Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker’s son accused his father of threatening to kill him and his mother, as well as forcing them to move repeatedly to flee his father’s violence — serious allegations that have been largely downplayed in mainstream coverage. The allegations were all-the-more credible given Herschel Walker’s history of domestic violence, including admitting putting a gun to his ex-wife’s head.
Christian Walker made the comments on Twitter Monday evening, following a report in The Daily Beast that Herschel Walker had secretly paid for an ex-girlfriend to get an abortion in 2009.
Much of the subsequent coverage has fallen into a predictable pattern – treating the allegations of serious domestic abuse as “family drama” and speculating on what the revelations will mean for the upcoming midterm elections.
The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro, host of the popular podcast The Daily, exemplified this tendency on Tuesday, the morning after Christian Walker’s tweets.
ABC’s long-running political newsletter The Note did the same. Although ABC’s coverage included some of Christian Walker’s comments about his father, it didn’t include the most serious allegations that Herschel had allegedly threatened to kill some of his family members.
Politico also used the phrase “family drama” to describe Christian Walker’s posts in its Tuesday afternoon newsletter. Like ABC, Politico included some of the junior Walker’s comments, but not the allegations of threats of deadly violence. To Politico’s credit, the outlet did include those allegations in its morning newsletter.
Much of the subsequent coverage has been dominated by horserace-style reporting on what the cascading revelations would mean for the midterms. That kind of coverage isn’t inherently unreasonable, but it becomes problematic when it obscures the underlying and serious accusations to fit a simplistic narrative about partisan gain or loss.
Axios’ continuing reporting on the topic illustrates how this type of superficial coverage often plays out. Its initial story included several of Christian’s posts, including the allegations that Herschel threatened to kill him and his mother. Even in that piece, the death threat accusations didn’t come until the 12th paragraph or bullet point, relatively buried by its own standards. (Axios’ house style is to write in the format of a Power Point deck).
After that initial post, Axios moved on to meta-coverage about what the initial story would mean, disregarding Christian Walker’s most serious initial allegations.
It’s reasonable to report on how Herschel Walker’s allies and opponents are responding to these revelations, and the nature of media production means that some horse race coverage is inevitable. But that coverage doesn’t have to sacrifice clarity. When a candidate’s adult son accuses them of threatening to kill him and his mother, it’s worth more than just a passing mention in an initial story. And it is certainly more than just “family drama.”