Watchman on the Walls

In Ezekiel 3, God commissions the prophet as a watchman on the walls. The commission carries great responsibility. He is instructed to keep watch. If danger comes, he is to warn his fellow citizens. If they heed his warning, the country will be spared. If he fails to issue the warning, their destruction will be on his head. He will be held accountable. If he fulfills his duty and his fellow citizens ignore the warning, the consequences fall on them. He has done his duty.

Reporters are the watchmen on the walls for our states. We observe what is happening around us and report to our fellow citizens. We are responsible to report, to warn if you will. What to do with the information rests with our listeners and those who view our websites.

I have been contemplating the role of a watchman as I have watched this political season unfold. My career as a political reporter stretches back to 1980 when I worked as a part-time reporter for a small radio station in Warrensburg while completing my college degree. It became intoxicating, exhilarating and mesmerizing.

Such emotions carry a young reporter past the fatigue of long hours and an endless “To Do” list through the thrill of reporting on election night. I became hooked.

I’m still hooked. I still enjoy the job. Time and the changes that have taken place the past 30 years have given me a perspective I lacked when I first started.

Politics seems to suck everyone in to playing the game. Democrats say this. Republicans counter with that. Words escalate. Rhetoric intensifies. The objective of it all, choosing those who will governor for us, seems to get lost in a cascade of competing commercials.

The public still deserves a watchman on the walls, someone who understands that this isn’t a game. The public still needs that person to observe, to report, perhaps even to warn. Most people will never meet a candidate for state representative or senate, let alone a candidate for Congress. They cannot be blamed for being confused by the funhouse mirror distortion of campaign commercials. They need someone who will cut through carefully crafted campaign messages, ask the tough questions, get the answers and report them accurately without bias. They need a watchman on the walls.

All of us who are reporters get discouraged this time of year, because we aren’t sure whether our hard work gets across, whether it does indeed cut through the clutter to make a difference. It’s difficult to tell.

In Ezekiel 33, God renews the prophet’s commission, his call as a watchman. He repeats that the duty of a watchman is to issue the warning and, if he doesn’t, the destruction of the country will be on his head. It is up to his fellow citizens to heed that warning. Our duty, in these last few days prior to November 2nd, is to climb up on the walls, to keep an eye out, to report clearly. The results fall to those who will hear and act.

Missourinet Managing Editor Brent Martin is the President of the National Association of State Radio Networks News Directors group. He wrote this for his fellow news directors and reporters in the latest NASRN newsletter. He addresses the responsibilities reporters have in political campaigns and the responsibilities citizens have, too. – Bob Priddy

Opportunity Lost

Republicans, hungry for victory in November after the pounding they took in 2008, have their eyes on prizes that normally elude them. Anybody could easily dismiss Republican suggestions that West-Central Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton, a Democrat from Lexington, was vulnerable and that St. Louis Area Democratic Congressman Russ Carnahan could be beaten early in this election cycle. That was before a series of stunning upsets, some to long-time incumbents, across that country that dealt a fatal blow to conventional wisdom and made any such suggestions no longer laughable.

It appears the winds have shifted and Republicans could sail to victories which seemed impossible only a few months ago. There is talk Republicans could regain control in the United States House.

That’s what makes the decision of United States House Minority Leader John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, so difficult to understand. Boehner could be the next Speaker, if Republicans can pick off incumbents such as Skelton and Carnahan. Boehner visited Missouri this Labor Day weekend, attending private fund-raisers for Vicky Hartzler, the former state representative challenging Skelton, and Ed Martin, the former chief of staff for Governor Blunt challenging Carnahan. The emphasis is on private.

The Hartzler campaign did seize on an opportunity when it learned that Boehner would be in nearby Johnson County, Kansas to raise money for Republican Kevin Yoder in a tight race with Democrat Stephene Moore in the Third Congressional District of Kansas and planned a fundraiser in the St. Louis area for Martin. It requested Boehner make a stop in Skelton’s 4th Congressional District for a fundraiser and brief media availability.

Boehner agreed to a fundraiser at a private Jefferson City residence. Former Missourinet colleague Steve Walsh, now working for the Hartzler campaign, planned a short media availability with Boehner Saturday afternoon. The Missourinet wanted to ask not only about the Skelton and Martin races, but to get Boehner’s perspective on the US Senate race pitting his long-time colleague Roy Blunt against Democrat Robin Carnahan. In particular, we wanted to hear Boehner’s thoughts on Carnahan’s constant criticism of Blunt’s role in securing Republican votes to pass the financial rescue package, the now infamous $700 billion TARP plan.

Something changed, though. Security concerns, tight scheduling…what does it really matter? The Boehner people canceled the media availability. You could hear the disappointment in Walsh’s voice on the telephone when he informed us. You could even decipher it in the e-mail he sent to the news media on Friday morning.


JEFFERSON CITY — Due to time constraints Saturday’s announced media availability with U.S. House Republican Leader John Boehner has been cancelled.

Congressman Boehner will visit Jefferson City on Saturday to attend a fundraiser and to campaign on behalf of 4th Congressional District Republican candidate Vicky Hartzler. The Saturday afternoon event will go on, as scheduled, but will be closed to the media.

I have covered politics now for 30 years. That doesn’t mean I understand politicians.

If Boehner had granted the interview it would have elevated the Hartzler challenge to Skelton. We would have run bits of the interview on Saturday, would have produced a full package of stories on Hartzler’s challenge of Skelton for broadcast and Web on Monday and would have produced another package of stories with Boehner about TARP on Tuesday.

Instead, once we learned of Boehner’s planned visit, we issued a short message on Twitter, wrote a brief for the broadcast and a short story for the Web. That would be the extent of the coverage. The visit itself slipped quietly into the category of private fundraiser only; no longer a newsworthy event. It could have been so much more.

It simply was an opportunity lost.

Ham and politics go hand-in-hand at the State Fair

There has to be something sublimely ironic about the fact that the Governor’s Ham Breakfast attracts so many politicians.

But there they were and, thus, there I was, a veteran political reporter attending the annual event held at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia…for the first time. Somehow, with all the political events I cover each year, I had never made it to the Ham Breakfast at the Fair. I won’t make that mistake again.

You see, the Ham Breakfast has a magnetic attraction to politicians. They all show up. Republicans and Democrats mingle at the same venue, all intent on displaying they are in touch with Missouri’s rural roots. They glad-hand the farmers and folks in attendance, speak to as many potential voters as possible and, yes, talk to us.

Reporters flock to the Ham Breakfast as well. Not just the Capitol Press Corps gang, but all those local reporters, including the hard-working farm broadcasters who year-in, year-out find different angles to report from the Fair. It’s a natural. There isn’t any place else that puts more politicians from different parties in a single place.

Democrat Robin Carnahan is over there. Republican Roy Blunt is over here.

Go to one, get a comment. Got to the other, get a response.

I did more interviews in one hour that I normally due in a few days. I have more stories backed up than planes at O’Hare. Some didn’t even have anything to do with politics. It was nearly political reporter Nirvana.

More than 1,000 attended. So many showed up that organizers began putting up folding chairs outside the Director’s Tent at the State Fair for the overflow crowd. It seems a good indication of the interest in the 2012 elections.

Former State Senator Jim Mathewson presided over the 58th annual event that the Missouri State Fair Foundation uses to raise money for charity. The auction afterward raised $11,100. Those proceeds, combined with revenue from the breakfast, will help fund the State Fair Foundation scholarship program for Missouri youth headed for college.

The auction began with the Grand Champion Ham exhibited by Alainya Schuster of Versailles. The ham was purchased by Murphy Brothers Exposition and Ditzfeld Transfer for $3,500 and then donated to the Missouri 4-H. The Reserve Grand Champion Ham exhibited by Logan Cary of Houston, went to Missouri Electric Cooperatives for $4,750. The ham was given to Governor Nixon. Starline Brass, Inc. purchased the Grand Champion Bacon exhibited by Davis Meat Processing of Jonesburg, for $2,250 and donated it to the 4-H shooting sports program. Starline was also the buyer of the commemorative belt buckle that went for $600.

Kitchen Kraft International joined with the Foundation and awarded two $1,000 scholarships.

The Fair continues through Sunday.