In DeWine v. Brown, AP Goes Beyond Finger-Wagging

When it came to sorting through Mike DeWine and Sherrod Brown's various charges and countercharges, one report stood out.

Sparks flew yesterday on Meet the Press as Republican incumbent Mike DeWine and Democratic challenger Sherrod Brown, meeting for the first of four debates in their Ohio Senate race, squared off in “a contentious, interruption-filled sparring session punctuated with finger-wags and scoldings,” as the Dayton Daily News termed it.

“With their U.S. Senate race at a statistical dead heat, Mike DeWine and his equally feisty challenger Sherrod Brown tried to make the choice easier for voters Sunday by disagreeing on nearly everything in a televised debate,” reported the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Sherrod Brown argued, interrupted, name-called, and late-hit their way onto the national stage yesterday morning, in the kickoff debate of a U.S. Senate race that now appears as uncivil as it is competitive,” reported the Toledo Blade.

Things got so bad, said the Blade, that at times the two candidates “made host Tim Russert look less like their moderator and more like their mother,” with Russert saying “time out” no less than six times during the debate.

But when it came to sorting through DeWine and Brown’s various charges and countercharges — and helping readers decide who was telling the truth and who was stretching it — reporters from Ohio’s major newspapers largely took a pass. In that vacuum, the close inspection the Associated Press’s David Hammer gave those charges stood out.

“Ohio’s U.S. Senate candidates tried to paint each other as extreme, each referring to his opponent’s past votes on Capitol Hill, but the numbers and facts didn’t always add up,” Hammer reported, after he filed a more standard debate story earlier yesterday.

One major bone of contention during the debate concerned the assertion by Brown, a seven-term congressman, that it was he, and not DeWine, who had pushed to get adequate body armor for U.S. troops. Replied DeWine: “You are absolutely unbelievable. How can you say this when you, Sherrod, voted five different times against funding for body armor — when it counted, when it was real money?”

But, Hammer noted, one of those votes was “not a final decision on appropriating the money,” while four of the five came before the Iraq war began, “and three of them were before Sept. 11, 2001.”

DeWine also said Brown “had voted 15 times against increasing military funding ‘when it really counted’” — referring, Hammer wrote, “to the 15 times Brown voted against Defense Department spending packages that the House and Senate had agreed upon since 1993.”

“But five of the 15 votes were on preliminary measures for setting aside money, not for actually spending it. In addition, just two of the votes were for final funding of military operations in the current conflict,” Hammer explained. “Still, DeWine could point to six times that Brown was in the minority of his own party in voting against military funding packages, buttressing the Senator’s contention that Brown is too far to the left.”

Hammer also scrutinized several other assertions the two rivals made yesterday, providing helpful context for their sparring over intelligence funding and free trade.

The end result was not groundbreaking or flashy. Instead, Hammer simply gave us good, solid fact checking — diligent reporting that went beyond the attention-grabbing, finger-wagging and name-calling.

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.