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Motives differ for not admitting Jindal's upcoming win

I’ll give New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist James Gill a hand over his latest column – both in the sense of his being the first old media political observer to have enough guts and/or common sense to state the obvious, and in the sense to assist him in answering his question in the column about this upcoming Saturday’s governor’s election – answers that may not make everybody happy.

Gill asked a very simple question – if two independent polls showed Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal with about half the vote, his opponents combined having about a quarter of the vote, and the other quarter undecided, why are no pollsters and pundits stating the obvious: it looks very likely that Jindal will win outright. About the best he could get from them was that Jindal “could win.”

I understand why the pollsters/political scientists might be cautious. We academicians know that political behavior still has many mysteries to us, and, as social scientists, we don’t like to pronounce things with certainty until they are demonstrated with an extraordinarily high degree of confidence. Nobody likes to make a definitive statement not being sure the situation really is definitive because if it does turn out the other way, one’s credibility as a scholar and researcher is damaged.

Nor did those not trained in political science and electoral behavior have much to offer. A demographer/pollster boldly remarked “My advice to everyone is, whatever you do, do not bet on this one.” (Of course, this guy’s brother is the campaign manager for one of the candidates left in Jindal’s dust.) Gill pondered whether this, and related remarks, weren’t bad advice given what looks to be very reliable polling.

But in the news reporting of the story, opinion, often as uninformed as informed, was, if anything, even more cautionary. The Baton Rouge Advocate couldn’t even decide whether these results meant Jindal definitely was in a general election runoff, much less winning an absolute majority to cancel need of the general election. This should not be surprising since The Advocate has been by far the most eager of the state’s newspapers to run stories negative about Jindal as well as its critical editorials about him and anybody who criticizes Advocate editorialists.

(Try this: search on its site for the term governor and see that in the past 10 days how many such stories, most on the opinion pages, pop up, such as Jindal is for teaching creationism in schools, how a sheriff wants Jindal to remove an ad, a story taking a swipe at Jindal for not showing up to a “debate,” insinuating that Jindal will be influenced by out-of-staters giving money to his campaign, that Jindal tried to stop the state from squeezing money out of tobacco companies, etc. while no other candidate has come to close to facing this scrutiny in its pages, nor have other media outlets seen these as compelling stories.

For those who don’t know, the way newspaper coverage works is an editor assigns a story to a reporter, who then turns in copy that gets edited by the editor, and finally it is edited by a copy editor who supplies a headline. Thus, proper blame goes to the editors for story choices and to copy editors for the headlines, not to the reporters. Still, I wouldn’t want to be an Advocate reporter covering Jindal over the next four years because politicians definitely play favorites with the media so Jindal probably won’t do many favors for Advocate reporters after the treatment he’s gotten this campaign from it.)

So why is there so much hesitation from the media to point out the elephant in the room? For some, it dilutes the value of the story: people are going to be less interested in a race that seems to be a foregone conclusion than one where there’s considerable guessing going on who will be Jindal’s runoff opponent. But for others, it’s because, well, they don’t like the idea of Jindal taking the governor’s oath of office next January.

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