Sunday, August 5, 2007

Politics for Dummies?

The first time I saw the book 'Computers for Dummies' I was somewhat put off by the title. Sure, I needed the advice it likely contained, but it felt a little odd being called a 'dummy' -by author? publisher?- if I bought it to read!

The latest issue of Cascadia Weekly uses the 'Dummy' gimmick to introduce only those candidates for local offices who have Primary races.
That includes for Bellingham, the Mayor, At-Large Council and Ward 4 Council seats; for Whatcom County, the District 1 Council seat; for Ferndale, the Mayor's race.
A 'ranking of candidates' is cleverly done as a continuation of the 'sub-genius' theme. Each candidate is tagged with a short label with a twist, designed to -not so subtlely- show the editor's preference.

But wait, there's more to this ranking system, that seems to be more of an insight into the editor's preferences than the candidates fitness for office!
But, hey, that's OK. It's an opinion piece -like this blog- except, the Weekly has a much bigger following and more bucks behind it.
Using the clever rating device of 'meters' for 'moxie' and 'chutzpah', the Weekly has designed something only it understands and placed it on the page where 'dummies' can be attracted to read it. Too clever by half!

Not content with just a marked deck, the Weekly then stacks this deck with an unexplained -but very obvious-rating system comprised of arrows - either up or down, and differing in length - that tell the 'dummy' voters which way to vote!
I got a real chuckle out of this, although some of my favorite candidates were thoroughly skewered by it.

The candidate rankings showed pronounced bias in two main areas; specifically the Bham Mayor's race, and generally, an anti-incumbent stance. Actually, the 'anti-incumbent' part was stretched to mean any one who had ever served the City, either in some elected capacity - or appointed one. Huh? What is that about? Isn't some prior experience desirable? Guess not, because those folks aren't as fun to watch as 'newbies'. Fresh meat is craved!

The point of this piece is not to tout the Weekly's cleverness, or complain about the candidate ranking system, but to reflect on what the former Weekly -the every other one- felt about actually picking favorites in local elections.
My recollection is that the former Weekly -same editor- thought that the practice of local media picking favorites was a poor one, and did not directly engage in that activity. Apparently, that philosophy has changed.

Perhaps this change was occasioned by the change in ownership? I don't know. More likely is the editor's penchant for taking sides on controversial topics with moxie and chutzpah, and thereby generating more buzz in our City of Subdued Excitement?
Maybe that is it! Pick a topic that is likely to generate all sorts of controversy, and light the fuse to see what happens!
Heck, other corporate media do that, why not? If that is part of the Weekly's MO, that's not all bad either, because such topics NEED to be discussed.

My main concern is whether a discussion is being deliberately lead in a direction that does not strike a reasonable balance between fact & opinion, pro & con, benefits vs costs, legality & illegality, needs vs wishes, and hidden agendas vs public ones.
But fairly evaluating those things is so boring, isn't it? Hard work can be that way, but that is ultimately what serves the public best, once a community's needs and priorities have been established. Changes are always in order, some more beneficial than others, because that is what keeps our democracy alive.
My caution is simple; don't overly abuse what is in our long term best interests with unworthy substitutes, like empty rhetoric, data-free analyses and a steady diet of complaining!

A J Liebling is credited with saying 'the power of the press belongs to those who own one'!
As a respected local source of fun, information and opinion, the Weekly provides a service and a voice that help citizens feel more a part of what's going on.
So, please don't over abuse your power of persuasion, but do keep on entertaining us!