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Published: Sunday, 11/25/2012

Headline over early voting story crossed the line

BY JACK LESSENBERRY
BLADE OMBUDSMAN

Well, one thing is beyond dispute: The elections are over.

That doesn’t mean that readers haven’t had a few final concerns about The Blade’s coverage. Reader Richard Martin had a beef about the four-column Page One headline on Election Day: “Citizens turned away from early vote site.”

“I take strong exception to the headline,” he said. “One has to read well into the article [to where it continues] on Page 4, to find out the citizens who were turned away were those who arrived to vote AFTER the polls had legally closed at 2 p.m.!

“Whether we agree with it or not, the law stated the polls will close at 2 p.m. on Monday. As noted in The Blade, anyone in line by that deadline was allowed to vote. Shouldn’t a newspaper headline reasonably reflect the contents of the article?” asked Mr. Martin, who was a Wood County precinct judge.

Well yes, it should — and your ombudsman agrees with him. This was misleading. The story was actually mostly about the enthusiasm the citizens at the early voting site had over the election.

Headlines shouldn’t make a story seem more sensational than it actually is, and in my opinion, this one crossed the line.

Speaking of which … there don’t seem to be a lot of gracious losers in elections anymore. Several hours after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney conceded defeat, one Toledo lady e-mailed me: WE ARE NOW A COMMUNIST COUNTRY RULED BY A MUSLIM.

There isn’t much you can say about that, except that all the evidence indicates that neither thing is true.

Two callers, however, asked me what I thought at first was a puzzling question: They wondered if it might now not be time to do away with the Electoral College, “since Governor Romney won the popular vote.” Actually, President Obama won the popular vote fairly decisively, as well as a 332-206 margin in the Electoral Vote.

However, there was some reason for their confusion: These days, votes from heavily Republican areas are counted early on election night. Many Democratic votes come in later. Mr. Romney had a lead of more than a million votes at one point and was still narrowly ahead when the news service proclaimed Mr. Obama the winner about 11:15 p.m.

So what was the final tally? Incredibly, we won’t know for weeks yet; one of the odder features of U.S. elections is that some states keep counting absentee ballots as late as December. (Ohio still has several hundred thousand provisional ballots to count.)

But as of now, with the vast majority of votes tallied, the count stands at: President Obama 64,037,946 votes, or 50.8 percent, to 59,944,056 for Mr. Romney, who had 47.5 percent.

While relatively close, that’s a bigger difference than in the close elections of 2000 or 2004.

“Why [did] The Blade in the Monday, Nov. 19 article on Obama’s visit refer to the nation consistently as Myanmar,” Becky Hansen of Bowling Green asked me.

“It would seem to me that The Blade should use the term the White House prefers — which is Burma.”

Kurt Franck, The Blade’s executive editor, explained that “The Blade’s style, like that of the AP and other news services, is to call it Myanmar. The ruling junta changed the name years ago.”

Your ombudsman believes that it is only fair to call countries what they call themselves. In the case of Burma/Myanmar, this is a little complicated, because the name was changed by a military junta that we have generally opposed.

Residents of that country who want democracy, most notably Aung San Suu Kyi, still call it Burma. But President Obama himself called the nation Myanmar on his historic trip last week.

What’s even more confusing is that residents still call it variations of both names, each of which isn’t quite the way the Burmese/Myanmarese say it. This is not, obviously, simple.

Notre Dame football fans seemingly aren’t happy with being undefeated and ranked No. 1 this year. They don’t think they are getting enough coverage in The Blade. “As a Notre Dame fan since the days the team wore leather helmets with a cross on top, I feel insulted by The Blade sports department,” Maury Collins wrote.

Sue LaPointe added “Notre Dame is one of those teams that has endeared itself to the country, so can you please help me to understand why Notre Dame does not receive more press?”

Frank Corsoe, The Blade’s sports editor, says the newspaper hasn’t exactly ignored the Fighting Irish.

“We’ve had more stories about Notre Dame this year than in any previous year since I came in 2005,” he said, adding that it was impossible for last Sunday’s Blade to carry a story about the team being No. 1 because the rankings weren’t released until after deadline.

Your ombudsman thinks the main problem is that there simply isn’t enough space in any paper to satisfy the fans of every football team in the country. (Since Notre Dame beat both my alma maters, Michigan and Michigan State, I may not be totally objective ...)

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, 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 e-mail 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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