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November 11, 2008

Election? What Election?

It's always fun when a headline from the Onion comes true after the fact—but when your publication runs a story right out of the satirical paper on the same day—and the biggest news day of the year, at that—maybe its time to reconsider your news judgment. And so while the Onion might be justified in placing the election of a local politician on its front page instead of the election of the nation's first black president, real papers who did the same can't claim to be satire.

Terrell Trib Results

Obama Returned No Results

On Wednesday, November 5, the Terrell Tribune decided to lead with the story of the election of a black Democratic candidate who promised change and replaced a Texas Republican. "Jackson defeats Schoen" screamed the headline, in reference to the race for Kaufman County Commissioner in Precinct 3, in which J.C. Jackson defeated incumbent Kenneth Schoen with 52 percent of the vote. And what of that other race? "There were a few Obama-related stories within the paper," reports WFAA in Dallas-Fort Worth, but "there was no story devoted to the presidential victory."

The Terrell Tribune did not respond to Gelf's request for comment, though publisher Bill Jordan did issue a statement saying, "We covered the local commissioner's race. We thought that was more important." Seriously. Jordan continued to say that race did not factor in the decision not to run a story on Obama's victory in the 75-percent white town, since Jackson himself is a black candidate. No word on whether Jordan claimed that many of his best friends were black.

But the Terrell Tribune wasn't the only local paper to gloss over the story. CNN reports that the Sapulpa Herald also avoided any mention of Obama on its front page. Its only election story was a short blurb on the voting habits of Creek County, in which 71 percent of the vote went to John McCain. To its credit, the paper followed up with a story on the protests in response to the missed coverage, and the paper's publisher sounded much more believable than his cross-state neighbor. Darren Sumner told CNN that readers of his paper knew about the election results beforehand, "they read about it, or watched it on TV, or got on the internet and followed it and knew complete coverage several hours before we were going to go to press. Our main focus is to be a local newspaper."

Racist Paper Graph

Data courtesy of CNN.com and the Knight report on newsroom diversity.

Ironically, the Hope Star in Arkansas also shunned Obama, going with a story on election results titled "Southwest Arkansas Swims against the Tide" below the fold. All three of these publications serve overwhelmingly white populations, and each of their home counties went strongly to McCain (see accompanying chart).

And what about the Onion? While there is no data on the whiteness or redness of their readership, the paper did feature a sports reporter who can't help but write about the election ("Kobe Bryant Scores 25 In Holy Shit We Elected A Black President") the day before Bill Simmons actually did the same thing. Looks like we should be seeing the Ocular Penetration Prevention Act introduced on the House floor any day now.

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