The Importance of Independence

During a committee meeting called to discuss ballot propositions at the Capitol last week, an interesting thing happened. Someone from the office of Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg called the good people at the California Channel and instructed them to halt coverage. CalChannel, as it affectionately known by nearly everyone, complied.

The CalChannel logo

The result was that an important hearing went untelevised and unrecorded, a loss for interested citizens statewide and a significant strike against CalChannel’s reputation as an independent news source. Until last week, the description of the service that they provide to the public (on their “About” page) seemed beyond doubt;

“The California Channel, like its model C-SPAN, is powerfully simple because of its unselfish display of completely unedited, unbiased legislative news…”

“The camera does not blink, so no one edits what you see…”

“The California Channel is a basic journalistic concept – the television camera serving as the eyes and ears of a private California citizen.”

As the editor of OneVoter.org and JoinCalifornia.com, I can understand the position that CalChannel was placed in. I have been asked on a number of occasions to remove content from my websites that candidates or campaign consultants either didn’t want included or felt was unfair. I’ve done my best to strike a balance:

  • Criminal Charges: I don’t feel that it’s appropriate to list DUIs or most other offenses on candidate biographies (those that we’ve included are identified with the term “Legal Troubles“. It certainly happens from time to time that people get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t (a drunk driver killed Alan Pattee in 1969), but that’s just not what my site is about. Additionally, because we cover politicians from the 1850s to the present, you would see a disproportionate number of these cases in recent years (when the newspapers covered these stories in a more aggressive manner).
  • Overly Personal Information: Several times each year, my research will stumble onto information that would be quite embarrassing to that candidate or their family (like the death of Speaker John Yule in 1888 and another legislator in the late 1960s). It just comes down to a judgment call over the question “How important is it to share this information?” Sometimes it’s an easy call, like in 2010 when a candidate (who lost) asked me to remove information about several campaigns she had lost previously. Political history is what these websites are about. It stayed.

The point is this; there are always tough choices to be made when covering politics (or anything else that involves humans). I want you to know that when you visit my sites, you may not get the whole story. Additionally, what you find may contain some biases. But I promise you that what you will find here is the most complete and accurate version of our state history that I have been able to assemble, combined with some very mild commentary about historic trends and how they tie into current events.

CalChannel has provided a great service to the state for years, and will no doubt continue to hold an important role in the civic life of California. It’s because of their prominent role that we value their work and hold them to a high standard. Please, don’t let the camera blink.