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Published: Sunday, 7/22/2012

Coverage of Romney generates reader complaints

BY JACK LESSENBERRY
BLADE OMBUDSMAN

Is The Blade being fair to Mitt Romney?

Some readers think the newspaper has been too hard on the man who is about to become the GOP nominee for president.

And, a few think The Blade hasn't been hard enough on his campaign. But what's the truth? More importantly, how do you get at whatever the "truth" is about any political campaign?

Those who think the paper is showing a liberal political bias against the former Massachusetts governor include Jim Damschroder, who was upset at a Blade headline on July 12: "Romney booed, jeered during NAACP speech."

"Your headline belongs on your editorial page," said Mr. Damschroder, who accused the paper of "cheerleading" for the President and of displaying opinion, not news.

When I read the story, which came from the New York Times news service, I wondered, however, if the complaining reader had actually read beyond the headline. The overall tone seemed quite favorable to Mr. Romney. It accurately quoted his main points, and a number of attendees interviewed were impressed by the presidential candidate, even if they disagreed with his politics.

"I give him thumbs up for being courageous," one man said. The story also noted that President Obama also was invited to speak to the convention, but sent Vice President Joe Biden instead.

The fact is, however, that many people only read the headlines of many stories. So was this one a gross distortion?

Well, not really. I later watched the speech, and the delegates did indeed boo and jeer Mr. Romney, especially perhaps when he said he would make it a priority to repeal "Obamacare."

I think The Blade's headline was accurate -- but I think that it would have been more balanced had the editors inserted what newspaper people call a "subhead," perhaps saying something like "But wins grudging respect among delegates."

The need to fit everything together on the page may, however, have made that hard to do. That's not the only complaint the newspaper has had about Romney coverage.

Paul Wohlfarth of Ottawa Lake, Mich., attended a rally for Mr. Romney in Bowling Green. He found the audience nearly all white. He said that when he entered with a black colleague, they were met with hostile stares and were hassled by security. "As shocking as it may seem, the Wood County Mitt Romney rally was only attended by white America … your coverage seemed to miss this fact."

And on the other hand, Bob Macrina of Maumee is angry about the President's claim that Mr. Romney outsourced jobs. "When will you print an article or editorial calling Obama on his misrepresentation of Romney's record?" he wrote.

"Obama is basing his whole campaign on the [claim] that Romney outsourced jobs, and it's based on a lie."

But is it untrue? Your ombudsman would resign this job immediately if he thought the editors of this newspaper would knowingly print lies.

Ever since George Washington's day, campaign rhetoric has consisted of a dash of truth -- and a healthy mixture of everything from hyperbole to shading the truth to out-and-out falsehoods.

The latter, however, are relatively rare. The issue here has to do with Mr. Romney's role at Bain Capital, the firm he once ran.

Mr. Romney left active management of the firm in 1999, and for a time said he left the company then. But he had claimed in regulatory filings that he was in charge of the firm till 2002, though for those last three years he apparently wasn't directly involved.

But he was an owner and did take a salary -- and Bain did outsource jobs during those three years. So, was the candidate responsible for outsourcing? Depends on how you look at it.

So it isn't clear what's a "lie" and what isn't. There's going to be a lot more campaign rhetoric in the months ahead. Helping voters sort this out is an important part of any newspaper's job.

Ethically, The Blade needs to represent all sides, and to the extent it has the resources to do so, the editors and reporters should show readers what claims are true and which are false, regardless of the positions the editorial page takes. Readers are welcome to let me know how they think the paper is doing.

Moving from politics to people in trouble: Federal and local authorities swooped down on a South Toledo garage and arrested a bunch of people on July 12. Two later were charged in federal court.

The Blade's initial story on July 13 had few details on just why the garage was raided but did say who owned the property.

A reporter went to that couple's residence "and found no one at home except for three laying hens" and went on to further describe the look of the property.

Reader Dave Ledrick thought that wasn't fair. He knows the owners, Dr. Sulaiman Abawi and Dr. Lailah Abawi, who are physicians. They haven't been charged with any crime, and Mr. Ledrick thinks that doing this makes them look guilty and could be "rather damaging to their reputation."

Dave Murray, The Blade's managing editor, agrees that the paper got a bit carried away with description. "The Abawis were the owners of the property, and that's all we should have said. Adding details about the number of chickens they owned was not relevant."

So for now, let's let the cluck stop there.

Anyone who has a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660, or at my Detroit office, 563 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me at 1-888-746-8610, or email me at OMBLADE@aol.com. I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply. Reminder, however: If you don't leave me an email address or a phone number, I have no way to get in touch with you.

Jack Lessenberry is a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former national editor of The Blade.



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