On this, the morning after, I wonder how many voters feel that the media served up an oversupply of trivia during the presidential campaign and came up short on meaningful comparisons of the candidates' stands on the issues.
I am one of these. The television reports and the newspapers, The Post included, offered an abundance of coverage of labels, quips, slogans and insults but only rarely placed the views of the candidates side by side for examination.
The meticulous details about slips and slurs, while perhaps providing some insights into the character and personalities of the utterers, sopped up daily news space to the detriment of issues coverage. (There are some experienced campaign hands who are inclined to attribute many such defects to the sheer physical stress of campaign endurance contests rather than to character weakness.)
Before campaign reporters start heating up the tar and collecting feathers, let me hasten to acknowledge that campaign reporting is tough work, subject to the direction of editors, who in turn discern readers' interests, and while I know there were herculean efforts to inform the electorate, a lot of headlines and space went to trivia.
Suppose in the next presidential campaign a newspaper were to designate an "issues editor"? Once a week he or she would recapitulate the opposing views, note changing positions, or even lack of a position, and put them into print.
The very assignment of an issues editor, I suspect, would encourage candidates to pay more attention to substance and less to straining and stretching to catch the applause of a particular audience.
For readers there would be a supply of information available for discussion, rereading, and maybe even clipping and keeping.
True, there were a few times during the campaign when tables comparing the Reagan and Mondale positions were published, but these faded into memory as the weeks wore on. On television I rarely saw a split-screen comparison. The Post, in its local coverage, did offer voters' guides just before Election Day, but candidates complained that otherwise there was only occasional reporting and most of that was about fund-raising or speculation on who was ahead.
There were three national television debates in which the presidential and vice presidential candidates confronted each other on their conflicting views, but the confrontation was diluted by the press, whose questions shifted the focus from one subject to another. And media reports on the debates usually paid more attention to blows landed, makeup and performing style than to substance. Full and partial texts in The Post were helpful, as were editorials and columnists' comments, but they were not enough.
Now let me turn to a more unusual situation -- two stories in The Post with contradictory facts. While I doubt they affected the outcome of the Iowa senatorial race or the presidential one, they do illustrate the frailty of news gathering and the difficulty in tracking errors.
Here are the essential facts:
On Oct. 7 a Metro reporter, writing about busy National Airport, told of the Marriott Corporation's problems in preparing meals for airplane passengers. He wrote, "A major complication is that Mondale doesn't eat red meat." Sen. Roger Jepsen, running for reelection in Iowa, carried this to red-meat-eating Iowa, declaring that this raised "serious questions about how faithfully" Mr. Mondale would represent Iowa. A Post National reporter visiting Iowa on Oct. 16 cited the Jepsen blast and added that Mr. Mondale "eats red meat regularly and is a particular fan of cheeseburgers."
And so matters stood until a reader alerted me. The Metro reporter checked back with Marriott and was reassured. But later, another Metro reporter, confronting Marriott with the obvious inconsistency, managed to force an admission. "It's a mistake. We've put more red meat on the plane than just about anything else: pastrami, cheeseburgers, filet. One of our people heard somewhere that Mondale didn't eat red meat, and repeated the story, but it's simply not true."
Thank you, reporter Mary Battiata -- and Marriott spokesman Terry Souers -- for setting the record straight in the story of Oct. 27.