Gerber: Election spurs scrutiny

Gerber: Election spurs scrutiny

November 11th, 2012 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

Now that the election is over, I don't know what's going to fill up my inbox.

What's going to take the place of the endless press releases from campaigns and special interest groups, and the emails - and calls - from folks who have an opinion about a race, candidate or issue, or about the way the newspaper has covered something?

Common questions:

• Why is the newspaper covering Scott DesJarlais' decade-old extramarital affair?

Some Republicans think the newspaper has no business writing about the phone transcript of the pro-life congressman pressing a woman he'd had an affair with to have an abortion. More than a few callers said those stories proved that the newspaper was anti-GOP. Several felt we should not scrutinize the congressman simply because he is a Republican.

One man asked me why we don't write any negative stories about the Democrats in Congress. Well, sir, that's because there is not a single Democrat representing the region we cover in Congress. All the U.S. House seats in the Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama counties we cover are held by members of the GOP.

The U.S. Senate seats in those states are solidly red, too.

• Why is the Free Press page becoming liberal?

Actually, Free Press editorial page editor Drew Johnson is a staunch fiscal conservative and advocate of limited government. He's so right-leaning on fiscal issues, in fact, that he believed Mitt Romney was not conservative enough. Romney "failed to demonstrate a consistent commitment to conservative principles," Johnson wrote in a recent editorial.

One caller insisted that Johnson's endorsement of Gary Johnson, the Libertarian party candidate for president, was an attempt to pull a "Ross Perot" and suck votes from Romney. He said the endorsement would help Barack Obama win Tennessee.

I wish the Times Free Press had enough influence to swing an election one way or another, but that's not the case. In the end, Tennessee remained solidly red with Romney winning the state's 11 electoral votes and 59 percent of the vote.

For the record, Drew Johnson's job is to stand up for conservative principles, not to stand up for the Republican party, the same way Times page editor Harry Austin's goal is to promote liberal values, not necessarily the values of the Democratic Party.

Also, libertarian and liberal are not the same thing, even though both start with "liber."

• Why does the Times Free Press support Obama over Romney? And: Why does the Times Free Press support Romney over Obama?

On Oct. 19, the newspaper ran photos of the two presidential candidates on the top of the paper. (See the image above right). I received several calls from people wanting to know why we deliberately chose an unflattering photo of Romney. One told me the photo made Romney look "surprised and stupid." I also received calls from Obama supporters who accused the newspaper of selecting a photo that made the president look bad. A woman said he looked asleep or drunk.

Hopefully, if we are offending both sides, it means we are not favoring one side over the other. The truth is, we probably ought to have used better photos of both candidates.

All of these calls and emails are welcome and good. They remind me of two things:

1. People still read the newspaper, feel ownership in it and care about how it presents political races. And, more importantly, readers feel like they have a voice in it.

2. We live in a democracy where we are free to express our opinions and debate the views of others.

Election chatter will go on for quite awhile. But don't worry folks, another election is just around the corner. City of Chattanooga voters will elect a new mayor and council in March. The jockeying and speculation have already begun.

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfree press.com. Send suggestions to readerfeedback@timesfree press.com.