Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fuzzy geography, or, "need some quote from supporter."

If you follow American politics with particular interest, you may know that Massachusetts' 4th Congressional District is the site of a lively contest between longtime Democratic incumbent Barney Frank and Republican challenger Sean Bielat.  Representative Frank's national profile and Bielat's success in generating buzz around his candidacy have helped draw media attention to the race, which interests me personally because I'm a native of the 4th District and my family still lives there.  Right after September's primary I speculated that this would be a race worth watching, and it seems to have become just that: though Frank so far leads in all public polls, his failure to pass the fifty-percent mark as well as strong fundraising and effective grassroots organizing on Bielat's part have led even some observers on the left to speculate that the GOP may have a chance of picking up the 4th District seat.

Speaking of polls, the Boston Globe yesterday released the results of a University of New Hampshire survey giving Frank a thirteen-point lead over Bielat.  This isn't too far from an earlier poll by Providence TV station WPRI putting Frank twelve points ahead of Bielat or a poll commissioned by the Bielat campaign suggesting a ten-point gap.  Even so, it bears mentioning that the Globe/UNH poll comes from the same people who claimed that Martha Coakley had a fifteen-point lead over Scott Brown a week before Brown defeated Coakley by roughly five points.  Polls like these have an effect on fundraising and party strategy as well as public perception of the candidates, but it remains true that the only poll that really counts is the one that takes place when the voters go to cast their ballots.  Whether or not Barney Frank merits a sixteenth term in the United States House of Representatives will be decided a week from today by the only people whose views on this particular question actually matter: the voters of Massachusetts' 4th Congressional District.

Given that the voters in the 4th District are the only people who really have a say in who wins the race between Bielat and Frank, I was bemused by this part of yesterday's Globe story on the contest:
In the Fourth District, Bielat, a business consultant and ex-Marine from Brookline, has become a fixture on conservative talk radio and favorite of Republican activists nationally, but voters in the district, according to follow-up interviews, seemed unsure of his positions, background, or even that he was running at all, while many voiced support for Frank, who has represented the diverse district for three decades.

“I think he’s served us very, very well over many, many years. My impression is he’s a very bright man, very funny, and very liberal,’’ said Hugh Coffman, a pediatric psychologist in Brookline. “I don’t know anything about his opponent.’’

Nancy Glynn of Marshfield, 48, an unemployed mortgage underwriter, said she was not voting for Governor Deval Patrick, but was supporting Frank because of his support for the fishing industry.

“He’s been a great guy,’’ she said.

But Manuel Ganz, 71, a retiree from Brookline, said he would be voting the GOP party line in the election.

“Basically, I’m a conservative. I don’t care who it is, I’m voting for the Republican,’’ Ganz said.
Nancy Glynn may appreciate what Barney Frank has done for the fishing industry, but it's not clear how she can show her support for him on Election Day given that Marshfield isn't in the 4th District.  If it's true that "many voiced support for Frank," why did Globe reporter Alan Wirzbicki feel obliged to use a supportive quotation from an individual who presumably isn't eligible to vote for Frank's re-election?

It isn't at all surprising that a Globe story on the 4th District race would be favorable to Frank, but it seems rather egregious to stack the rhetorical deck in the incumbent's favor by quoting "voters in the district" who don't actually live in the district.  Even if one supposes that the Globe is guilty of nothing worse than journalistic sloppiness, the fact that an obvious error in reporting went uncorrected is still distinctly unflattering to the newspaper.  On November 2nd, we should receive a more reliable indication of what the voters of the 4th District have to say.  AMDG.

For the origin of the phrase "need some quote from supporter," click here.


At 10/27/2010 9:48 AM, Blogger All for PETZ said...

That is a great catch, Joe. It points out that once again, the Globe has totally lost all of it's journalistic integrity. They know that Sean Bielat is poised to win this election and they will do everything they can to support their liberal candidates.

I live in the 4th District (Taunton), and if they ask me, I will tell the Globe exactly why.

At 10/27/2010 12:43 PM, Anonymous SuburbanVoice said...


Thanks for thinking of us back in the 4th! I'm glad you caught the Globe's error.

I live in Newton, and, unlike the Globe's quoted psychologist, I started looking for an opponent to Barney Frank last April. When I found Sean Bielat, I was thrilled. Working for him has been inspiring.

At 10/27/2010 4:40 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Thank you both for the comments. I was back home briefly earlier this month and spent time in both ends of the district (I was in Rochester and New Bedford, and also passed through Newton). Everywhere I went, signs for Bielat outnumbered signs for Frank by a significant margin. Signs don't vote, but their presence makes it hard to argue that Bielat is a complete unknown.

Of course, the Globe article has flaws beyond the one error that I pointed out in the original post. For example, one could make something of the fact that the other two quotes from "voters in the district" are both attributed to Brookline residents. As the Globe admits, the 4th is a "diverse district" - not just in geographic or socioeconomic terms, but in ideological and political terms as well. It would be absurd to pretend that one can accurately represent the views of such a district by quoting two people from the same town, plus another who lives outside the district - and yet the Globe piece tries to do exactly that. Students trying this sort of thing in academic papers would deservedly receive poor marks. Why, then, is a 'newspaper of record' allowed to get away with it?


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