“PolitiJoke” Virginia?

Barely a week before mid-term elections, the incredible, shrinking Richmond Times-Dispatch has launched a new reporting service called “PolitiFact Virginia” which is a spin off of a service begun in 2008 by the highly respected St. Petersburg Times for which it won a Pulitzer in 2009.

The idea is to check the veracity of what politicians, pundits and government officials say. It is supposed to be especially useful during election campaigns, such as the current one where truth is much more of a stranger than fiction.

True, Florida’s Times’ has sprouted off similar services in Wisconsin, Texas, Rhode Island, Oregon, Ohio and Georgia. Somehow in their front page splash the other day announcing the new service, the Times-Dispatch didn’t mention that they are actually eighth in line for the service for which they have hired an editor and temporarily assigned a couple of its staffers.

The good news is that PolitFact Virginia actually caught House Minority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Henrico, in so-called “Pants on Fire” (the worst kind) fallacy when he claimed that the U.S. spent more in the past two years than the previous 200 years. Total nonsense.

This is highly unusual since Cantor is considered a favored son by the Richmond establishment that owns the paper and never a discouraging word is said about him. His wife also happens to be on the board of Media General, the TD’s owner. Another oddity that the TD cribbed off the St. Petersburg paper when Media General owns a competitor in Florida, the Tampa Tribune, which a decade ago was supposed to have been some kind of print-electronic media pioneer. What happened there?

I remember about a year ago, the TD trotted out Cantor for one of its “Public Square” talk shows about health care reform. The article the next morning gave plenty of ink to Cantor’s learned concerns about what the Republican elite wants for health care, but they failed to mention about the hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions Cantor has received from managed care, doctors’ associations, Big Pharma and so on. I guess the TD editors didn’t see the connection.

I remember interviewing Cantor in the summer of 2009 and he told be emphatically, “we have to get the federal government out of the capital markets.” I reminded him that it was Republican President George W. Bush who put the government there in the first place and that Cantor himself voted for the plan. It took the congressman about 20 seconds to come up with a response.

My point is that one has to wonder why the RTD is turning to such gimmicks as “PolitiFact” and “Public Squares” to do what is supposed to be its basic job. The old TD of years past (certainly when I worked there almost 30 years ago) used to report straight political news on a daily basis despite its retrograde editorial section. That took a big shift a few years back when Thomas A. “TAS) Silvestri was named publisher and cut the staff to the bone while reassuring us all what a great job he is doing.

Now you have to have a splashy, Web-based come-on like this one. Maybe it will prove a good thing. But one has to have doubts when Silvestri doesn’t see the conflict of being head of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce while also being newspaper publisher and pushing the chamber’s agenda in print like a Communist Party apparatchik I used to track in Moscow.

One also has to wonder why the TD bothered launching this service a few days before an election. Interest will likely diminish and they’ll probably go back to flacking for Cantor again. The TD just released subscription figures. Print was down something like double the national average while Web did little better. Could there be a reason?

Peter Galuszka

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2 responses to ““PolitiJoke” Virginia?”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Politijoke.

    On Wendesday after a bunch of Republicans and nut cases get elected, we will have the same problems as today. The left will be farther left and the right will be farther right.

    What is so frog fiddling funny?

  2. Groveton Avatar

    I read the same article. Cantor seems more and more like a loon.

    His speech kinds of reminds me of something …

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8lT1o0sDwI

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