The Outstater: The IndyStar Fell with Dick Lugar
by CRAIG LADWIG
Dick Lugar wasn’t the only political legend to fall tonight. The Indianapolis Star, once the guardian of the state political discussion, went supine, flopped right over on its back.
The newspaper’s featured article three days before the election was “Sen. Richard Lugar Issues Urgent Call for Help in Election.” The editors in effect turned over a top web slot to the Lugar campaign team. Here is the opening paragraph by the Star’s chief political writer:
“Sen. Richard Lugar’s campaign came down to one word Friday: ‘help.’ In the political equivalent of an SOS, the Navy veteran urged Hoosiers of any political persuasion who like what he’s done in his 36-year career in the Senate to help him stay there. ‘Every person in Indiana who wants me to continue, every person wherever they might be at this point, I encourage them to come out,’ he said. ‘Come out immediately, as fast as you can.’”
Where was the news in that? Is there such a thing as a politician who doesn’t want help in the last days of a campaign from whatever quarter? Do dogs bite men? Is there a journalistic defense?
No, it was an attempt to manipulate the readership, the voter turn-out, to improve the chances of the Star’s favored man — indeed, so blatant it’s difficult to believe it wasn’t ordered up. At best, it was Hollywood-style reporting, the endearment of political celebrities to curry future access.
How much was it worth? On the political market, it was priceless. Even if one could buy a front page, the cost per column inch couldn’t approach the value of such a last-moment political call to action by as trusted a source as the state’s leading newspaper.
A Roorbach is the name that early American journalists gave to a false or slanderous story devised against a political opponent too late in the campaign to be answered.
Modern journalists will need to list with it an IndyStar, noun, “an expertly focused, highly tactical, election-eve manipulation of voter sentiment disguised as an objective news report.”