Thursday, October 26, 2006

Inside the Fishbowl

When I was a kid reporter, the Editorial Board of the paper was strictly off limits.
It was on another floor. The Editorial Writers rarely mingled with reporters. Even when they did call -- usually to ask a mundane question about a story we did -- they began by offering their apologies for breaching the wall between the two departments.
This is the way is was meant to be. The Editorial Board dealt with Opinion. The reporters dealt with Facts. The same is true today. As a reporter, I have no business in trying to convince the board to take a certain position on an issue. In the same way, members of the Editorial Board have no business in trying to influence what stories I write or cover.
And it always exhibited itself at election time. Though you could never convince candidates of it, the two sides rarely communicated with each other. In fact, when candidates came to talk to the Board, it was strictly off-the-record and reporters were barred from the proceedings.
That Church-State separation remains true today, but the secrecy has melted away.
Now, when folks visit to talk to the Editorial Board, the sessions are on-the-record. Reporters on relevant beats get invited to sit in, free to report on the event in case any news erupts.
The new transparency is reflected in the architecture of the the board's meeting room. At The Inquirer, it is a large conference room with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the hallway and the main elevators on the 2nd floor of 400 North Board Street. They call it the fishbowl -- because it resembles one. In fact, they have decorated it with cloth and plastic fish, which hang from the ceiling.
This year the Editorial Board took a second step in opening up the process. It has taken to recording its candidate interviews and posting them on the web. Here is the home page of the interviews posted so far.
The board has begun trying to get competing candidates to appear at the same time, so they can hold a face-to-face debate. So far, they got candidates in the three hottest congressional races in the Philly region to do it.
Theyturned out to be fairly meaty sessions, where the candidates are asked to discourse on a variety of issues. The sessions -- and the recordings -- often last for more than a hour.
A lot of what you hear, at least at the beginning are the standard stump speeches. But, then the questions begin and the back-and-forth can get fairly heated.
I encourage you to scan through them. For those of you who don't have the hours needed to listen to them in their totality, let me offer a brief highlights guide:
In the the 1st installment of the Bob Casey Jr. interview, go to minute 21:second 19 to hear him on the issue of immigration reform and slam Rick Santorum for being a hypocrite and fraud on the issue.
In Casey 2, hear him get passionate about Social Security, from minute 0 to about minute 5:00.
Hear a Q&A on his contradictory stands on wireless wiretapping from 5:11 through 9:00.
And, at 15:55 hear him answer this question: "Are you too mild-mannered to fight for Pennsylvania?
In Santorum 1, hear him give a lucud exposition on the topic "Why I Deserve to Be Re-election," from 0:00 to 2:34. At 2:50, he launches into a seven-minute disquisition on Iraq, but seeks to make the case that Iran is the real threat. At around 9:00, he begins to talk about Islamofascism -- one of his favorite topics. Note: Casey & Santorum appeared before the board on different days.
In Rendell I, he is asked to list some of his accomplishments at 0:00. He finally rolls to a stop at 21:16. Along the way, he bitches about how The Inquirer has failed to cover his many achievements.
In Rendell 2, he is asked about the notorious and nefarious pay grab at 0:58 and he tells why he signed it and why he now thinks it is a mistake until about 5:00. At 5:40, he does a four-minute riff about how lousy the press is in reporting his achievements. (You may notice a trend here.)
In Swann 1, he makes his basic pitch on "Why You Should Vote for Me," from 0:00 through 4:20. The board then tells him Rendell's defense of the pay raise and he goes on a riff attacking the Governor for signing the bill from 4:20 for about three minutes. Note: Rendell & Swann appears before the board on different days. Also, at 18:15 through 23:47 Swann ends up boxing with the board over his property tax proposal.
In Swann 2, he boxes with the board over violence and gun control and makes it clear he is pure NRA on all measures. This section lasts from 0:00 to about 8:10.
Some other highlights:
In Gerlach/Murphy II, the two spar on their negative campaigns for about 5 minutes beginning at 18:55.
In Weldon/Sestak II, Weldon is asked about nepotism charges regarding his children at 0:00 and he defends himself up to 8:02. Sestak is then asked about charges that he's an abrasive S.O.B and he defends himself for about 6 minutes (He does go on. Sestak rarely wavered from his stump speech.) At 12:00 through 15:00, Weldon talks about his close ties to local pols, etc. and Sestak interrupts to call them "a bunch of bubbas" in the district. Weldon says, increduously: "Did you just call them bubbas?"
In Schwartz/Bhakta II, Bhatka is asked about his playing the race card in the Northeast at 4:05 and he answers at length. At 30:25, he is asked about his various DUI's and his "maturity" and he boxes with the Editorial Board for four minutes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've written my LTE about this, but let me vent here, too: I can't believe the Sestak endorsement was categorized as "two disappointing choices."

I've listened to Joe's faceoff with Weldon in front of the Editorial Board, and I agree he had some bad moments. But how can you put a couple of verbal missteps on a par with a guy like Weldon who is clearly a corrupt windbag who spouts lies as casually as most people breathe?

Sure, Weldon is disappointing. He's also headed for jail eventually, which I'm sure is disappointing to him.

But Sestak has been a real hero in my estimation. And his candidacy has been an inspiration to me and thousands of other supporters -- to call him disappointing is so wrong it's laughable.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Chris Satullo said...

What Tom didn't tell you about the Fishbowl is that the room has excellent fin shui.
And most of the people who hang out there are Pisces, working for scale.

7:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

chris & tom -

a couple thoughts. first, I'm not a big fan of the new format of the editorials. what was wrong with a dozen meaty paragraphs weighing the relative merits of each candidate? our attention spans have not declined so much that this was necessary.

second, I know you're only human and can only be stretched so far, but it does seem like you endorsed fewer candidates (in print anyway) than in previous cycles, and didnt get to anywhere near as many of the state legislative races (not to mention the three council special elections).

2:23 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

Thanks for these links; the debates are great.

5:01 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

Thanks for these links; the debates are great.

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was already an editorial in the Inky urging voters to vote for the Republican candidate in all three council races as a protest against the undemocratic way candidates were chosen.

5:48 PM  

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