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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Did the P-G and the Trib attend the same Democratic platform convention?

Posted By on Tue, Aug 12, 2008 at 7:47 AM

You may not have realized it, but the Democratic Party came to Pittsburgh last weekend and held not one but two gatherings to cobble together the planks of its national platform. The events were held at the same time, and in the same place (the David L. Lawrence Convention Center), but had totally different outcomes. At one gathering, supporters of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were able to put aside their differences. At the other, the two camps remained riven by bitterness and resentments.

I realize it sounds strange -- even for Democrats -- to try settling their differences in two separate events. But I can only assume that's what must have happened. Because I was recovering from having my wisdom teeth pulled, I had to rely on accounts from Pittsburgh's two daily newspapers. And it's impossible to see how they could have been at the same event.

Here, for example, is the headline of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's story about the convention, as covered by Jim O'Toole:

"Democrats convene here and reach a consensus on the party's platform"

and the story's lead:

"Democratic officials crossed a policy minefield without a misstep yesterday as they reached consensus on the party platform that will be submitted to the full convention in Denver later this month."

Over at the convention the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review covered, meanwhile, the story was somewhat different. As the headline warned:

"Party unity eludes Dems at platform meeting"  

And here's how the Trib's Mike Wereschagin began describing the convention he covered:

"Unity will have to wait.

Emotions of some supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton remain raw, months after Sen. Barack Obama all but locked up the Democratic Party's nomination for president. Their frustration bubbled to the surface Saturday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where more than 150 Democrats finalized the party's platform."

You'll note Democrats eventually agreed on something -- to wit, the platform that defines their ideals and aspirations. And Wereschagin eventually got around to mentioning the fact.

But the tone of his piece remains consistent throughout. In O'Toole's piece, moments of discord are exceptions to an overall consensus. In Wereschagin's piece, an overall consensus is just a momentary exception to ongoing discord.  

At this point, it's SOP to note the right-wing slant of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, whose publisher, Richard Mellon Scaife, is an ardent foe of all things Democratic. When the Trib endorsed Hillary Clinton earlier this year, for example, most Dems I know assumed it was simply because Scaife thought she'd be easier for McCain to beat.

So when the Democrats came to Pittsburgh, I'm sure the Trib's elders saw a chance to play up Democratic turmoil. And honestly, much of the Trib's account does read like an attempt to cater to the publisher's agenda. The headline especially is absurd: How can you say "party unity eludes Dems at platform meeting" when Dems at the meeting ... um ... agreed on their party's platform? 

Of course, Wereschagin is too conscientious a reporter to make stuff up, and he didn't have to. Divisions exist within any party, and you can always find someone to complain about what the majority has settled on. In fact, once you boil away the reporters' attempt to characterize the convention's tone and atmosphere, they both agree on the essential facts. 

Both papers, for example, note an attempt to abandon the caucus as a means by which states like Iowa choose the party's nominee. (I write about this issue in a column due out tomorrow, in fact -- a piece that reads as if the writer just had his wisdom teeth removed.) Both accounts noted the grievances of delegate Prameela Bartholomeus, a former Clinton backer. Both quote her assertions that these disputes won't hurt the party going forward. Only Wereschagin notes the presence of 15 die-hard Clinton backers who demostrated outside the meeting ... but only O'Toole notes a dispute over health-care reform.

The difference, really, isn't over the facts themselves, but over which facts the reporters present -- and how. Depending on what happens in November, I suppose it's possible for Wereschagin's account to seem prophetic in hindsight ... but I doubt it. In any case, other media outlets, followed the Post-Gazette in noting a lack of acrimony at the Pittsburgh gathering.

To me, Wereschagin's story points up the real, ongoing problem with the Tribune-Review. It's not that it's a hive of fanatical right-wingers, zealously carrying out the whims of their masters. It's largely made up of decent people who push themselves to get the facts right ... and are pushed by their "superiors" to get the context all wrong. 

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