May 2006

Experts say

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

Today is the 71st anniversary of the day Babe ruth hit his 714th and last home run.

In case you have been living in a cave, Barry Bonds has hit 714. Why bring this up? Only to share with you the hilarious end of the piece on NPR this morning about the anniversary which ended the very authoritative, very journalistic sounding statement that

“Experts say that Bonds could surpass the Babe as early as this weekend.”

So glad reporters can find experts like these when we need them.

p.s. In case I don’t see you, happy Memorial Day weekend.

The fairness, balance, bias conundrum

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

So I wrote six paragraphs about the up-shaping Minnesota races for Congress to add at the bottom of the Strib version of an L.A. Times story about the up-shaping national race for control of Congress. Typical case of a local paper “localizing” a national story.

So I get an email accusing me of bias against the Republicans in the story. Fine.

So I reply with lame, self-serving explanation/defense of the paragraphs. Won’t bore you with those. But as I often do nowadays, I also ask the guy:

Given your interest in journalistic fairness and balance, let me ask what media outlet you consider to be the best at executing unbiased journalism?

So the guy replies, first airily dismissing my lame efforts to explain/defend my bias crimes. Then he answers my question thus:

As for unbiased jounalism, check out today’s WSJ piece by Peter Wehner. Even tho’ a commentary, it lays out the facts which dispute thinking so deep rooted in the very main stream media which thinks it has cornered the market on unbiased jounalism. This is not something you would ever see in the NYTimes, WashPost or the Strib.

So I look at the piece, subtitled Antiwar myths about Iraq, debunked,
and I don’t whether to laugh or cry.

As a brief, defending Pres. Bush against his critics on the Iraq war, perhaps it has some merit. But it contains nothing but evidence defending Bush, it sets up the Democratic critics as straw men, and at the bottom, the Journal disclose that its author, “Mr. Wehner is deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House’s Office of Strategic Initiatives.” (The Journal doesn’t disclose that the assistant to the president, to whom Wehner is deputy, is Karl Rove.)

For an apparently intelligent, well-read and politically-literate citizen to hold up as the best recent example he has seen of unbiased journalism an op-ed piece written by a White House official defending the president … it’s … it … splutter splutter… beggars the imagination.

I’ve written before that some critics of the msm’s liberal bias have become parodies of themselves. I say it again.

For more unbiased coverage of the White House, please see

Running against Rove

The Dole-Gingrichizing of Karl

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Remember the Dole-Gingrich Congress?

When the Democratic National Committee was trying to soften up Bob Dole in advance of the 1996 presidential race, they ran a bunch of “issue ads� attacking the “Dole-Gingrich Congress.� The premise was that since Dole was the Senate majority leader and Gingrich was speaker of the House, anything unpopular the Congress had done could be tied around their joint necks.

But the transparent reason for the Dole-Gingrichizing of the Congress was to tie the persona of Dole, who was going to be the Republican nominee for president, to that of Gingrich, whom Democrats believed was the face of right-wing extremism. It probably worked, too, although in retrospect, no one was going to beat Bill Clinton in 1996.

I bring it up now as an example of a tactic that has become common. You run against your opponent by linking him/her to someone unpopular and encouraging voters to transfer their dislike.

Mark Kennedy and his allies did it to Patty Wetterling when they decided to link her to, a liberal organization that supported her. They ran ads attacking her by citing positions taken by Moveon but not by Wetterling. And, as I mentioned a couple of posts ago, Democrats seem inclined to run against every Republican this year by running against Pres. Bush.

But at the 6th District DFL convention that endorsed Wetterling for Congress, I noticed that the new Gingrich may be White House political strategist Karl Rove. As mentioned in my story in the Sunday paper, Wetterling and Elwyn Tinklenberg both brought up Rove as part of their attack on state Sen. Michele Bachmann, the Republican endorsee in the race.

Tinklenberg said it was clear that Bachmann would be running an “ugly Rove-ian character assault from the beginning.�

Wetterling said she would spend her campaign treasury exposing Bachmann’s “extreme anti-family record and making sure that no Republican attack goes unanswered…I will refuse to let Karl Rove or anyone else define me or what I believe in.â€?

The Democrats hit Bachmann hard all day Saturday. State Rep. Matt Entenza, a candidate for attorney general, called her “the kind of person who makes extremists look like moderates.�

State Sen. Tarryl Clark, who spoke on behalf of Wetterling’s endorsement, called Bachmann “the devil in the blue dress.�

But they may have been engaging in a bit of pre-emptive Rove-ing themselves. First of all, I’m not aware of any attacks by Bachmann on either Wetterling or Tinklenberg. She didn’t attack her Republican opponents much in the endorsement fight just concluded. So I’m not sure how Tinklenberg knows that she will be running a campaign of character assassination.

And Wetterling’s use of the term of “anti-family� also has a whiff of the tactics that Democrats attribute to Rove, namely to directly attack an opponent on what is supposed to be their main strength.

Bachmann is the heroine of social conservatives. Her signature issues — opposition to all abortion, banning gay marriage, bashing secular humanism in the schools, represent a basket that, over recent years have been described as the “pro-family” agenda.

Democrats have every right to contest that terminology. They appear determined to argue that their policy preferences – on taxes, education, Social Security, etc. – does lot more for average families that does banning gay marriage or abortion. Good for them. Make the case that they are the pro-family party.

But by labeling Bachmann as “anti-family� they aren’t just saying that Bachmann’s policies are bad for families. It crosses the fairly absurd line of claiming that she has something against families and seeks to do them harm.

I recognize that both parties do this to each other a lot. I have received more than a dozen RNC emails just in the past two months in which they claim to have discovered the Democrats’ “real agenda.â€? The “real agenda” varies, but in two of the most outrageous versions the Dems “real agendaâ€? is:

From the RNC Research Dept:

And one personallyfrom
RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, titled: “Their real agenda� which includes the flat statement that “Weakening our national security is their agenda.�

Why, Mr. Chairman, would the Democrats want to weaken our national security? Can he not see the difference between saying “I’m concerned that their ideas on defense would weaken our national security� versus accusing them of the treason actually wanting to weaken our national security?

Children, children, please. Must we tell voters that they have a choice between a party that wants to weaken America and one that dislikes families?

So I called the Bachmann campaign from the convention floor, to make sure they had an opportunity to resond to the things that were being said about her. In return, I received a press release by email, the full text of which was:

“As a State Senator who has represented a large portion of the 6th Congressional District over the past six years, I am proud of my representation. I look forward to a campaign focused on the issues of importance to my constituents ,and the rest of the citizens of this district.�

On the other hand, within minutes of Wetterling’s endorsement, the Minnesota GOP emailed to reporters that:
“There will be a clear choice in this race between Michele Bachmann’s common sense conservatism and Patty Wetterling’s far-left record.â€?

Another common part of modern political communications theory is to let the candidates take the high road and the leave the attacking to surrogates.

Laura Bush to campaign for Kenndy

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

First Lady Laura Bush will be in Minneapolis June 6 for a fund-raiser for Mark Kennedy’s U.S. Senate campaign.

In case the big question is bit too substantive for you

Friday, May 12th, 2006

Just follow this to MPR’s (excellent) Polinaut blog and scroll down (not far) to the Mark Kennedy fishing pictures.

Tinklenberg’s Bone

The GOP’s “impeachment agenda?”

Friday, May 12th, 2006

The Republican message mavens are having a tough year. (Understatement alert.)

But one thing they would clearly love would be to have the midterm election fought over the question of whether Pres. Bush should be impeached. Anytime a Democrat mentions the possibility of impeachment proceedings against Bush, the GOP rushes out a talking point that this is the “real Democrat agenda.”

Minnesota 6th District congressional candidate Elwyn Tinklenberg threw the impeachment-loving GOP a small bone on Wednesday.

Heading into Saturday’s endorsement contest, knowing he is behind Patty Wetterling, and perhaps looking for an opportunity to get left of her on something to shake loose a few rabid Bush haters among the delegates, Tinklenberg was asked what he would do if he is in the House next year and a resolution to impeach Bush is introduced.

Tinklenberg said he would vote for it. Then he proceeded to argue against himself (rather effectively) by discussing how bad an idea this would be for the country.

“I would support a resolution for impeachment if it was brought to me. I would not introduce one.

I think there are so many isues that have been waiting for resolution. So many issues that have to be addressed — from the war to the economy to health care –that we need to move on and move on aggressively.

To be distracted by such a divisive issue as impeachment for two full years while the president is ending his term, I think would be really hard on the country. I think it would further polarize our political life. And I think there are issues that we really need to move on that I would be more focused on.”

I was blissfully unaware of the radio debate (Wetterling was there, too) and busy finishing up my “curtain-raiser” piece for the Saturday convention.

Within an couple of hours, I had a call from a Republican spokesman asking me whether I’d heard the clip. I hadn’t. Offering to send me a link so I could listen to the statement and help on locating the precise spot where the impeachment questioncomes up (it starts at 6:50, if you want to hear it yourself)

I Listened, and I dutifully wrote up a short piece on it for the Thursday Strib.

A minute later, I received a press release quoting MNGOP chair Ron Carey as discovering that impeachment was Tinklenberg’s “real agenda” (it’s on the MNGOP website, but you have to scroll down a little way).

I’ve seen previous national GOP press releases in which the “Democrats’ real agenda” was revealed to be impeachment. This was the first Minnesota sighting of which I am aware.

As with the Democratic soundbite I wrote about yesterday, in which every possible Republican will be portrayed as a Bush clone, the Republicans will seize any opening to declare any Democrat as a closet impeacher.

So, is this one level of discourse 06?

Democrat: You hate Bush. I hate Bush. Vote for me becauase my opponent doesn’t hate Bush.

Republican: You’re not as excited about Bush as you used to be. Neither am I. Vote for me because I don’t want to impeach him.

Running against Bush

Rubber-stamp Bachmann?

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

Fellow Seekers,

Apologies again for the infrequent posts this week. (Euphemism alert: “Infrequent”=none this week till today.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee organized a conference call this morning to attack state Sen. Michele Bachmann as a “rubber stamp” for the Bush Administration.

The attack seemed a bit off point. Bachmann is to the right of Bush on a number of issues. While Bush is trying to make his 2001 and 2003 income tax cuts permanent, Bachmann favors doing away with the income tax entirely and replacing it with a consumption tax.

While Bush still promotes No Child Left Behind, a significant increase in federal control over local school districts, Bachmann wants to get the federal government out of the education business. When I asked her a couple of months ago what she would do reduce federal spending, she said she’d get rid of the Education Department and all federal education spending.

Bachmann also said she is open to the idea of the U.S. pulling out of the U.N. and “wouldn’t shed a tear” if the U.N. moved from New York to Amsterdam. I don’t believe that’s Bush’s position.

So it was interesting hear Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, speaking for the DCCC, portraying Bachmann as a Bush clone.

“Voters who are looking for a change of direction in Congress won’t get it from Michele Bachmann,” Van Hollen said. “Her record shows she’s in lockstep with the Bush Administration…She will be a rubber stamp.”

It’s true that Van Hollen described Bachmann as “out of the mainstream,” a theme the DCCC had started developing a few nanoseconds after Bachmann got the GOP endorsement, but he seemed to be specifically asserting that she is no more out of the mainstream than Bush.

You don’t have to be a genius to see how determined the Dems are to nationalize the race and morph every Republican candidate into Bush.

Likewise, when Democrats speak this year, listen for the word “change.” It’s reminiscent of Reagan’s famous “are-you-better-off-now-than-you-were-four-years-ago” gambit. As the work of this blog has required me to read a great many messages from the Amy Klobuchar campaign very carefully, I started to notice how this me-change, you-same rhetoric creeps into most things.

When I interviewed her in March at length about her Iraq position and how it contrasts with Mark Kennedy’s, she used variations “he wants to stay the course; I want to change the course” at least six times.

With roughly 100 percent of Americans (okay, I exagerate, but only slightly) telling pollsters that the country is on the wrong track, the Democratic theme will be to associate every Republican, on issue after issue, with a continuation of what we have now.

And with Bush’s approval rating scraping 30 percent, the DCCC will run against Bachmann by running against Bush, even in the Minnesota Sixth District, in which Bush beat Kerry by 57-43.

Cheney hunting update (just kidding)

Sunday, May 7th, 2006

Fellow Seekers,

Apologies for the brief hiatus.

Spent the day Saturday at the Sixth District Republicanconvention, which as they endorsed Michele Bachmann for the seat being vacated by Mark Kennedy.

The funny stuff, or at least the attempts at humor, usually don’t make it into the “official” coverage.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who gave the faithful a pep talk before the balloting began, said that while he usually agrees with President Bush, he disagreed with Bush’s recent position (I think he said it was about state control over energy policy) and he got “a call from the president inviting me to go hunting with Dick Cheney.”

Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer offered the party members a bit more red meat. She described a “nightmare” she had, in which basically the Democrats swept the ’06 elections in Minnesota. At the end of the nightmare, she said (paraphrased) a Democrat won as secretary of state and was in charge of running our elections. That’s kind of like leaving Bill Clinton alone with a college intern.

Is That a Fact?

Ethics anyone?

Thursday, May 4th, 2006

Fellow Seekers,

Another case of two press releases, in fundamental contradiction, that hit my email inbox within three minutes of each other this morning:

From Mark Kennedy’s congressional office: Kennedy: Lobbying Reform Bill Not Strong Enough


From the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
After Months of Rhetoric, Kennedy Refuses to Back Real Ethics Reform

The three facts that are not in dispute:

A bill passed the U.S. House Wednesday making some changes in ethics and lobbying rules.
Kennedy voted for it.
It wasn’t strong enough, Kennedy and the DSCC agree.

The key difference in the press releases is that Kennedy says he favors a stronger bill, and even sonsored one.

The DSCC says Kennedy is trying, for election-year purposes, to look like he wants tough ethics reform, but that his record to date shows that he is weak on the ethics issue.That there is your classic he said-she said. Balanced.

Inquiring minds want to know whom to believe.

I can’t do more about this today. (Other deadlines.) But I’m going to fact-check and truth-squad the DSCC’s attack piece on Kennedy, like I did the Kennedy attack piece on Klobuchar’s tax and health care positions.

Sixth District update

Oh, is that convention coming up soon?

Thursday, May 4th, 2006

Fellow seekers,

If anyone is interested, my piece setting up Saturday’s big Sixth District GOP endorsing convention (this is the big Bachmann-Knoblach-Krinkie-Esmay race), is in today’s paper.

The more I blog, the more I can see and feel the constraints, of voice and space and of the assumptions you can and can’t make about the reader’s background level, when writing for the paper.

Bill Walsh, Phil Krinkie’s friendly, helpful and always-on-the-record press guy, says Krinkie is running second to Michele Bachmann among the delegates, or at least roughly tied with Jim Knoblach for second. But I can’t find anyone who’s not part of the Krinkie camp who agrees with this.

Krinkie and Knoblach will compete to be the “anybody-but-Bachmann” alternative. The conventional wisdom has long been that if Bachmann is at or above 50 percent on the first ballot, she will be unstoppable. We’ll have first-ballot results around noonish Saturday.

As a possibly humorous aside, State Rep. Krinkie, three days before the convention, introduced an $800 million state tax cut.

My favorite paragraph from my colleague Pat Lopez’ story was this.

Krinkie said his proposal, which comes less than three weeks before the scheduled adjournment, had nothing to do with his congressional race. The proposal was, however, sent out by his campaign office within hours of its release.

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