Bob and weave

Sometimes reporters have to work hard to find out what’s behind what somebody is saying. Here’s an example from the capitol front lines.

Monday, Senate Committee Hearing Room #1. The Senate Redistricting Committee approved the committee’s plan for congressional redistricting. Afterwards reporters gathered around committee chairman Scott Rupp. As we’re asking questions, a woman passed a news release over our shoulders expressing disapproval of the committee proposal.

Afterwards we interviewed her. We had to cut through vagueness to find out what her stake in the issue really is.

This is how it happens sometimes in the world of news-gathering.

She identifies herself as Donna Turk “from the Kansas City area.” The address on the news release says Lee’s Summit. She admits she’s from Lee’s Summit.

No, she doesn’t represent a committee or an organization. She’s just “a private citizen who attended public hearings in the Kansas City area.”

But it is unusual for a private citizen to become so involved in an issue that is hardly dinner table conversation. “I’m a voter and a private citizen,” she says.

So what IS her stake in this issue: “I worked very hard on congressional campaigns the last three cycles.”

Which campaign did you work on? “I worked for the campaigns that worked to unseat Emanuel Cleaver.”

Late in the interview one of the late-arriving reporters asked for her name. And when she mentioned it, an alert Chris Blank of the AP asked, “Are you related, married to, Jacob Turk?”
That’s when she held up her left hand and displayed her wedding ring and admitted she was Jacob Turk’s wife. That’s something more, of course, than “a private citizen” (she mentioned that twice), a voter, and someone who worked very hard on congressional campaigns.

Jacob Turk has run against Emanuel Cleaver three times. In 2006 he got 32% of the vote. In 2008, he got 36%. Last year he got 44%.

It’s okay that Donna Turk wanted to give her maps to the House and Senate redistricting committees. It’s okay that she has studied this issue and done a lot of work to draw maps that she thinks more favorably reflect what she thinks the fifth district should be. And it’s okay that she comes up with a design that might give her husband a better chance of winning.

Sometimes, though, newsmakers–for no apparent reason that we can divine–make reporters work a little extra hard to get past bobbing and weaving to ferret out the agenda.

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