Very interesting piece by Miami Herald ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos regarding the newspaper’s (and, by extension, The St. Petersburg Times’) recent coverage of Marco Rubio:
I have checked on the coverage and come away with mixed conclusions. I don’t agree that The Herald is giving the Democrats a free ride. The reporting on Rubio’s spending has been solid and was just what The Herald should be doing. Some of the language used in headlines and stories, however, was tendentious and more appropriate for the editorial pages than the news columns.
While many of the complaining readers saw a secret Democratic strategy by The Herald — one online poster went so far as to accuse the paper of being “communist” — it was clear from the articles that the tips had to have come from the camp of his Republican primary opponent, Gov. Charlie Crist. Rubio’s own campaign managers said as much.
“I agree that Kendrick Meek deserves more scrutiny,” Caputo said. “And he’ll get it. But the fact is, we have to cover the news at hand with the staff we have, and we have a hot Republican primary right now. We need to examine everything about the candidates, especially the front-runner. Crist felt the heat this [past] summer; Rubio’s feeling it now. Meek will soon.”
What might be setting off suspicion by pro-Rubio readers in the meantime, however, was language used in some headlines in recent stories and in a few select instances in the text.
A Feb. 26 headline said: “Marco Rubio case renews spending outcry.” Another on March 10 stated: “Marco Rubio’s money requests for Miami-Dade could be an issue.” This latter headline is speculative. My mother could be an ax murderer, too.
Certainly the Republican base has been restless over spending. And the stories included quotes from worried Rubio supporters such as Chris Ingram from Tampa, who said, “When you project yourself as something of a Boy Scout and people start seeing you’re not much different than a lot of these other guys, that can be damaging.”
But I didn’t see the damage or “outcry” reported in any of the stories, or see that the “credit card blunder represents Rubio’s first major setback,” as one story reported.
Populist Republicans may claim to be ideological purists, but they have shown they can be as expansive as any other group in accepting transgressions by one of their own. See: Sarah Palin.
I am not saying that Rubio won’t be hurt politically. But the articles didn’t prove it enough to support such language, leaving an impression of wishful thinking by editors, even if that wasn’t so.
In that same vein, the lead March 10 said Rubio “brags” on his website that he didn’t officially request “budget pork,” but the article doesn’t quote the website to show the bragging. This leaves you wondering whether the reporter isn’t exaggerating to set up a straw man.
“Sometimes headlines tend to generalize to capture the essence of a story since you only have five or six words to summarize a complex issue,” said Aminda Marques Gonzalez, senior editor for news. “I don’t think we’re talking about inaccuracy or unfairness here, but nuance. I do think that some of these headlines could have been more precise. And in one case in particular, where we use ‘brag,’ it’s always better to use neutral language.”
The articles on Rubio were so good that they they didn’t need to stretch, or leave that impression.