Sunday, February 05, 2006

Who says improper influence?

This week's Speakout question in The Sun dealt with the influence developers -- through their deep pockets -- have over politicians. Certainly, many people are wary of this situation, some so much so that they've proposed banning developers from contributing to campaigns. I'm not terribly concerned about this because if politicians are really just developers' puppets, they'd never win elections.

Apparently, my views on this might be shared by others, since The Sun's question only prompted one person to write in, and he actually turned the question on its head:

The Sun poses the question: Will developers' campaign contributions influence Chris Merdon or Ken Ulman, when one is elected Howard County executive? It would also seem fair to ask The Sun: Do advertising revenues from real estate brokers and developers influence the paper's coverage of local news?

The questions reflect a common reality: It takes money to run for office just like it takes money to run a newspaper.

The mere presence of contributions or ad revenues does not mean undue influence is taking place. But it behooves the electorate and the reading public to watch carefully for any evidence to the contrary.

One of the best responses I've ever read in the year or so The Sun's had this feature.


Anonymous said...

I think you answered this question in your post "worst headline ever". Using the number of attendees at Harry Dunbar's fundraiser to guage the anti-development climate in the county is naive at best.. (and when did a Columbia candidate ever talk about growth and development issues? They've been protected until now.

Hayduke said...

If you're accusing me of doing in this post what I criticize the Sun for doing in the "worst headline" post--that is, drawing conclusions based solely on anecdotal evidence--than you're right, and I'm guilty of it. I probably shouldn't have said "my views on this might be shared by others..." but it was a throw-away line I didn't give any thought to, much like most of what I say on this blog! Just kidding.

I disagree that Columbia candidates aren't or haven't been forced to talk about growth and development issues. I seem to recall such issues being prevalent in elections past, but without searching the Columbia Flier archives I'd be hard pressed to back that up with any "real" data. And I've learned my lesson about assumptions and naive conclusions.

Regardless, candidates will have to talk about these issues for the same reason developer money isn't a major concern of mine. Voters will (or should) control the campaign dialogue. And they'll control the outcome, too.

Anonymous said...

my point was- Is the Sun already bowing to pressures from development and real estate clients? Was the headline that indicated that growth wasn't an issue because of Dunbar's turnout an indication of caving to those pressures? Is the particularly sneering tone of the Turf Valley coverage part of the attempt to pacify the $ people.... Or.. is it just a coincidence?

Hayduke said...

Oh, that's clearer. I'm not sure I'd ascribe malice or undue developer influence to what can easily be explained by the personal biases of reporters (and headline writers). Having worked at for a local paper that got a lot of money from developers, I know the editorial side was always pretty disconnected from the sales side, and there was never pressure from above to appease advertisers. That said, my experience is probably not identical to those of others.
With respect to the Dunbar headline, I think we can chalk that one up to the common newspaper mistake of drawing broad conclusions from single events. As for Turf Valley, you're right that the tone was anti-citizen, but I think that can be explained by rememebering that the opposition in that case had a tendancy to drag things on, which meant the reporter had to sit through many meetings until late in the night. This reporter was probably more interested in getting home and watching TV, and therefore allowed some of his or her emotion to leak into the writing. Just a guess, though.
As I said, every paper is different. Some may indeed allow advertisers to influence reporting. However, in most cases, human fallibilty is to blame.