Recently, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor was the featured guest at a Political Animals Club luncheon at the Governor's Mansion, a pretty friendly environment these days for Democrats. Pryor was taking questions when Rebekah Kennedy, the Green Party's candidate for Senate and Pryor's only opposition, accused the senator of dodging a debate.
The challenge was widely reported, as were Pryor's claims to have never been invited to a debate by any of the network TV affiliates. But the news reporting stopped there and the confrontation was quickly drowned in the shallow pool of our collective political memory.
Let's be honest, Pryor is expected to win in a landslide. The incumbent senator recently told donors to stop giving him money and has racked up a funding advantage of somewhere close to $458 to one. That said, Kennedy is on the ballot. Doesn't that count for something?
The Arkansas Educational Television Network has hosted similar debates in the past, but Executive Director Allen Weatherly says it's not automatic.
“We decided last spring to concentrate on issues,” Weatherly says. “It is true we were knowledgeable that none of the statewide candidates for federal office had ‘major' opposition. We made a programming decision based on what we felt would be of most interest to our viewers at the time.”
News directors in Little Rock cited citizen disinterest as well. Rob Heverling, news director at KARK, says his news department never had a serious conversation about hosting a debate between Pryor and the Green Party candidate.
Heverling says KARK took an issue-based approach as well, choosing instead to focus heavily on the proposed state lottery, which has strong support and opposition on both sides and is, in terms of TV news, sexier than the Senate race.
Kennedy's why-won't-anybody-debate-me woes are nothing new to third-party candidates. Jay Leno once said Ralph Nader pops up every election year like the herpes of presidential candidates. Kennedy admits the conventional wisdom on Greens is likely part of the problem, but recognizes the political realities on the Pryor side as well.
“I think that Pryor doesn't want to debate because he's ahead,” she says.
KUAR, the public radio station in Little Rock, has offered to host a debate but has not heard back from the Pryor campaign. KARK and KTHV say they would explore having both candidates on their morning shows, but have no concrete plans. Pryor's campaign manager Randy Massanelli, in a completely expected response, says there's simply no time left.
“We're just doing our thing. If she wants to be heard, she needs to go out there and do hers,” Massanelli says.
A reader wrote to us about what he called the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's “spiteful insistence” on referring to Anne Pressly of KATV, fatally beaten last week by a home intruder, as an anchorman. Our reader believed this usage was one in the same as the Democrat's use of the title “chairman” in all cases, regardless of the gender.
Initially, Frank Fellone, deputy editor of the Democrat-Gazette, told us the use of the term “anchorman” in the Thursday, Oct. 16, paper was an “editorial mishap.” The newspaper's own stylebook has no ruling on the word. In such cases, reporters and editors are to rely on the Associated Press stylebook, which says “anchorman” and “anchorwoman” are the proper terms, depending on gender naturally, but never “anchor” or “co-anchor.”
However, Fellone investigated further and called us back. “We fell back on the default, traditional, male usage of the word – similar to chairman. But once we thought about it, it just sounded awkward and clumsy.”
Editorial mishaps were the rule on this issue at the D-G. When the story originally appeared, Pressly was identified in the article and headline as “anchorwoman.” Wednesday and Thursday it was “anchorman,” and on Friday, simply “anchor.”
Fellone says the Democrat-Gazette will use the gender-neutral “news anchor” in the future.
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