Public Editor

Do all presidential candidates deserve equal treatment by journalists?

Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Rick Santorum
Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Rick Santorum The Associated Press

I admit, I’m not a fan, but can’t we all at least agree Rick Santorum isn’t going to be our next president?” asked a caller last week. “But I guess I have to say the same thing about (Bernie) Sanders, don’t I?” he added with a laugh.

The reader was referring to the buff-colored box on the front page May 28, which featured a short paragraph of text and small photo of Santorum’s face, pointing readers to a story inside about the former senator’s announcement that he has officially entered the 2016 presidential race.

Midway through our conversation, my caller remembered that Sanders got a treatment that was very similar when it was revealed in late April that he was throwing his hat into the ring as well: another short bit of text, a small face picture and a pointer to a longer story inside.

As of this writing, eight Republicans and two Democrats have officially announced their candidacies. The Kansas City Star’s print edition has treated them all very much equivalently. The sole exception was relatively minor: Ted Cruz’ announcement was accompanied by a photo depicting him from the waist up — a larger and I’d argue more powerful image than any of the others.

I know editors discussed the importance of treating the announcements in an equitable way when the first one came up. I recall one senior editor noting specifically that their initial decision would necessarily become the template for the rest.

Back to my caller’s other point: No, neither Santorum nor Sanders has a realistic chance of winning the White House. Santorum’s positions on social issues and Sanders’ on economics are well outside the mainstream, and I think it’s fair to label both fringe candidates.

And the 10 candidates whose names have been on Page A1 so far aren’t the only ones in the race. A large number of other parties such as the Constitution Party, Green Party, Libertarian Party and Socialist Party USA will be putting forth their own names, not to mention hundreds of independents.

Should each get the same treatment? Of course not. So where should editors draw the line?

One could argue that The Star is being a bit overly scrupulous by playing the 10 all in the same manner. It’s the journalist’s job to separate news wheat from chaff, and readers expect editors to exercise good news judgment.

Some political junkies have also wanted The Star to remind readers about scandals and misdeeds involving candidates they don’t like. In the past week, I’ve had requests for The Star to run stories about donations to the Clinton Foundation from the embattled FIFA and the Qatar committee driving that country’s controversial World Cup.

And on the other side of the aisle, I’ve heard voices asking for coverage of Mike Huckabee’s campaign to remind readers that he has voiced support for Josh Duggar, the reality TV figure who admitted to molesting young children as a teenager.

Yes, the 2016 presidential campaign is in full swing, at least among the political junkie class. And some of the highest-profile contenders have vehement critics.

But I hear the rest of your silent pleas in my head: Let’s hold off till next year.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or email publiceditor@kcstar.com.

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