Monday, May 24, 2010

StarTribune needs to check its headlines for accuracy

Saturday's headline in the StarTribune read, "Hopefuls for governor seek $6 billion solution: Gubernatorial candidates float ideas like taxing the rich, cutting human services, and putting slots at horse-racing tracks."

The headline should have read, "Gubernatorial hopefuls seek solution to $6 billion deficit: Democrat and Independent gubernatorial candidates float ideas like taxing the rich, cutting human services, and putting slots at horse-racing tracks." I didn't like the "seek $6 billion solution," because when first reading it, it implies the candidates are seeking to spend $6 billion as a solution to something. The headline is not only inaccurate but unclear.

This selection from the article details what I believe to be a sloppy job of reporting what Republican candidate Tom Emmer proposes:

Emmer, the Republican-endorsed candidate for governor, has not offered details on his plan to balance the state budget.

On the campaign trail, Emmer said a state government reduction of 20 percent "would be easy." He says the cuts would be the result of an overhaul of state government, rather than across-the-board slashing.

"We will start taking apart those things and do what people expect and deserve," he said.

Emmer said his budget plan will take shape soon based on talks with Minnesotans. His priorities include maintaining roads and bridges and providing general education.

A steady refusal to raise taxes characterized his budget philosophy in the Legislature. Emmer voted against the latest budget compromise, which included $3 billion in cuts and shifts negotiated by fellow Republican Pawlenty.

Emmer said he agreed with the spending priorities mostly, but the deal "missed the opportunity to do significant structural reform."

As far as the above excerpt goes, I think Emmer's wanting to talk to Minnesotans on the campaign trail before he produces a final budget plan is admirable. He is going into this with the absolute correct attitude: the governor of Minnesota works for the people of Minnesota. The people need to have a say in what the budget should include.

To say "Emmer hasn't offered details on his plan to balance the state budget" is just lazy. On Emmer's official website, Emmer for Governor, he offers this under the heading, "Government Spending:"

As governor, I will stop the spend-and-tax cycle by calling first and foremost for a balancing of the budget. I will not accept a spending bill until the deficit no longer exists. I will not support tax increases that place the burden for excessive spending on taxpayers. I will drastically reduce the size of government through elimination of duplicative programs and services within state agencies, and the employees who provide them.

We must define what government does, and then we must prioritize.

We can invest in our priorities by making smart choices. We must reduce the size of government by eliminating excessive and unnecessary bureaucracies, and spending will reduce naturally.

This is just a portion of what is included in the "Government Spending" tab on Emmer's website. Does the StarTribune not allow its reporters to use information the candidate himself put on his website and maybe, I don't know, contact the candidate or the candidate's staff for clarification? This seems easy enough to me.

The article's subhead: "Gubernatorial candidates float ideas like taxing the rich, cutting human services and putting slots at horse-racing tracks," only includes ideas from the Democrat and Independent candidates. Taxing the rich comes from Mark Dayton and every other DFL candidate. DFL endorsed candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher says she's against it, but then says she's for it:

She said she won't be limited by seemingly simplistic campaign pledges, such as no-tax promises or balancing the bulk of the budget on the backs of high earners. She opposes both ideas as ironclad approaches.

The next sentence, however, reads:

Creating a new top-tier income tax rate for couples with a taxable income of more than $250,000 is a top priority.

So let's see, she won't be limited by "simplistic campaign pledges" such as "balancing the bulk of the budget on the backs of high earners," but creating a higher tax bracket for high-earning couples is a "top priority." Hmmmmmmm.

"Cutting human services" came from DFLer Matt Entenza, and "putting slots at horse racing tracks" comes from Indepencence Party candidate, Tom Horner. None of these ideas is from a Republican.

So, the article's headline ignores the Republican candidate but doesn't say so. I think that's inaccurate. Then it lists potentially controversial ideas some of the candidates have come up with, and leaves it up to the reader, who may only look at the headline and not read every word of the article, to infer which idea came from whom.

I think the editor who writes the headlines should pay more attention to detail. Clearly nobody was really paying attention when this article was written, unless they intended to make Margaret Anderson Kelliher look like a hypocrite.

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