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H-T coverage unfair to Democrats

By Scott Tibbs, October 9, 2007

Some local Democrats are very unhappy with the Herald-Times over the way the paper handled the Democrats for Sabbagh story, and I can't say I blame them. The H-T ran an above the fold, front-page headline about little more than a campaign mailing piece. The placement of the headline raises objectivity questions for a newspaper that claims to be unbiased in straight news reporting.

Make no mistake about it, if the H-T ran an identical story about "Republicans for Kruzan", Republicans would be very unhappy about it. I would likely be at the front of the line calling for the H-T to apologize for a lack of judgment. How can we, as Republicans, support the way the Herald-Times handled this story knowing how it could be turned back on us in the future? The H-T is no friend of Republicans. You need look no further for evidence than the fact that Mike Leonard got away with fabricating a Congressional vote that never took place.

Is the story newsworthy, as H-T editor Bob Zaltsberg has argued? There is no question the story is newsworthy. The fact that Bloomington Township Trustee Nancy Brinegar endorsed Sabbagh is in and of itself big news. Brinegar is a Democrat elected official and won in a huge landslide last year. Her popularity probably made the margin of my defeat in my race for Township Board even bigger than it otherwise would have been. The problem is not the story itself, but the way the H-T handled it.

Zaltsberg didn't even get his facts right. Five years ago, Democrats David Hamilton and Joni Reagan endorsed the Republicans running to replace them on the Monroe County Council. This was a huge story that illustrated a conflict between moderate Democrats and "Green" Democrats that were gaining influence over the Democrat Party. I'm surprised that Zaltsberg missed mentioning that in his editorial yesterday.

Democrats would be wise to avoid overreacting to the H-T's bad decision. Calling the H-T "Sabbagh's newspaper" or a Republican newspaper is a credibility-shredding claim. Democrats overreacted in the redistricting controversy two years ago, overreacted to another blunder made by the H-T in reporting on a County Council meeting, and overreacted to the recount contest controversy last December. (See articles here and here.) Democrats have an opportunity to get some political traction out of this, but if they go too far in response they run the risk of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.