Sorting Facts From Rumors In Saint Louis University Controversy

Behind the story of Tom Keefe’s departure as interim dean at Saint Louis University’s law school lies an interesting backstory about the inner workings of academia and journalism.

Read St. Louis Beacon editor Margaret Freivogel’s commentary.

Posted in Commentary, Editor's Desk, Issues

Beyond November Pledges To Live Up To Its Name

Kelsey Proud said it best in the wee hours this morning when she closed the streaming news feed running on our website:

Thanks so much for joining us here tonight and for following all of our coverage on BeyondNovember.org. More is still to come as we wrap up all that has happened on this election day and night. Remember, we’re concerned not only with tonight but everything Beyond November.

Proud is web producer at St. Louis Public Radio, one of dozens of staffers at the three public media organizations that are partners in a unique collaboration that we designed to bring you coverage of the candidates, their campaigns and the issues important to residents in Missouri and Illinois. When we got going in the late spring of this year thanks in large measure to a grant from the St. Louis-based Deer Creek Foundation, one of the first matters at hand was to choose a name. It was Ed Reggi, digital strategist at the Nine Network who first suggested Beyond November. We liked it, even though the first big news event coming up was the Missouri primary in August.

Beyond November suggested so much all at once:

That we would go above and beyond in terms of the depth and breadth of our coverage.

That we would demonstrate staying power. We weren’t just in it to cover the horse race, but also to hold accountable those who would be transformed from victorious candidates in November to officeholders the following year.

As the campaign unfolded, the Nine Network, St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Beacon built a partnership that focused our attention and our skills on reaching an audience hungry for straightforward, unbiased coverage of the candidates and their campaigns. Together we were able to maximize our use of state-of-the-art tools. When we jumped on a story we could tell it online, on television, on the radio and through social media. But we are proud too, that we stayed old school when it came to the verities of journalism — accuracy and fairness. Not just getting the facts right, but assembling the right facts to facilitate engagement and understanding.

We hope that we have lived up to this promise to provide coverage above and beyond that we made to ourselves and to you. Today we kick our coverage into an even higher gear and we ask your help. On our homepage, you will find a survey seeking your opinion about how we have done. We hope you will take a few minutes to fill it out. Even more important, we hope you will continue to follow us at Beyond November.

Richard Weiss, Managing Editor

 

Posted in Campaign Coverage, Editor's Desk

HELPING YOU KEEP UP WITH A FAST-PACED CAMPAIGN

If you follow politics avidly as we do here at Beyond November, the pace of the campaign can leave you breathless. We are at it basically from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day and there is so much to report and post that we can hardly keep up.

But for you, we are making it easy. You need not check in every hour on the hour at Beyond November. What you can do is subscribe to our daily e-mail update on our home page. Each day at 9 a.m. you’ll get an update with the stories we have posted in the previous 24 hours. Each e-mail provides a link with enough information for you decide whether or not to click. We hope you will click and if you do, you will have opportunities to post your comments or share the stories with your friends. So sign up for the daily e-mail. We’re staying on top of the issues and campaigns in Missouri and Illinois and you can, too.

Posted in Editor's Desk

THE AKIN FUROR: SORTING THE SPECTACLE FROM THE SUBSTANCE

 

Dear Beaconites and Beyond Novemberites -

The tsunami of controversy that Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin unleashed this week hit with such speed and force that it was hard to sort the spectacle from the substance.

The spectacle was riveting, with Akin topping national newscasts and talk shows, front pages and webpages. As media frenzies go, we haven’t seen anything like this since Mark McGwire left town. Following standard damage control, Akin said that he had misspoken when he used the term “legitimate rape,” apologized and tried to move on.

But the storm kept building. Republican leaders, from Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to Missouri’s current and former GOP senators, called on Akin to leave the race. Funders fled. This was no run-of-the-mill campaign gaffe. Beyond what Akin’s remark may have revealed about his own thinking, it brought attention to positions and divisions that threaten to undermine the party’s hopes to retake the Senate and White House — all this on the eve of the Republican convention.

The Beacon mobilized not just to highlight the rapidly breaking developments, but also to illuminate the story behind the story. Reporters Jason Rosenbaum, Jo Mannies, Dale Singer and Bob Joiner pressed to get more information about what, exactly, Akin was apologizing for, to look at the underlying issues, to recount pertinent Missouri political history and to explain why the matter was currently so sensitive for the party.

They found that many politicians were reluctant to speak in detail about what was going on. Democrats were happy to let Republicans stew in the their own problems. Republicans were quick to distance themselves in a general way from Akin. But they were less eager to discuss their own positions on abortion or the split between party leaders, who wanted Akin out, and some anti-abortion and evangelical leaders, who wanted him in.

The person most willing to expound on these hypersensitive topics seemed to be Akin himself. He denounced “party bosses” for repudiating him. He reiterated his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape. He avoided explaining in detail what he was recanting beyond use of the word “legitimate,” and briefly acknowledged again that rape can result in pregnancy, but he was otherwise outspoken and, policy-wise, out there.

This was vintage Akin. His word choice and shaky grasp of medical facts may have come as a shock to voters and party leaders, but no one should have been surprised that Akin was trumpeting tough stands on issues that other candidates might mute. In recent weeks, as the Beacon has reported, Akin spoke of his opposition not only to abortion but also to the federal school lunch program, student loans and the direct election of senators, among other issues.

While most candidates frame their positions in appealing soundbites and watch their timing to avoid controversy, Akin typically speaks his mind, shining a spotlight on positions that others would rather relegate to the wings. That proved particularly troublesome this week for Republicans, many of whom share Akin’s abortion position and who support the draft party platform which reflects that.

Among those calling for Akin to step aside was former Sen. John C. Danforth, who lamented that the campaign had been sidetracked from other important issues.

“What Congressman Akin’s statement did is get us into a massive diversion from what we have to be presenting to the people of our state and the people of our country in very clear fashion,” Danforth told the Beacon. “Sixteen trillion dollars of debt is not an easy problem to solve. There’s no popular way to do it. It’s going to take serious consideration and serious thought by our public in the two and a half months ahead. And this has got us going into a side issue which is, to say the least, strange.”

I share his concern about the need for campaigns — and campaign coverage — to address consequential issues. We should focus as intensely on the budget, health care and other dry but significant topics as we have on Todd Akin and the significant issue of abortion this week.

Yet, as we’ve just been reminded, no one can predict when developments will ignite a furor. We can instead pledge to report with depth, context and specificity on issues that catch fire, giving voters the information they need to sort the substance from the spectacle.

Sincerely,

Margie

 

Posted in Editor's Desk

MARGARET FREIVOGEL: THE ETCH A SKETCH CAMPAIGN CYCLE

Dear Beaconites and Beyond Novemberites-

With Missouri’s primary behind us, we’ve reached what should be the Etch A Sketch phase of the campaign cycle. As you’ll no doubt recall, an adviser to Mitt Romney chose that memorable metaphor to describe how the candidate might reset his image for voters between the primary and general election campaigns.

Conventional wisdom holds that candidates win primaries by tilting toward the most active wings of their parties; they win general elections by tilting toward the center and fuzzing ideological lines. Yet in Missouri and nationally this week, we’ve witnessed anything but an Etch A Sketch reset.

Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate was widely seen as a play to energize his conservative base. Then, as the Beacon’s Jo Mannies reported, Missouri’s slate of Republican statewide and congressional candidates traveled together to emphasize their philosophical differences with Democrats. Even in Illinois, where the political landscape looks different, candidates for the 12th congressional district drew a sharp contrast with each other in a debate, the Beacon’s Jason Rosenbaum noted.

I’ve long believed that candidates owe voters clarity. By offering clear analyses of what went wrong, politicians help lay the groundwork for finding solutions. By offering clear visions of the future, candidates give voters a choice. And by making that choice, voters deliver a mandate that enables politicians to implement new policy.

Or so I thought. Now that ideological clarity has arrived, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s enough. Take a closer look at this week’s political developments, and you’ll see that politicians sometimes stake out stark ideological contrasts yet still obfuscate the actual impact of the policies that might flow from them.

Consider Medicare, the part of Ryan’s controversial budget proposal that Democrats love to hate. A budget would seem to be a concrete expression of priorities, an explicit guide to who might benefit and who might feel pain. Yet the counterpunching over the topic has obscured as much as it has revealed. Both Democrats and Republicans acknowledge that Medicare spending can’t proceed unchecked, yet neither side will own up to the need to inflict any pain as costs get trimmed.

Beacon Washington correspondent Rob Koenig provided an enlightening analysis of the debate over Ryan’s budget proposal. It’s a good example of an important role journalists can play in the debate. More than just reporting what politicians say, we need to report how their statements square with reality. Just as fact checking helps voters sort out competing claims, reality checking helps voters understand the potential impact of various policy proposals in day to day life.

Of course, understanding the proposals is only one way voters determine who to support. Perhaps political tacticians understand more clearly than we do ourselves that voting behavior reflects the complicated and not necessarily consistent twists and turns of human nature. People can embrace the idea of individual responsibility yet welcome the security of Medicare. We can embrace the idea of collective responsibility yet balk at the tax load or red tape involved.

Sometime between now and November, somewhere between ideology and practicality, voters will sort their complicated and conflicting thoughts into decisions. The Beacon will do its part to inform and explain the process.

Sincerely,

Margie

 

Posted in Commentary, Editor's Desk

POLITICS, RELIGION MIX IN THIS WEEK’S NEWS

 

Dear Beaconites and Beyond Novemberites –

In the days following Missouri’s primary, the Beacon has been filled with news of church as well as state.

In part, this reflects the power of religion in Missouri politics. As Beacon political reporter Jo Mannies noted, Todd Akin, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, began his victory speech by thanking “God our Creator who has blessed this campaign, heard your prayers, and answered them with victory.” Such declarations, in addition to reflecting Akin’s genuine beliefs, amount to high octane fuel for his base of support.

Religious freedom was directly on the ballot with Amendment 2. It passed overwhelmingly despite considerable uncertainty about what its actual impact will be, Beacon staffer Jason Rosenbaum reported. State and federal constitutions already protect religious freedom. Whether Amendment 2 can extend such protection is a matter of debate.

The most controversial wording in the amendment did not appear on the ballot — wording that could be interpreted to curb prisoners’ rights and to allow students to object to assignments. The ACLU has already challenged the measure in court.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, the vulnerable Democratic incumbent who will be seeking to tamp down Akin’s margin outstate, voted for Amendment 2. Neither she nor her staff would immediately explain why, but Thursday she said the ballot language looked straightforward and added, “I’m all for prayer.”

As religious themes played out in politics this week, internal politics played out in religious institutions. Pat Rice reported on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which convened in St. Louis to ponder a response to Vatican efforts to impose tighter control. A Vatican critique in April characterized the group as favoring “radical feminist” ideas and exhibiting disregard for church doctrine in areas such as artificial contraception, homosexual relationships and abortion.

More than 900 Women Religious opened their session here with prayer, song and a plan to discuss matters in closed session before entering into further dialogue with church officials. In contrast to secular politics, where religious references often exacerbate division, the Women Religious leaders seemed determined to minimize open conflict.

Meanwhile, conflict erupted at one of the region’s most noteworthy religious institutions when Saint Louis University’s law school dean quit, as Beacon staffer Dale Singer reported. “It is the ultimate irony that a Jesuit university would operate so far outside the bounds of common decency, collegiality, professionalism and integrity,” said Annette E. Clark in her resignation letter. “I simply cannot be part of, and I assure I will not be complicit with, an administration that can’t be trusted to act honestly and in the best interests of its faculty, staff and students.”

University president Lawrence Biondi, whose outsized personality has had an impact far beyond the campus, said Clark was about to be fired anyway. In a letter, he said Clark’s actions “demonstrate a lack of a clear and comprehensive understanding of the duties and obligations, autonomy and authority, of a modern-day dean at a large and complex university.”

You might regard the various intersections of politics and religion this week as mere happenstance. Or perhaps the news reflected something deeper about the intertwined forces that shape our world and ourselves.

Politics is about power. Yet politics is shaped in part by beliefs. Religious institutions are about beliefs. Yet religious institutions are shaped in part by disputes over power. This week, Beacon coverage provided a window to watch as the forces of power and belief continued their endless interplay.

Sincerely,

Margie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Across the Spectrum, Church/State, Commentary, Editor's Desk

HAVE A DEBATE ON US

The primary is over and now we know who will go toe to toe in November. Time to have debates. Today Beyond November asked the Republican and Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate, Governor and Attorney General in Missouri to engage in debates that we will sponsor.

Why us? Together our platforms on radio, television and online reach audiences across the entire state. We can broadcast the debates live and online and also provide podcasts and video that voters can watch anytime (and from anywhere). We hope the candidates will accept and that you will support us in this effort to get them on board.

Dick Weiss

Managing Editor for Beyond November

Posted in Editor's Desk, Missouri Governor's race, Missouri Senate race

JOIN US FOR MISSOURI PRIMARY NIGHT

We are planning the region’s most comprehensive coverage of the Aug. 7 primary at BeyondNovember.org with up-to-the minute feeds from St. Louis Public Radio, the St. Louis Beacon and Nine Network. You’ll find news stories from the Beacon paired with audio provided by STLPR. You’ll get the latest results as they are made available from the Secretary of State’s office. We’re here as long as it takes. Join us.

Posted in Editor's Desk

Getting back that lovin’ feeling

Do you remember the first time you learned that every American of a certain age got to vote? Maybe it was first grade. Very cool. Your teachers got you ready.

Out came the red, white and blue bunting, bumper stickers and posters for this candidate and that. They held mock elections and you cast your vote. And then do you remember the first time you cast a real vote? You might have stayed up late into the night with your college roommate or your boyfriend or girlfriend arguing the finer points of public policy and who deserved your vote. Seemed like it mattered, back then.

To a lot of Americans, it doesn’t seem to matter any more. More than half of the Missouri electorate won’t vote in the August. 7 primary. Only perhaps six in 10 eligible voters nationwide are expected to head to the polls on Nov. 6.

To paraphrase the Righteous Brothers, “We’ve lost that lovin’ feeling… oh woe, woe.”

We’re here to tell you your vote DOES matter, now more than ever. It matters so much that we at the Nine Network of Public Media, St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Beacon have joined forces to create BeyondNovember.org.

We aim to be, by turns, current, in-depth, savvy, agile and witty. We’re in it for you and we can’t do it without you. Please post your comments, participate in our forums and keep us informed about the issues that matter to you.

Together we can bring back that lovin’ feeling we all once shared.

– Dick Weiss
Managing Editor
BeyondNovember.org

Posted in Editor's Desk