- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

On Media

Tragedy has lent piquancy to Nov. 5 for journalists in their search for partisan high jinks in a midterm election.
Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale's decision to take Sen. Paul Wellstone's place on the ballot after the Minnesota Democrat died in a plane crash last week has fixated the press.
"Initially, Wellstone's death presented a problem for Republicans because he was lionized in the press," a source at the Republican National Committee said. "Now they're doing it again with Mondale, building him up like he's a great politician. But he is not as broadly celebrated as the media describes. He's not the tour de force he's made out to be."
Indeed, Mr. Mondale was called "the 2002 version of the Comeback Kid" by the Boston Globe yesterday.
ABC's Claire Shipman "praised his personal qualities while ignoring his policy errors," according to Rich Noyes of the Media Research Center, who was also critical of mediawide "glowingly positive tributes" to Mr. Mondale.
"Civil rights champion, senator, vice president, and finally, presidential candidate in 1984," Miss Shipman said yesterday. "The successful ambassadorship in Japan seemed the capstone."
The Center for Media and Public Affairs has found that network coverage of the midterm elections is down 72 percent from what it was in 1994, based on studies covering from Labor Day to Oct. 27. That may change, however.
"A consistent theme has proved elusive. But the Wellstone tragedy has invigorated press interest in the microcosm of Minnesota, and its effects on national campaigns," said Matthew Felling, the group's spokesman.
The phrase "Wellstone bounce" is too crass to describe positive effects on the Democratic Party in the aftermath; it has been christened the "Wellstone effect" in many reports.
Meanwhile, the memorial service for Mr. Wellstone on Tuesday night, which featured a dignified beginning and a raucous finale, got mixed reviews.
The event for the Minnesota Democrat has been alternately condemned and lauded in the press, billed as both shameless Democratic manuever and appropriate reflection of a fiesty politician.
The service was "in perfect keeping with the man a warm celebration of his life," wrote Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, later adding, "Democrats are going to bottle that Wellstone passion on Election Day."
The Pittsburgh Press noted that "a good senator is honored in a tasteless way," while the Minneapolis Star Tribune dramatically described the same event as "20,000 strong, they came to remember Wellstone a huge and sympathetic crowd."
But the Star Tribune did some backpedaling.
"By delivering a partisan harangue at what was supposed to be a relatively nonpolitical memorial service, Paul Wellstone's friend and campaign treasurer Rick Kahn gave Minnesota Republicans an opening they sorely needed, analysts who are following the campaign agreed Wednesday," the paper also noted.
Subjected to press photographs of former president Bill Clinton and other Democratic heavyweights grinning at one another during a memorial service put much of the public in agreement.
An online poll of some 9,000 people (www.vote.com) found yesterday that more than 90 percent of the respondents felt that "the Wellstone memorial was too partisan" and had "degenerated into a pep rally."
Some dismiss such criticism altogether.
"How the Wellstone family chose to celebrate him is their own business. The service was sincere and spontaneous. The press can make partisan criticisms or feed people ideas about what the memorial was or was not," Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said.
"But no one in the press has forced the Republicans to come out with their negative responses to it," she added.

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