Panel discusses media treatment of election candidates

Peter Johnson

The Society of Professional Journalists and the Minnesota Journalism Center co-hosted a panel discussion at Murphy Hall on Tuesday to discuss election 2000 media coverage.
The panel stated that its goal was “to have all the candidates, win or lose, take this opportunity to talk with the press about the coverage and assess if it was fair, accurate and thorough.”
The event featured speakers, including Bill Salisbury of the Pioneer Press, Dennis McGrath of the Star Tribune, Tom Hauser of KSTP-TV, Ashley Grant of The Associated Press, Independence Party Senate candidate Jim Gibson and Kurt Zellers, a spokesman for the Rod Grams campaign. Senator-elect Mark Dayton declined an invitation to attend.
Gibson and Zellers spoke about their experiences with media coverage — Gibson as an underdog candidate and Zellers as a spokesman for an incumbent’s campaign.
“I had a hard time not sympathizing with the media because I can really appreciate the role they’re placed in,” Gibson said. “On the one hand they have the business interests and concern about what the readers want, and on the other they have a need to provide some sense of balance regarding third parties.”
“Most of the time Republicans rail against the liberal media bias,” Zellers said. “But in our case I would say that at least the reporters who covered (Grams) were very fair and accurate. Now editorial boards on the other hand …”
Gibson agreed the coverage was just, adding, “The press went out of their way to try to be fair.”
Discussion ranged from the relationship between funds raised and coverage — a topic the panelists thought was the top issue of the campaign — and how media decide who to cover and in what capacity.
“I think that the coverage of the Senate race this year probably had more substance and substantive stories about issues than any other recent statewide election that I can recall,” McGrath said. “Part of it was the nature of the campaigns — these candidates debated 15 times, which is unheard of.”
There was some disagreement among the panelists on how negative the campaign was and how it affected voters.
“A lot of the nastiness and a lot of the worst ads weren’t run by the candidates themselves, they were run by outside groups,” Grant said. “It was nastier than other campaigns I’ve seen in other states.”
But Bill Salisbury disagreed.
“This wasn’t as nasty as some of the campaigns I’ve covered in the past,” he said. “Part of the reason is that James Gibson set a very civil tone during the debates.”
“I think the senator (Grams) hurt himself by his negative tone,” Gibson said. “The audience didn’t appreciate that. It is my observation that people want to be inspired.”

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