Saturday, August 20, 2011

Note to MSM outlets: When you have employees write about a subject, fact check them before publishing

On August 18, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) selected a set of grid maps that will serve as the basis of the final maps of the new Congressional and legislative districts in Arizona.

Most news articles on the topic, even the one that I'm about to criticize, made it clear that the grid maps are only a starting point and that the final maps will look very different.

However, some writers, especially those for smaller outlets with less experienced reporters, tried to flesh out their pieces with other background facts.

Facts that they got woefully wrong.

Part of the problem may be due to writers writing about topics with which they aren't overly familar (at small outlets, most of the reporters are generalists).  Another part of the problem may be the fault of editors demanding filler (journalistic analysis of the grid maps as if they are the final maps is a complete waste of time) and being willing to sacrifice accuracy for word count.

From the White Mountain Independent, written by David Roberts...who's an editor at WMI...oopsie... (emphasis mine) -
...In the second proposal, this area would be in CD-5 which would start with all of Navajo and Apache Counties in the north, and take in parts of Greenlee, Graham, Gila and Maricopa.

That map would eliminate either Democrat Anne Kirkpatrick or Republican Paul Gosar from representation here, and would probably put this area in Rep. David Schweikert's current Fountain Hills district. Representatives from Schweikert's office were quick to point out that these preliminary maps are required but probably bear no resemblance to final output...
Mr. Roberts makes it sound as if a congressional representative must live in the district they represent.

While there are strong practical reasons for a representative (or candidate) to live in the district he/she represents (not least because the other candidates would point out his/her "carpetbagger" status at every turn), there are no legal requirements for that.

From Article One, Section Two of the US Constitution, courtesy Cornell University (emphasis mine) -
No person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen.

In other words, a person only has to live somewhere in Arizona to represent a Congressional district here, but not necessarily in that district.

In the past, this has led to people like Mary Kim Titla and Sydney Hay running for the current CD1.  While both have ties to communities in the district, at the time of their candidacies, both were basically Maricopa County residents.

And don't even get me started on the subject of disgraced former Congressman Rick Renzi (R-VA AZCD1).  He may have owned a house in AZ, but it wasn't his home, given the fact that his family never moved here from Virginia.

The residency requirements for state legislators is also somewhat flexible.

From Article Four, Part Two, Section Two of the Arizona Constitution (emphasis mine) -
No person shall be a member of the Legislature unless he shall be a citizen of the United States at the time of his election, nor unless he shall be at least twenty-five years of age, and shall have been a resident of Arizona at least three years and of the county from which he is elected at least one year before his election.
The same practical reasons for a candidate living in a Congressional district also apply to a candidate in a legislative race, but under the AZ Constitution, he/she only has to live in the same county as the district.  In theory, Jack Harper (R-Surprise!) could run for a seat in Tempe - both cities are in Maricopa County.

It won't happen (thank God!), but the requirement dates from AZ's early days, when legislators were actually elected from counties, and it hasn't been changed, even after decades of growth and change here.

BTW - legislators may not talk about it, but they know about it - it's on page 9 (page 15 of the .pdf) of the Legislative Manual published by the lege's Legislative Council.

Mr. Roberts did an OK job with his reporting on the grid maps themselves (it was a waste of time, but that may not be entirely his fault), but he failed horribly with his analysis of who could respresent his area (Show Low/Navajo County, I think).  It wouldn't have taken a lot of editing to make the piece more accurate.  All he had to do was note that Gosar and Kirkpatrick don't reside in the potential district he was discussing, instead of saying that they absolutely couldn't represent it.

Perhaps some of the smaller MSM outlets should consider sticking to the facts in their areas of expertise (like the happenings in their local areas) and leaving analysis of broader topics to folks with more knowledge of those particular topics.

No comments: