Newsnight jumps the shark hunt: 99% of Clark County, Ohio, viewers polled say Ian Katz must go
THE new editor of Newsnight, the BBC news show that spiked the Jimmy Savile expose, is the Guardian’s Ian Katz. Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman said in the wake of the Savile debacle that BBC’s news division had been “taken over by radio … Helen Boaden, a radio person. Steve Mitchell, a radio person. Peter Rippon was a radio person. These people belong to a different kind of culture.”
How will a newspaper man with no experience of telly work out, then?
Guido Fawkes notes:
Fair, balanced and impartial Ian Katz will have no trouble fitting in at his new role as Newsnight editor … Katz certainly has top drawer left-wing credentials. Back in 2004, he was editor of the Guardian’s G2 magazine during their infamous ‘Operation Clark County’ plot to swing the state of Ohio in favour of John Kerry and against George W. Bush. Katz organised thousands of letters written by lefty Britons to be sent to individual voters in Ohio, imploring them to cast their ballot for Kerry. The result was uproar, a near diplomatic incident, and victory for Bush.
Who needs guns to intervene in a foreign power’s democratic experiment when you have Guardian readers beseeching Ohio residents to pick John Kerry over George Bush in 2004.
Before the letter writing, the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland had written of his desire to be involved:
Who could honestly describe the 2004 contest of George Bush and John Kerry as a domestic affair? There’s a reason why every newspaper in the world will have the same story on its front page on November 3. This election will be decisive not just for the United States but for the future of the world.
So perhaps it’s time to make a modest proposal. If everyone in the world will be affected by this election, shouldn’t everyone in the world have a vote?
Freedland was not alone. Time magazine’s Simon Robinson wrote:
These people are affected every day by the decisions made in the White House. They deserve a say in the electoral process. America, it’s time to let the rest of the world vote for your President.
Katz thought it a good idea. Anorak was one of many who received an email with the “the address of your voter in Clark County, Ohio. Please use it wisely.” The email told us:
We have come up with a unique way for non-Americans to express your views on the policies and candidates in this election to some of the people best placed to decide its outcome. It’s not quite a vote, but it’s a chance to influence how a very important vote will be cast. Or, at the very least, make a new penpal.
It works like this. By typing your email address into the box on this page you will be sent a name and address of a voter in Clark County, Ohio from the most recent publicly available voters roll. You may not have heard of it, but it’s one of the most marginal areas in one of the most marginal states: at the last election, just 167 votes separated Democrats from Republicans. It’s a place where a change of mind among just a few voters could make a real difference.
Writing to a Clark County voter is a chance to explain how US policies effect you personally, and the rest of the world more generally, and who you hope they will send to the White House. It may even persuade someone to use their vote at all.
Reader activists were given more instruction:
In formulating your letter, you will need to introduce yourself: no individual Clark County voter will have any reason to be expecting your communication. And in choosing your arguments, keep in mind the real risk of alienating your reader by coming across as interfering or offensive. You might want to handwrite your letter, for additional impact, and we strongly recommend including your own name and address – it lends far more credibility to your views, and you might get a reply.
Finally, post your letter soon. Letters sent by regular airmail from the UK to the US usually take five days to reach their recipient, and there is little time to waste. Postage costs 43p for a postcard, 47p for a letter weighing 10g or less, and 68p for a letter weighing up to 20g. You don’t have to visit a post office, but Royal Mail recommends writing “Par Avion – By Airmail” on the front of the envelope, and your return address on the back.
The best letter would win the writer a holiday in Clark County. And – irony of ironies – the prize was not open to non-UK residents.
Before the letters were dropped on America, Guardian readers were told:
To maximise the likelihood of your efforts making a difference, we’ve zeroed in on one of the places where this year’s election truly will be decided: Clark County, Ohio, which is balanced on a razor’s edge between Republicans and Democrats. In the 2000 election, Al Gore won Clark County by 1% – equivalent to 324 votes – but George Bush won the state as a whole by just four percentage points. This time round, Ohio is one of the most crucial swing states: Kerry and Bush have been campaigning there tire lessly – they’ve visited Clark County itself – and the most recent Ohio poll shows, once again, a 1% difference between the two of them. The voters we will target in our letter-writing initiative are all Clark County residents, and they are all registered independents, which somewhat increases the chances of their being persuadable.
The great and good joined in:
Don’t be so ashamed of your president: the majority of you didn’t vote for him. If Bush is finally elected properly, that will be the time for Americans travelling abroad to simulate a Canadian accent. Please don’t let it come to that. Vote against Bin Laden’s dream candidate. Vote to send Bush packing.
Why hast thou not the visage of a sweetie or a cutie … ?
Why art thou so different from Venus?
And why do thou and I have so few interests in common between us?
These sentiments on the subject of duty, so brilliantly expressed by Ogden Nash, may well be yours, dear Unknown, when I, a national of another country, urge you to do your duty and vote in your coming presidential election.
How did it go, then? Writing for Slate, Andy Bowers has the figures:
Kerry won every Gore county in Ohio except Clark. He even increased Gore’s winning margin in 12 of the 16. Nowhere among the Gore counties did more votes move from the blue to the red column than in Clark. The Guardian’s Katz was quoted as saying it would be “self-aggrandizing” to claim Operation Clark County affected the election. Don’t be so modest, Ian.
The BBC wrote
“Could the Guardian and its Operation Clark County be responsible for a second Bush term?”
Katz said is would be “self-aggrandising” to assume the exercise made a difference. Adding:
“The only thing that’s completely clear is that we didn’t get Kerry elected and nobody’s going to be hiring me as a political strategist.”
Oh, we don’t know. David Cameron might…