The sharks are circling, they smell blood in the water. In an election year drama unfolding in Ohio, the circling sharks are national media and their local corollaries who repeat with ease the entitled media’s rarely right prognostications.
Never The Twain Shall Meet
John C. Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, commented on a poll conducted by his group for a consortium of Ohio news organizations that found this year’s two major presidential candidates are reaching new levels of unpopularity in American politics. A political scientist himself, Mr. Green said that once voters develop an impression of a candidate, it’s hard to change it.
“Nobody has ever seen two major party candidates that are this unpopular,” he told the Dayton Daily News. The extremes on the right and left, he said, are setting new records.
“A lot of people don’t store in their brains detailed information about politicians. What they develop is an impression. If one side gets an advantage in defining the opponent then that advantage will last for at least several weeks and maybe for the whole campaign,” he said.
One statewide race Ohio voters will wrestle with this fall, that helps Mr. Green’s make his point, is whether incumbent first-term Republican Senator Rob Portman should return to the U.S. Senate to row against the current tide of popular ideas and get to gripe about them at the same time? Or whether the multi-millionaire from Cincinnati, who has endorsed the billionaire from New York, can be knocked off in a stunning come from behind upset by former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland, who’s faring worse of late as polls showing a gap growing with Mr. Portman become self-fulling prophecies that he shall not be able to overcome.
The blood in Buckeye State waters is that Mr. Strickland is waging a losing campaign, and to prove it, campaign resources once directed to help him are being shifted to more fertile races where the Democrat in the contest is likely to end up in Washington next year.
This point was driven home recently by big time media pundit-prognosticator Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, whose “The Fix” column, ironically, has rated Plunderbund as Ohio’s most influential political blog.
Cillizza’s post Sunday talked about how bad Gov. Strickland’s week just ended was. “There’s no worse feeling in politics than watching the reinforcements you so desperately need begin to pull up the stakes of their camp and head somewhere else. That’s what happened to former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) this week as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pulled three weeks of advertising out of the state where Strickland is running to unseat Sen. Rob Portman (R).”
With control of the Senate hanging in the balance this year, reporters like Cillizza and his elite band of Washington-based cohorts routinely report that Democrats are poised to retake the upper chamber, along with their often begrudging prediction that Hillary Clinton will also win the White House. That dream come true for Democrats, who want President Clinton to be unencumbered from putting her candidates to work throughout the executive branch and beyond, most especially the Supreme Court should a vacancy occur on he watch, would be a nightmare come true for Republicans who think Portman can cruise to victory without being held accountable for his past transgressions and bad policy calls, first as a congressman then as President George W. Bush’s budget man and top trade representative.
Meanwhile, the repetitive story that Strickland hasn’t led in a poll conducted in the race since April, combined with the narrative that Rob Portman has run a “flawless campaign to date” as demonstrated by his high single digit lead, is the jelling narrative media is docked on.
Unable to keep pace with a deluge of negative ads against him by Portman-friendly independent groups, funded by very wealthy donors including the Koch Brothers, Ted Strickland will find it hard to redirect the narrative Republicans have set in concrete against him since he left office at the end of 2010: That he alone was responsible for the toll taken on Ohio by the Great Recession.
Bosom buddy Republicans like Rob Portman and Gov. John Kasich know but are afraid to admit they couldn’t have done better, and probably would have left Ohio worse off had they pursued their long advertised agenda that income tax cuts create jobs and less government at all levels is the secret sauce to prosperity for everyone, among other public policy whoppers. History shows they don’t generally understand history about what works and doesn’t. Except for the already wealthy, who should be paying far more as Hillary Clinton promises to make them do if she moves to the Oval Office, everyone else is left dangling.
If national and Ohio media continues to solidify their narrative that the former congressman and governor can’t keep up with Portman’s money haul and its impact on the race, Mr. Strickland will find himself at another crossroads in November at which neither path leads to Washington as Ohio’s junior senator.
Hold the butter, though, because Ted might not be toasted just yet? Massachusetts’ first-term firebrand senator, Elizabeth Warren, isn’t in sync with Cillizza’s view of Strickland sinking into the sunset. Last week she reminded Buckeye voters, and reporters who have not locked themselves into the Portman-wins-Ohio meme, that she was likewise behind her Republican incumbent senator in 2012, Scott Brown, by as much then as Strickland is behind Portman now. Scott Brown, a one-time Playgirl centerfold who campaigned driving his pickup truck, did not end up the winner. Warren’s true tale might be worth revisiting for those who still hold out hope that voter turnout for Hillary Clinton can drag Ted across the finish line.
Sen. Warren said The New York Times reports that Democrats have a 55 percent chance of taking back the Senate on Election Day. “I’d call those roll-up-your-sleeves fighting odds, wouldn’t you?” she said Sunday via email. “And just think what we can accomplish next year and beyond with a Democratic majority—starting with finally confirming a new Supreme Court justice.”
Ping-pong reporting on the race by Ohio media is a spectacular example of how to mislead or just not inform their readership on the real records of the two candidates. Why Ohio really suffered during Ted Strickland’s one-term in office and what he did to turn the state around before leaving office appear to be off-the-radar questions media chooses not to ask. When questions like these are not asked, it’s easy to call Sen Portman’s race “flawless” even though it’s riddled with flaws, starting with his real leadership in crafting bad trade deals and his real leadership role in teeing up the nation under President George W. Bush for the worst economic meltdown since 1932. Those hard questions, it seems, will be left to historians to discover.
Even though a voice of the right, The Washington Times, reported on Vice President Joe Biden’s comments in Cleveland last week. “Mr. Biden also blamed Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio for helping to create the recession of 2007-09 as budget director for President George W. Bush. ‘Rob Portman was the architect of George W. Bush’s economic policy,’ he said. ‘Why the hell did we end up in this great recession? How did that happen? Did it happen out of whole cloth? It happened because of a budget and a philosophy of the Republican Party.’”
The silence of reporters and editorial boards to ask Rob Portman to explain his complicity in how the bad times came about and why they continue to linger for some but not all is stunning. Strickland is blamed for something he had no control over and Portman is set free from conditions he actually worked to create, that he could have atoned for by helping out but decided to oppose based on reasoning that, for a commonsense conservative, makes no sense.
Journalism’s Sad State
The sad state of modern journalism was the topic of Ron Fournier’s article in The Atlantic spelling our his understanding, gleaned over decades of reporting, of what good journalists do compared to what du jour reporters do. Called “A Farewell Guide to Political Journalism,” Mr. Fourier didn’t but could have focused his article on the battle between Portman and Strickland, as an illustration of many of the points he makes on what makes journalists patsys and others feared and respected.
Simultaneously, another central Ohio reporter, a former long-time journalism professor, zeroed in on both the lack of diversity at the Columbus Dispatch and the shoddy reporting on the Portman-Strickland race. John Hartman, who writes the monthly MediaInsider column for the Columbus Free Press, said Portman’s “shadowy supporters have spent $30 million on TV ads telling Ohioans that Ted Strickland, his Democratic opponent, was a lousy governor and a sketchy person.” The dirty money has turned a double-digit deficit in the polls into a nearly double-digit lead for Portman, Hartman notes.
As if channeling Ron Fournier’s piece in The Atlantic, Mr. Hartman says Ted Strickland is finally getting in the TV ad game, but it may be too little and too late. “It may become another example of the old adage: a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets out of bed,” he wrote.
Sen. Portman’s dishonest campaign strategy, to both endorse Donald Trump and stay as far away from him as possible, is considered “flawless” by reporters who run with the echo chamber herd no matter where it runs, even if that’s off a twisted cliff of contradictions. It’s hard to imagine Ohio newspapers will suddenly find their reporting and editorial voices to set the record straight, especially after two in particular, The Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Columbus Dispatch, twice endorsed John Kasich for governor and coddled him over nearly six years through more than one political scandal.
Setting the record straight requires saying that Sen. Portman’s “flawless” race is so flawed that they should be embarrassed to ladle on flawless as a positive feature. As Kathleen Hall Jamieson at Annenberg famously said, all positions are not equidistant from the truth. It’s time to put down the ping pong paddles and start measuring each candidates distance from the truth.