Does Negative Campaigning Energize the Press?

By Jones, Terry | St. Louis Journalism Review, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Does Negative Campaigning Energize the Press?


Jones, Terry, St. Louis Journalism Review


Attention is hard to come by at the bottom of the ballot," headlined Jo Mannies's Feb. 27 St. Louis Post-Dispatch column. Using Nancy Farmer, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for state treasurer as her case in point, Mannies predicted that getting coverage would be "a front-burner problem for Farmer and her down-ballot cohorts."

Mannies was right. Neither she nor anyone else at the Post gave Farmer, the ultimate winner, a shred of coverage between then and the Aug. 8 primary, discounting listing her in the Aug. 6 Voters' Guide and endorsing her on the editorial page.

It's not that state treasurer is a trivial office. Its occupant manages billions of public dollars and sits on important state boards, including the Housing Development Commission and the Missouri Investment Trust.

It's not because it is a political backwater. The incumbent, Bob Holden, is this year's Democratic gubernatorial candidate and one of his predecessors, Mel Carnahan, is the current governor as well as the Democrats' U.S. Senate nominee.

It's not because there was a sure winner. There were three competitive candidates for the nomination: Farmer plus state Representatives Scott Lakin and Brian May. May even raised more money than Farmer and Lakin who had a respectable amount.

It's not because there were no public records to compare. Farmer had also served in the state House of Representatives and, during the mid-1990s, all three were casting votes on the same bills. More recently, Farmer had been assistant treasurer, and her performance in that job was available for assessment.

So why the blackout? Why absolutely no stories-zippo-any time in June or July? Why when readers were being given a weekly update on who was surviving on CBS's island, was there nothing about who might persist in the state treasurer's race?

One could raise the standard excuses: so much news, so few column inches and nobody really cares about the race. But two months of papers have quite a bit of space and how are people to care about a contest if they are given no information about it.

Probably closer to the explanation is that none of the candidates said anything nasty about their opponents. It was essentially a resume' race, with each claiming that he or she had the best qualifications for the job.

The only other factor was ticket-balancing, with Farmer suggesting that the Democrats would benefit by having a woman on the state-wide ballot and Lakin noting that his Kansas City location would be a plus for the party. …

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