Reporting on politics can be dicey, as anyone involved in the craft will relate. This field of endeavor is literally laden with land mines and brickbats from readers and other critics.
Last week, The New York Times, in its international edition, published a cartoon that drew criticism, including from one of the newspaper’s highly regarded OpEd columnists, about images communicating anti-Semitic and/or anti-Zionist memes. The Grey Lady issued an apology, along with a commitment to police its processes evermore carefully. That was the correct response.
This past week, the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) issued a data report concerning the effects of redistricting upon some 425,000 Virginians pursuant to a contentious lawsuit, resulting in a court-ordered redistricting map. While such data are a glazed donut for political wonks and writers, it is also vital information for the general public. However, under its familiar masthead, VPAP opted to include a covering message to the data tables, which included this statement as explanation:
…to resolve a Democratic-funded gerrymandering lawsuit
If not overtly, the phrase at least connotes that the Democrats have in some way (via legal challenge) traumatized the state’s voting process by redistricting 425,000 voters in the Commonwealth.
VPAP proudly promotes itself as a not-for-profit, nonpartisan service dedicated to providing, in its daily publication, a statewide view of issues of concern, from the environment to business to politics, among others. On occasion, a conservative slip dips below the organization’s hemline to reveal subtle bias. The statement cited above is one such instance.
VPAP simply could have said nothing about the origin of the redistricting and simply reported its effects. Whatever necessity prompted the inclusion of the phrase, the words selected could have been non-normative, e.g. “re-districted as a result of a lawsuit.” If the phrase was employed as a measure to explain the political context of the redistricting, then VPAP had an obligation to be more complete in its messaging by adding the following:
The VAGOP also spent significant sums of money defending the racially drawn boundaries, as the redistricting affects its majorities in the General Assembly. The state had already spent several million dollars defending the district map prior to appeals.
As VPAP’s covering message stands, it insinuates a deliberate political strategy by one political party, willing to spend money, to achieve a political objective affecting hundreds of thousands of Virginians. The Grey Lady Times had the grace to acknowledge its error and apologize to readers. VPAP, we’re listening and watching.