Russ Mitchell

The Mitchell Report

Russ Mitchell is editor of The Dickinson County News. He has been in Spirit Lake since January 2010 and began in journalism in 1997. The Mitchell Report can be about anything and everything. Comments are invited.

An overdue goodbye to 2016 election politics

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Back in December, I was assigned to cover a supplemental story when Donald Trump campaigned at the Clay County Regional Events Center. While the Spencer Daily Reporter team covered the speech, my assignment was to talk to some of the embedded Trump reporters about what life was like on the road with a candidate. Especially that candidate.

It was a good idea, but the national reporters I talked to in the fenced-off area told me they wouldn't do interviews. It makes sense. They aren't supposed to be the story -- and anything they'd say would probably need to be cleared through the public relations department of a large corporation anyway.

The credential was around my neck and my pockets were already emptied out for the Secret Service so I had to improvise. I talked to some early arrivals at the Trump rally including a couple from the Redwood Falls, Minnesota area who brought their adult daughter to the event. The Hoffbecks spent the night in Okoboji and lined up for the Saturday morning rally several hours early.

As you might expect, a family who made that kind of commute and waited that long was very enthusiastic about Mr. Trump.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Trump's poll numbers were in trouble after the debates and the "Access Hollywood" tape, so I tried to find Krista, the adult daughter who joined her folks at the rally. I just wanted to find out if her view of Mr. Trump changed in any way. I did a search through Facebook and found out that she volunteered for an organization that helps disadvantaged children. Then I did a search for the organization to get a phone number.

I reached who I presume is the woman in charge of the southwest Minnesota non-profit about the best way to reach Krista. She told me she was would relay a message on my behalf. I gave her my name and number and, just so Krista wouldn't worry, "tell her I was the reporter she met at the Trump rally in Spencer. I just want to know if her opinion has changed."

The woman on the other end of the line sounded shocked. "She was at a Trump rally?" There was a genuine disgust in her voice. "I'm sorry. I'm not going to be able to forward your message." And with that, she hung up on me.

I tried to reach Krista through a Facebook message -- if for nothing else to warn her that I may have unintentionally ruffled the feathers of her not-so-charitable, non-profit director. I never heard back.

So if we're breaking this down, I'm just a reporter who was following up on a political event. And, because this woman didn't like that particular brand of politics, I was no longer worthy of help.

It's not just Trump-Clinton. I can tell you how I was cornered and scolded by an audience member while volunteering at a local debate because he wanted a more gotcha question posed to one of the candidates. We opted for neutral questions that both candidates can answer because, heaven forbid, we stick to the issues in 2016.

Civility was already on life support heading into the current election cycle. Cable news channels could give us panels of journalists to help us understand the political process. But instead of referees, too often we got campaign surrogate cheerleaders who shout at each other.

I filled out an early ballot this year. But, sorry folks, it didn't bring the political season to an early end. We should have pulled the plug on this one a long time ago.