Last Friday, Oct. 20, 2006, The Journal News carried a front-page story written by Susan Elan and printed “above the fold,” as journalists call any prime position on the top half of the front page of a newspaper. Titled “Congressional opponents Sue Kelly and John Hall hold rare debate,” it gave surprisingly little specific information about the circumstances of this mysterious, unpublicized debate.
Readers may have especially curious about this story since Sue Kelly has exhibited extreme reluctance to debate her opponent in public, even going so far as to fail to respond to a League of Women Voters invitation to debate opponent John Hall publicly, an event scheduled to be broadcast on Tuesday, Oct. 17.
Describing the contest in its news story as “a sometimes cantankerous debate and one of their few face-to-face encounters on the campaign trail,” The Journal News asserted that the candidates “laid out their positions on the war in Iraq, immigration, national security, taxes, health care and the future of the Indian Point power plants.”
What was notably curious about the story was that it exhibited few of the five W’s that beginning journalism students and prospective reporters must learn: Where, When, Who, What, Why. In fact, it took a careful reading of this news story to discover that the “debate” was not a public debate at all in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, the exchanges in this so-called debate actually took place during the standard interview candidates undergo before the editorial board of The Journal News at the Gannett editorial offices in White Plains.
Such interviews form the basis of the newspaper’s pre-election endorsement (or reasons for no-endorsement) of a candidate for office. Just as curiously, the news story neglected to identify by name and title the members of the newspaper’s editorial board who were present at the joint interview.
Crotonblog regards portraying this private event as a public debate as another example of the cheap and cynical way traditional news media manipulate events and manufacture news. Yet The Journal News never saw fit to report a bigger news story—namely, Rep. Sue Kelly’s failure to respond to the invitation of the League of Women Voters to debate opponent John Hall in a traditional debate on Tuesday, Oct. 17. Shame on you, Journal News.