Friday, August 18, 2006

Some Final Notes on Tennessean Coverage of the NCSL

This morning's Tennessean includes a report on the speech by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and informs readers that a Nebraska legislator played a piano in a public area of the hotel and that a Mississippi legislative staffer bought a cardboard Elvis. However, they did not carry a word about any of the concurrent sessions conducted at yesterday's meetings. Thus, people in Nashville probably don't know about any of the following:

At a meeting yesterday on "Capturing DNA's Crime Potential," according to a source, a presenter asked media to leave before the end of a meeting so that he could discuss information related to the Jon Benet Ramsey case.

At a meeting on "E-Legislatures: Technology and the Policymaking Process," a legislator from Utah discussed how his blog had helped him to respond to a reporter's attacks on his community, with the result that the reporter ultimately admitted that his information had been flawed. The legislator also claimed that he had achieved the adoption of legislation that would not have passed if he had not used his blog to promote the issue.

Tennessee state senator Roy Herron and state representative Mark Maddox led a session on political humor. Since the Tennessean seems determined to focus almost exclusively on light, fuzzy moments at the conference, this offered them the chance to do so while actually covering something done by Tennessee leaders at the meeting.

Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summit spoke on "Creating a Championship Team" at the legislative staff luncheon.

A major display focused on biodiesel technology, with proponents making claims of improved environmental standards and fuel efficiency. The Oracle has been hoping all week for a discussion of these claims from industry proponents and environmental activists, but has not seen it.

Vanderbilt political science professor John Geer joined Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist and former Al Gore speech writer Jeff Nussbaum in a discussion of how the use of language frames public debate and determines the way that the public views an issue. This was the most overtly partisan meeting that the Oracle attended. Norquist repeatedly stated that Republicans wanted to reduce spending and Democrats wanted higher taxes and was largely unchallenged on that premise. He was unchallenged in spite of the fact that his organization retains an affiliation with Tom Delay's pork friendly K-Street Project and Norquist himself, though not accused of any illegal activity, has been shown to have been overtly helpful to his friend from his College Republican days, corrupt Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Of course, the Tennessean couldn't cover everything. However, one wonders that they hardly covered anything of substance at all. Some will argue that this is the stuff of political junkies and that the public is not all that interested. While there is some truth to that claim, it should also be pointed out that many of these stories include matters of local interest and impact. Furthermore, when the Tennessean fails to cover any of the substantive happenings at a conference of this nature, they re-enforce the cynical and inaccurate notion expressed by some that this meeting is nothing more than a love fest for legislators and lobbyists.

Finally, I would point out that not a single Tennessean columnist who covers politics -- or anything else -- has included anything from this conference in a column to date. One supposes that journalists who graduate to writing opinion enjoy the freedom of not being required to cover a beat. However, good opinion journalists do not restrict themselves to pontificating from 30,000 feet. Too much of what Tennessean columnists do -- no, Mr. Daughtrey, I didn't mention you by name -- could be accomplished while sitting around in their pajamas all day and never leaving home.

So says this blogger.

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