Another election cycle is entering its luteal phase and what’s old is new again. The seemingly endless debate over moving the county seat from Prosser continues, the Letters to the Editor mailbag is overflowing with local political junkies' endorsements and real life versions of Red vs. Blue may cause a shift in the political balance, which will ultimately result in the same fruitless back and forth between moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats we’ve all grown so accustomed to.
Atypical hubbubs between media and politics have garnered some attention, however. Security guards for Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller detained Tony Hopfinger, editor of the Alaska Dispatch. NPR told its staff not to attend the semi-political Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies in Washington, D.C., before its controversial firing of analyst Juan Williams, touching off a debate about whether NPR should continue to receive federal funding.
Aside from the usual complaints that we withhold letters to the editor supporting candidates we didn't endorse, it's been fairly quiet at the often tumultuous intersection between media and politics. The Herald's own Michelle Dupler helped moderate a debate between U.S. Senate candidates Dino Rossi and Patty Murray, but that's just cool, not controversial.
In fact, the only uncommon complaints I was able to drum up after a brief and informal stroll and poll of Herald editors and reporters was one I was involved in, conveniently perpetuating my self-absorption. The local Tea Party hosted a candidate meet-and-greet on Sept. 12, which I covered with recently departed reporter Pratik Joshi. Knowing that featuring any one candidate for the photo in print would spark furious accusations of favoritism, I immediately clued in on Prosser's Rattlesnake Ridge Liberty Brigade, whose members were setting up a national debt board they would be updating throughout the rally:
Never miss a local story.
Nearby, judicial candidate Dave Petersen was setting up his booth:
Soon after, the rally got started and I continued my photo coverage. When it came time to assemble the photo gallery, I wanted to include a shot of setup and this was my best one. I paused, however, considering the fact that Petersen is the brother-in-law of former Herald photographer Molly Van Wagner-Petersen. A tiny red flag popped up in my head before I reconsidered. Excluding images of him would be unfair and it's not like including a photo of him setting up his booth is an endorsement, right? Especially considering that it's one of 19 photos from the event and several other photos feature individual candidates or their signs.
Once again, I underestimated the complaint threshold of newspaper readers. While it was far from a big controversy, we did get a few misguided calls accusing us of endorsing Petersen.
More recently, I covered a couple of photo ops by Rossi and Murray. Rossi was first, using a Pasco farm as the backdrop for his press conference about the so-called "Death Tax." I made sure to show up early and try to get a slightly less-contrived photo of some actual interaction:
before snapping some of the standard presser photos, which I sent over the AP wire:
The former worked well since Pratik’s story featured David Drouhard, second from right.
It's really not a huge difference, but more of a workaday photojournalists' attempt at capturing something more "real" — a distinction that’s surely all but lost on the average reader.
Murray’s whistlestop at a local Democratic office also was full of photo ops with happy supporters at the active call center:
And she maintained a handshake with the volunteer as still and video cameras captured the almost real scene:
I ended up going with this shot of Murray meeting some high school students who weren’t necessarily supporters since Michelle’s story led with them:
But I stuck around for the more press-conferencey part of the program, where Murray supporters served as the backdrop for TV cameras:
Then I set about entertaining myself:
This shot was briefly considered as a photo for the following weekend's Senate race story. It's quirky, it's different and it's not the controlled image campaigns work so hard to set up for us. Still, without an analogous photo for Rossi, it could appear to make fun of Murray, so we ultimately went with the basic press conference shots from both.
Potential crisis averted.
I suppose the mild political climate is fitting when considering the weather, spicy food and nightlife here. It sure could be a whole lot worse:
UPDATE: Looks like I missed a juicy tidbit at Gawker yesterday. Their publication of an anonymous man's account of an encounter with Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell three years ago elicited strong reactions. Read their defense of publication here.