The cliché says that you can judge a society by the way it treats its prisoners. By the same token, you can judge a city - or town or region - by the way its local television stations handle news.
In that regard, Pittsburgh’s interest in the election of its next mayor could be described as secondary, at best.
Of course, this isn’t news for anyone who has watched this city live in inertia since the 1970’s - or before - and in situations like this, new evidence of apathy can have just as much impact as the original evidence of apathy.
Anyway, we knew the voter turnout would be low for Tuesday’s primary. But the local news coverage of the election was so unbelievably disinterested that you almost have a hard time blaming the body politick for its lack of civic involvement (which was reportedly at 21%).
We’ll start with the positive.
Channel 11 did what was supposed to be done: a live broadcast on PCNC starting at 8 PM when the polls closed with live look-ins on the Ravenstahl, Dowd, and Robinson election night parties. The broadcast wasn’t without its shortcomings - referring to District 2 candidate Georgia Blotzer as “Georgia Blouser” both in a graphic and from the mouth of David Johnson - but the mere existence of live coverage at least implied that the election was relevant.
Then there was the 11 o’clock news. The primetime-iest of primetime news broadcasts, the top dog of local news, the main course for relevant information. The 11 o’clock news has a time-honored tradition as the pulse of what’s happening each day in your city or town or region. So on the night of an absolutely essential election, what led the local news broadcasts?
Some kinky sex and a closet-pooper who lost his car.
KDKA led with the sordid tale of a student and teacher from Carrick who possibly had sex with each other. For WTAE and WPXI, the most important news of the day was the woeful story of Najeh Davenport, the former Steeler running back whose car was stolen and totaled, which reinforces the old adage:
“If it bleeds (black and gold) it leads”
Except in this case, it used to bleed black and gold.
Just to reiterate: this was a story about FORMER Steeler running back Najeh Davenport. And WTAE and WPXI led with it.
WTAE did assure us all that at 11:15 they’d have a special report on the day’s election, thus buying themselves a quarter-hour before they had to talk about the primary.
WPXI made up for leading with the Davenport story by following it with a long segment of election coverage, including more field reports from all three election night parties.
KDKA went from the teacher-student sex story to an update on repairs to those notorious steps in Greenfield that led to the rape of an 11-year old a few weeks ago, while WTAE segued from Davenport into a story about a dog getting tasered and killed.
From the Greenfield steps, KDKA went into something that included the graphic “Car vs. Motorcycle” - which I think was about an accident - and then a story about a car crash on Route 28. Still no election talk.
After that, KDKA caught up with the other two stations with a report on Najeh Davenport and his Impala before giving an update on the light pole that crushed a woman at a bus stop in East Liberty. Then, finally, at 11:07, KDKA let us in on the fact that there was an election, with a good block of coverage.
WTAE really bought themselves some time with the “special report at 11:15.” I guess the first 15 minutes or so of a broadcast are probably the most-watched minutes, so WTAE was smart enough not to waste any of it with silly election coverage. Instead, they hit on Davenport, the tasered dog, a young boy who wandered away from school, the Carrick student-teacher sex, James Harrison’s White House refusal, a weather report, a very special story about Ryan Clark (including a very special one-on-one with Sally Wiggin), a sports report, and a shameless pimping of a special Penguins playoff t-shirt (the shirt says “Stixburgh” with an image of Marc-Andre Fleury).
After all of that, WTAE went to commercial before coming back with its “special report on the election,” the best part of that report being Bob Mayo’s interview with Luke Ravenstahl, parts of which I’ve already posted about.
And through it all, WPXI just kept plugging away with election coverage, even dedicating time to races other than mayor and examining the Georgia Blotzer slate card issue. By contrast, KDKA let us know that we could find out about the other races by going to their website.
So I’ll give some credit to David Johnson, personal favorite Darieth Chisholm, and WPXI/PCNC. At least in terms of coverage minutes, they made it seem like they were interested in this election.