A Manufactured Issue?

Chase Martyn over at Iowa Indpendent worte a post yesterday asserting that The Des Moines Register, and in particular columnist David Yepsen, manufactured the recent political controversy over leasing out the Iowa Lottery.

I respectfully disagree.

Yepsen wrote that a plan for leasing the lotteryto business interests in exchange for at least $200 million had the look of a done deal. Martyn argues that Democratic leaders had not publicly embraced the idea, questions remained unanswered and that Yepsen went overboard. And in the end, Republicans benefited.

A few thoughts.

First, the column was Yepsen’s opinion,  based on his observations and sources etc.  Agree or disagree. It’s a free country. But I’m less interested in defending a column or a newspaper than I am in questioning the approach to covering news that Martyn appears to advocate.

At the Statehouse, there’s lots of spin and B.S. being thrown around. So as a reporter, blogger etc., you have to learn to look for and read the signs behind the posturing. Just because something hasn’t been embraced publicly doesn’t mean it’s not very much a live round.

No legislative leaders made a big public announcement last year about their plan for expanding collective bargaining, and yet, there it was.

The lottery lease was clearly a live round. When Democratic leaders met with our editorial board late last month, they did not “embrace” the plan. But they were clearly interested. House Speaker Pat Murphy characterized it as one of those crazy “innovations” that might look pretty damn good toward the end of the session when the budget needs balancing.

This is no small policy issue. It’s a major change that could have a significant impact on the state. Sometimes the media has an obligation to get out in front and blow off lids that our leaders would rather keep closed for the time being. This was clearly something that leaders wanted to sit on until the time was right. It didn’t work out that way.

As for the political implications, who cares? It’ s a story. You report it. Let the chips fall.

In this case, criticism of the plan grew and the governor’s office booted the idea, on a Saturday no less. Is it really dead? Who knows? Nothing ever is at the Statehouse until the last gavel falls.

But this was not a manufactured issue. It was a plan to sell a valuable state asset to a group of people who also happen to be Democratic campaign contributors. That’s news in my book.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “A Manufactured Issue?

  1. Todd,

    Thanks for contributing to this discussion.

    My complaint isn’t with any single column or news story, it’s with the nearly constant stream of coverage of it that the Register produced over the past week and a half that treated selling the lottery as the most important proposal of the year.

    There are plenty of shell games played each session at the capitol, so of course journalists shouldn’t take everything leaders of either party say at face value.

    Saying “the fix is in” went a step beyond simply questioning what leaders were saying. It contradicted the one specific thing that they were willing to say on the record about the idea — namely, that they weren’t sure whether there was support for it in their caucuses, and they would have to look at the idea more closely.

    My own reporting suggested that on this count, at least, leaders were telling the truth. And the Register’s own Jason Clayworth said in a video I embedded in my post that he didn’t think a sale of the lottery was likely because Democrats seemed split and Republicans were lined up in opposition.

    Still, Culver’s Saturday announcement wasn’t met by Yepsen with praise, but rather with more conspiracy theories.

    I won’t claim that the idea of selling the lottery was never seriously considered by anyone, but that is far different from claiming that “the fix is in.” There are all kinds of ideas being considered by the governor and legislators right now, and selling the lottery was never more likely than a lot of the others that are still on the table.

    I am loathe to criticize journalists for making editorial decisions in good faith, even if those decisions turn out to be off the mark. But I also understand the temptation to declare victory in a battle against an opponent that never really existed, and that’s what I see happening here.

  2. tdorman

    Thank you for responding, Chase. I appreciate the give and take and hope others join in.

  3. tdorman

    Oops, didn’t mean to hit submit so quick.

    Perhaps we can agree that “the fix is in,” was over the top. But I also think “manufactured” goes too far. Both got my attention, however. So there’s that.

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