by David Safier
AZ Blue Meanie and Mike Bryan have done a terrific job of taking Jesse Kelly apart, here and here. I have nothing to add to their take-downs. My concern here is, will Tucson mainstream media create a false equivalence between Ron Barber and Jesse Kelly, or will it point out that Barber's ideas are mainly fact-based while Kelly creates ridiculous fictions that have only the most tenuous relationship to reality?
If the Star, et al, simply report "Barber said A, Kelly said B," without fact checking the statements, that's not being "fair" to both candidates. That's shirking the duty of the press to inform the public. A reporter shouldn't simply report that Kelly claims the U.S. has more oil than Saudi Arabia, to take the most outrageous statement in his repertoire, without saying the statement makes no sense. Following a Kelly whopper with a Barber rebuttal isn't enough, since that implies Kelly is simply stating one side and Barber the other.
Brady McCombs is the new Star reporter on the political beat. He seems like an honest, responsible, intelligent guy, and I've seen him do good investigative reporting in the past, but he doesn't quite have his political sea legs under him. He's more comfortable reporting what he reads and hears than looking into the statements he dutifully transcribes. At a time when an increasing number of political analysts, including moderate Democrats and Republicans, are distancing themselves from the extremism and lies of the current Republican Party (see The battle against false equivalence, Part 1), a reporter can't assume politicians' statements are within shouting distance of the truth without looking into the facts.
Oh, and creating a false equivalence between a slight exaggeration or misstatement on one side and an outright distortion or lie on the other isn't OK either. You can always play "gotcha" with a politician since they're all liable to spin the world to their advantage. But, by way of example, if one guy swipes a Snickers from a 7-11 and the other guy robs a bank, it makes no sense to say "They're both criminals" and leave it at that.
The Star has Fitz, who pulls no punches and suffers no fools gladly. But he's an editorialist and a satirist, so he plays under different rules than a reporter. If Southern Arizona political reporters want to see how a reporter does it, they should read Jim Nintzel's cover story in the Weekly, Barber vs. Kelly: Who will be the heavyweight in CD 8? He presents the two men fairly, but he doesn't try to create equivalences where none exist.