Journalism

The Des Moines Register's presidential endorsement is short-sighted and shallow; Iowa deserves better journalism

by Andrea Frantz

My husband and I, Iowa natives both, recently returned to our home state after 14 years in Pennsylvania. There were many things to look forward to as we anticipated our move home, not the least of which was the fact that we have long deemed Iowa an independent-minded state both socially and politically.

I am proud of the fact that I was raised in the state whose Supreme Court ruled against racially segregated schools more than 80 years before the Federal Supreme Court would do the same. In the same vein, Iowa was the nation’s leader to ensure its public schools were co-educational, guaranteeing that women could have the same opportunities for education that men had so long enjoyed. And I celebrated its forward-thinking attitude when it became the fifth state in the nation to legalize gay marriage.

We also looked forward to returning to Iowa’s long tradition of excellence in journalism and the Des Moines Register.

I was not surprised by the Register‘s endorsement of Mitt Romney last night. I saw it coming by drips and drabs in its coverage of both candidates, though it was perhaps clearest last week when I saw the blatant difference in tone in the side by side campaign “news coverage” on its front page. While the lead on the article focused on Obama was long-winded and struck a negative tone focusing on how his campaign had stepped up criticism against Romney, the lead in the Romney article was pithy and clear where the Register was leaning: “This must be what momentum looks like.” Hm. So much for objective news coverage.

While the Register‘s editorial board points to the state of the economy and jobs as the key drivers behind its endorsement, there is little in the way of specifics in this piece to support the choice. Not unlike Mr. Romney’s campaign, the endorsement offers no specific economic policies, plans, or achievements that illustrate how he is better suited to lead our country further out of the mire created by the Bush administration. This surface treatment of an exceptionally important issue does a disservice to your readers and ensures that political conversation in Iowa remains the consistency and nutritional value of a flaky, sugary pastry a la Pella’s famous Dutch letters. While sweet and perhaps a temporary energy fix, there’s nothing sustainable. Needless to say, I was looking forward to more meat and potatoes upon my return to the state. A little protein please, Des Moines Register.

Last, while the economy should, in fact, be a leading criterion for this Presidential choice, I am stunned by the fact that the Register ignores foreign policy, women’s health and reproductive rights, immigration, education, energy and the environment in its endorsement. All of these things are, in fact, drivers of economic stability and President Obama has a proven record and well-articulated vision with them. Mitt Romney has stated for the record he will boost funding to our military and aggressively engage Iran and China while simultaneously cutting funding to Planned Parenthood and federal pell grants. This is the “fresh economic vision” you herald?

For a newspaper that purports to serve Iowans equally, your endorsement falls short of the progressive, nuanced understanding of Iowans’ needs that I had so looked forward to upon my return to this state. Your endorsement is short-sighted and shallow both politically and as a journalistic contribution to the larger discussion. We deserve more.

Andrea Frantz is a journalism professor who still has faith in the future of the field…though some days, that faith is tested more than others.

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