Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sean O'Sullivan commits journalistic malfeasance, or incompetence, or something . . .

. . . in reporting on last night's US House debate between fellow members of the Demopublican Party John Carney and Tom Kovach.

First, he reported that the two
squared off in front of about 400 people
Fact check:  more than one-quarter of the seats in the theater were empty.  Even counting all the folks associated with the debate (hosts and hostesses, police, etc.), there were only 267 people sitting in the theater as Ralph Begleiter got up to tell the audience he would have anybody arrested who said anything or used their phones.  [This is not an estimate; I counted the crowd twice, head by head, after they closed the doors; 267 was my highest count.]

[If you did not count reporters, police, and debate functionaries, the count of actual audience members was in the 225 range.]

Then he reported on the ruckus at the beginning of the debate:

The debate got off to a rocky start, as more than a dozen people in the hall began shouting to protest the exclusion of Green Party and Libertarian candidates from the debate. Their message, however, was drowned out by the introductions of the candidates by moderator Nancy Karibjanian of Delaware First Media. 
According to university officials, 17 people were removed from the hall and Green Party candidate Bernard August, of Newark, was charged with disorderly conduct. A second man also was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. 
The disruption did not seem to faze the candidates or moderators and was not mentioned during the debate, which also was broadcast nationally on C-SPAN.
And Bernie August even
wore a suit to the debate!
His sequence is wrong here.  The protest began prior to Karijbanian's introduction of the candidates.  It began with Green US House candidate Bernard August getting up, walking into the aisle and announcing, "Mic Check!" which is the hallmark of the Occupy movement.  August then introduced himself as a ballot-qualified candidate, protested the exclusion of third parties, and began to announce an alternative debate outside the hall, when. . .

A man in a suit walked up to him, said, "Come along, sir," and twisted his arm behind his back, pushing him back up the aisle.  It is important to note that this gentleman did not ever identify himself as a police officer, and wore no badge.  I understand that we are supposed to assume he was one of the police officers Begleiter referred to earlier, but several of the candidates also brought their own security, and there was really no way to be sure.

As uniformed police and other men in suits began telling other protesters to leave, almost all did without incident.  One man, reading a prepared statement and standing about three-quarters of the way back in the cheap seats, continued to speak.

A man in a suit ordered the people near him in the row to move, and then walked up behind him.  He said, "Come on, sir."  Again, he did not identify himself as a police officer.  He may or may not have been the same man who forced Bernie August out of the hall; I couldn't tell.  (I was sitting within four feet of this confrontation.)

The protester ignored him and continued to read his statement.  The gentleman in the suit now grabbed his wrist in a "come-along" and twisted it hard behind his back.  Ironically, this didn't work (maybe the guy was double-jointed or maybe the guy in the suit wasn't really a cop and did not know how to do it); the man kept reading his statement.  His voice never changed as if in pain.

Clearly frustrated, the man in the suit now attempted awkwardly to put the protester in a headlock, and the protester passively resisted him.  By now a uniformed State Trooper had arrived, and the two of them bodily pulled the protester out of the row and dragged him (in a headlock with both arms twisted behind his back) out of the hall.

Several other people left at this time.  I cannot vouch for the figure of 17 because I was watching the two arrests, but it seems to be about right.  To have charged the second protester with resisting arrest when the man did not identify himself, and could not be clearly identified as a police officer seems troublesome.  Again, I have to emphasize that during this whole affair the only man I was sure was a police officer was the uniformed State Trooper, and the protester was already in a headlock and effectively blinded by the time he approached.

By the way, both of these men were held in custody for several hours.  I believe that Bernie August was not released until after 1:00am (he was "arrested" at about 6:00pm).

So what about the debate?

The WNJ reports first:

Kovach, president of the New Castle County Council, said he supports some aspects of Obamacare, including preventing insurance companies from discriminating against pre-existing conditions and allowing people up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance.
Carney defended the program as the “only choice” and the only hope for reining in health care costs. The way to do that is to pay providers for “results, not procedures,” he said.
This is both inaccurate and misleading.  Carney actually said parts of Obamacare had been poorly written and needed to be scrapped or replaced.  He specifically noted reporting procedures and said he had strong doubts about the long-term viability of the individual mandate.  He strenuously argued that the $750 billion taken out of Medicare was "savings" and not "a cut," but also said (listen up, doctors) that providers should be paid even less than they are being paid now.  Kovach actually raised the question of cost containment, and how spreading the cost over a larger population was not the same thing as cost containment, but that clearly went over the reporter's head.

With regard to education:
The two also disagreed, somewhat, on education policy, with Kovach slamming federal programs and claiming that grant money did not make it to the classroom.
Carney countered that he favored a limited role for the federal government in education but said federal dollars were needed to help struggling schools.
Kovach specifically challenged anyone to prove that any Race to the Top money had made it into classrooms.  Carney actually said that Federal funds should be be focused on poor children (which would be a neat idea if it ever really happened).

[Carney's best line of the night, by the way, came in response to a moderator set-up line about most people having assumed he would easily win the gubernatorial election back in 2008, which he met with a heartfelt snort of derision and a comment to the effect [paraphrasing here] that anybody who'd thought that obviously got it wrong.]

There are two takeaways here:  one is that you really can't trust a lot of the reporting on events like this, because even the candidate summaries were wrong.  Where the reporter accurately quoted either candidate, he quoted minor points rather than the main thrust of their comments [specifically, Carney's repeated reservations about large sections of Obamacare, which he totally ignored].

The second takeaway is even more important:  we have now reached a point in Delaware politics where a nonviolent protest at a public university sponsored event led directly to what many observers would consider to be an excessively physical police response.  Ironically, this happened the same day that the Green Party President and Vice-President candidates were also arrested outside Hofstra University and handcuffed to chairs for eight hours to keep them away from the presidential debate stage.

And yet, left unexamined in both local and national media is the question of whether or not (a) these exclusions were in the best interests of democracy; or (b) if the use of police power to silence ballot-qualified third party candidates is something we, as the American people have come to accept as the new normal.  Next year I expect the UD police to bring nightsticks.

As for the quality of the reporting here, let me just suggest that it matches what you might have gotten several decades ago in the Deep South:
Two negroes were arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest at last night's Klan meeting . . . .


Jim Fryar said...

I notice also that Jill Stein was arrested outside the Presidential debate forumn.

anonone said...

There really isn't any difference between America and any other dictatorship. How much clearer does it need to be when opposition candidates to the Official State Parties are violently hauled of and arrested?