Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Response: "WRGW 'News' Biased & Speculative Throughout SA Elections"

Let's first get my conflict of interest out of the way: my name is Alexander Laska, and I am an Assistant News Director for WRGW News.

Recently, my fellow Assistant News Director, Dan Keylin, was attacked on this blog by Eric Thibault - who worked for Xochitl's Sanchez's campaign - for injecting analysis into his coverage of the Student Association elections.  Now, Dan's a big boy and he can take it, but not only did Mr. Thibault provide a completely fact-free assault on my fellow AND, he also called all of WRGW News as a whole "biased" (just look at the headline), which is appallingly inaccurate.

Now, he had to provide a media critique for his Internet and Politics class, and I don't blame him for choosing WRGW News to pick on: after all, he has been a staff writer for The Hatchet, and one can hardly expect him to critique his own employer.  But let's delve into his claims and see if there is any truth there.

First, he criticizes Dan for calling Jason Lifton (who went on to win the election) the "overwhelming favorite," saying that he had nothing to back up this claim.  Well, first off, we have done several interviews with SA insiders (you can find these interviews on our News In Depth page), all of whom agreed that the race was Lifton's to lose.  Then there was the straw poll we did which, while not scientific, did have a large sample (yes, Eric, I took SMPA 51, too) and backed up Dan's claim.  Oh, and then Lifton actually won the election.  So was there evidence to support the fact that Lifton was the favorite?  Retrospectively, yes.  In fact, when Dan made that assertion, it would have been pretty difficult to say he wasn't the overwhelming favorite in the race, considering the fact that Lifton announced his candidacy two days before Sanchez, the only other candidate in the presidential race, announced hers.  If Lifton wasn't the favorite at that point, I don't know who was.  Maybe Steve Holt?

Eric next critizes Dan's assertion that Sanchez didn't let him into her Facebook group.  But here's the first thing Sanchez's group says:
Per election rules, this group has to remain a closed group. However, if you would like to join my group I will not turn you away!***
But she did turn Dan away.  So, essentially, she lied on her campaign page.  I would argue that this is something worth noting.  As for Eric's respose...
Who the hell cares? That's not news, that's your egotistical commentary.
Real mature, Eric.

From there, Eric goes on to rant about various other things regarding Dan's coverage of the SA.  I'll respond in order:

  • He calls Dan's analysis of Sanchez's debate performance fair.  But then he refers to Lifton's as biased.  Maybe it's just me, but it sure seems like someone's just a bit bitter that Lifton did a better job at the debate.  And he did: unlike Sanchez, Lifton was able to give specific accomplishments that he'd made, including expanding study spaces and working with GW administrators on CCAS advising, which we just learned in a GW infomail is getting a massive overhaul.  Our exit polls confirmed that Lifton had a stronger performance.
  • He admits that Dan made a point of saying his analysis is analysis (and trust me, as Assistant News Director I've been making sure he does this when it is necessary), but then says you can't be an unbiased reporters and a news analyst.  Actually, Eric, that disclaimer is exactly what allows you to do this.  But given that you have completely failed to prove any actual bias on Dan's part, it's a moot point anyway.
  • About the endorsement: last Monday, the entire WRGW News Staff had a huddle in the radio station and we decided, together and by virtual consensus, who we wanted to endorse for the presidential and EVP races.  It was not Dan who decided to endorse Lifton, it was all of us, based on his debate performance, his platform, and his experience in the SA.  And the Clinton analogy is unfounded because, unlike Lifton, Clinton didn't actually win the election, so there is no basis for comparison there.
  • He mentions that Sanchez received positive coverage from staff writer Alexa Vogel.  Why is it that "positive" coverage is okay but "negative" coverage isn't?  Are they not both biased?  Vogel's article, of course, was not at all biased, but again, it shows that he was expecting WRGW News to go out of its way to support Sanchez and was incredibly upset that we did not.
  • The exit poll results that he "conveniently can no longer find on their Web site" are right here.  I guess he didn't look very hard.  It's okay to criticize our coverage, but don't you dare falsely accuse us of deleting our articles to hide them from discerning minds.
  • The exit poll is an exit poll, and no one in the professional world will tell you that an exit poll is 100 percent accurate.  So while it does not gauge the entire university's opinion on the candidiates, what it does do is give us a way to determine who did better in the debate (thus making Dan's assertion that Lifton did better completely unbiased).
  • The fact that Eric asks "why publish" a poll that isn't scientific shows that, even though he has worked for the Hatchet for quite a while, he still doesn't really understand journalism that well.  We published it because it's interesting, because people like to know.  In fact, our poll results have gotten some of our highest hits to date.  They're popular, why not publish them, especially when we're acknowledging, as Eric admits, that they are not scientific and do not include graduate students.  You sure as heck read them.
  • Anyone who was standing in Columbian Scquare on Election Night will tell you it was a nail biter.  We got several interviews with SA insiders who all said that, when the JEC guy announced that the winner had something like 51.5% of the vote, they weren't sure who was going to win (I believe Lifton said the same thing).  As Lifton admits (and Eric must be shocked we didn't take this down from our site), and as I said live on the air that night well before the results were announced, Sanchez ran a great race, she spent a lot of time campaigning, and her debate performances were quite good.
The bottom line is that, unlike Sanchez, who sent out a lovely Facebook message to her supporters thanking them for all of their hard work, Eric - a huge supporter of Sanchez's candidacy who I saw sitting beside her at the WRGW debate - is trying to find a way to blame the election results on someone else.  Given that our poll results showed Lifton in the lead, we had interviews with several SA insiders saying that Lifton was going to win, and that Lifton did, in fact, win the election, calling Dan's coverage of the election biased is both unfair and inaccurate.  Facts are facts, Mr. Thibault, and while I'm sorry that the race didn't go your way, I'm not going to let you criticize my co-workers for being biased because you have a chip on your shoulder.

You know, Professor Green, who runs the Internet and Politics class, says that we'll get credit for our weekly blog posts as long as we have a link and something "bloggy."  But what if we don't have something factual?  Do we still get credit then?  Shouldn't that be a requirement as well?

Alexander Laska
Assistant News Director


Eric_Thibault said...

Well, I thought the 12 comments on my original post and my personal email exchange with Dan this morning would have cleared this up by now, but apparently that's not the case.

While I am obviously disappointed with the results, I am not looking for someone to blame. I simply gave my media critique of WRGW. You are entitled to disagree, as I assumed you would. If I were interested in blaming someone, I'd blame the law school and their unprecedented endorsement process this year.

Again, the things I take issue with aren't necessarily what was said, but how it was said. The "very very strong performance," the "overwhelming" underdog... It's just unnecessary. I'd be crazy to claim that I didn't think we had an uphill battle to fight. But she had a great deal of support from SA outsiders.

Your problem is that you keep quoting and refering to SA insiders as your sources. SA insiders don't define the views of the majority of people on this campus.

Also, you miss a lot of the points that I make in regards to his analysis of the straw polls. The polling inferences I made came from PSC 120: Public Opinion. My point was that the SIZE of the sample is not what matters. A poll can have 100,000 respondents and be innacurate because it doesn't accurately represent the population.

Your exit polls didn't confirm that Jason had a better performance in the WRGW debate (although I agree that he did). It simply confirmed what everyone could already see; that more than half of the people in the room were member's of Jason's fraternity and would vote accordingly.

Lastly, I'm not sure if you're aware that I resigned from the Hatchet a few months ago in order to write a Letter to the Editor. In the letter, I expressed my dosagreement with one of their opinion's columnists. If I was so closely tied to the Hatchet as you claim, may be we would have gotten the endorsement of the Hatchet. That would've been nice...

Sean said...

Whoever wrote this--it was written very poorly and was mostly a series of personal attacks rather than internet journalism.