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The Harrisburg Patriot-News: Gamely Avoiding Demographics
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May 21, 2009, 05:02 PM
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Set in the midst of mostly-white Central Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, the state capital, is about 55 percent black. It was once known as the second most-distressed city in America. That was before Stephen R. Reed, a white man, assumed the mayoralty in 1982, and by most accounts, righted it.

On Tuesday, Reed, known as "Mayor for Life," lost the Democratic primary to a black woman, city council president Linda Thompson.

I followed the developments through the Harrisburg Patriot-News, which announced in an editorial this morning that Reed lost because he lacked "transparency."

I scoured the other coverage, and saw only the barest mention of race. I saw no discussion of how Reed, an award-winning mayor, was screwing things up — even from Thompson. I saw no discussion of how Thompson planned to run the city better. Most of the coverage lamely lobbed that the upset was a surprise.

Really? On the heels of the election of Barack Obama and in the face of an energized black electorate, this was a surprise?

For an acknowledgment that race played a role (and specifics on Reed`s sins, if any), you had to be reading the much bigger Philadelphia Inquirer.

It may well have been that with a white mayor interested in western-themed museums and a black woman calling for "change", black voters didn`t agonize over how to vote. But the Patriot-News, following a media pattern I`ve come to expect, avoided the racial angle completely. The theme of the coverage was a that "man" who served for a long time was defeated by a "woman" on the city council. Wow!

As the newspaper industry dies, its defenders like to say that we need the smaller newspapers to expose local political corruption. But how probing that press is when it can`t identify such a crucial political reality makes me doubt that watchdog`s eyesight.