-term congressman. The headline on that story was: “Hollingsworth seeks to build on record in re-election bid.”

“Puff piece!” “Why didn’t you just publish a Hollingsworth news release?” “You don’t deserve to have a job!” came the comments.

Both the Hollingsworth story and the Watson story were done by reporter Ernest Rollins from interviews scheduled through the campaign offices far in advance of the publication dates. The time was spent talking with candidates about their views on a range of issues. Candidates also shared their opinions about why voters should pick them in November.

The two stories appeared in exactly the same location on the front page, with the same sized headline, same sized photo of the candidate, one day apart. “H” comes before “W” in the alphabet, which is why the Hollingsworth story ran first, the Watson story second.

These stories were perhaps a relic from the past — based on interviews with candidates meant to provide voters with a glimpse of how those running for office view the issues. It is true that they stopped short of examining candidates’ records, opting to allow Hollingsworth and Watson to share with readers what issues are important to them.

But these aren’t campaigns of the past. While elections have always brought out partisanship, each new season of campaigning seems to bring a higher level of both that and anger. Criticism of the Hollingsworth story in particular illustrated that.

Of course, the steady stream of campaign commercials reflects that in the extreme. Indiana’s U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly and Republican Mike Braun is like a luge hurtling downhill toward a lower level of advertising discourse.

One night last week, one television viewer in my household began to count the number of commercials in the Senate race. When the number reached 20 through about 90 minutes of viewing, this particular viewer lost interest in counting and sought refuge in a novel.

One commercial struck a nerve. An advertisement that ended with “I’m Mike Braun and I approve this message” carried this tag line about Donnelly: “He’s not one of us. He’s one of them.”

Really. These two sentences show the great divide in this nation about as clearly and literally as possible.

“He’s not one of us.”

“He’s one of them.”

These are candidates for the United States Senate, the nation’s most deliberative body. The commercial says the person elected will be either one of us, or one of them. Translation: If you’re not one of us, you’re the enemy. No in-between. No compromise. No shades of gray.

No need for deliberation, apparently

Mike Braun agrees with that message. So do a lot of candidates today.

I’ll admit it here: Our newspaper, at least our newspaper editor, does have a bias, and that is in favor of people who do not agree with that message. The world isn’t that simple. The nation’s problems don’t have only one solution.

Our bias favors people who still believe “negotiation” and “compromise” are not dirty words and people who believe politics should be about sharing ideas for solving problems, then settling on an approach that’s based on bettering lives for the many, rather than political or personal gain.

Government, especially elected officials, should work for all the people — not just for “us” and not just for “them.”

Copyright #YYYY#, HeraldTimesOnline, Bloomington, IN






Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR


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