Tag Archives: isolation

Nashville: An Isolated and Corrupt State Capital?

Researchers who reviewed federal court convictions of state government officials from 1976 through 2002 say that the more isolated a state capitol is from the overall state population, the more corruption. (Note: The period would catch the convictions of Ray Blanton era officials, who were tried after he left office, and the “Rocky Top” scandal but not the 2005 “Tennessee Waltz” scandal.)
From a Los Angeles Times story on the study:
The most corrupt state capitals – Jackson, Miss., Baton Rouge, La., Nashville, Tenn., Pierre, S.D., Springfield, Ill., and Albany, N.Y., for example – are all more isolated than average. Nashville is the least so, being a major city in its own right although distant from other population centers in the state. Springfield and Pierre rank as the two most isolated on the list. The less isolated the capital, the more likely it is to rank low on corruption.
Isolation doesn’t explain everything, of course. Some states, such as Oregon, Washington and Vermont, have unusually low levels of corruption. But the impact of isolation appears strong.
What might cause the relationship between isolation and corruption, the researchers asked. One possibility was that newspapers, which provide most coverage of state governments, may be less likely to cover the capital when it is further from their circulation areas. So they examined the content of 436 U.S. newspapers, searching for references to state government. Sure enough, “in states where the population is more concentrated around the capital,” the study found “more intense media coverage of state politics, and therefore greater accountability.”
For example, they noted, newspapers in Massachusetts, where Boston, is the capital and by far the state’s largest city, cover state government more than do newspapers in New York, where Albany is a relative backwater.
“It stands to reason that when citizens are better able to monitor the performance of public officials and punish those who do misbehave, there will be less scope for the latter to misuse their office for private gain,” the researchers wrote.
The relationship between newspaper coverage and corruption has another troubling implication. In the past decade, the number of reporters covering state capitals has dropped sharply – a reduction of more than 30% between 2003 and 2009, according to a census by the American Journalism Review. If less coverage leads to more corruption, those staff cutbacks should provide plenty of work for prosecutors in years to come.