June 2006

Kennedy versus the machine named Strib

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

The Mark Kennedy campaign has either come unhinged (for reasons about which I shall not speculate), or has decided that to beat Amy Klobuchar, Kennedy has to run against the Star Tribune.

In a June 28 e-mail to supporters, Kennedy Campaign Manager Pat Shortridge urgently requests campaign donations by tomorrow (so they can be included in the June 30 reporting period), because only by raising buckets of dough-re-mi can Kennedy hope to overcome the disadvantages of being covered by a newspaper that is little more than the publicity arm of the Amy Klobuchar campaign.

According to the e-mail , the Star Tribune has “decided that Mark Kennedy is such a threat to win our Senate seat with a fair and square campaign, that they need to do something about it.�?

Why is the Strib willing to risk all for Klobuchar? According to the e-mail it’s because her father, Jim Klobuchar, was a long-time columnist for the Minneapolis Star.

According to the e-mail, the Strib has “decided that they’ll publish most any Democrat attack, no matter the facts. They’ll repeat the strangest liberal lies, even if they know the truth.�?

This is an apparent reference to an eight-paragraph news article that was published on page 4B on Tuesday. The brief, balanced piece was a classic he-said-she-said covering the same matter about which I posted yesterday, namely whether the website of Kennedy’s congressional office had been “scrubbed�? of references to President Bush.

You can read yesterday’s post or settle for this quick recap:

The pro-DFL website MN Publius said pictures of and references to Bush had been scrubbed from the website. Sentences that used to say that Kennedy-backed bills had been “signed into law by President Bush” now said that the bills merely “became law.”

The staffer who runs the website said the changes were part of ordinary “updating�? to make it more “current.�?

Minnesota Republican Chair Ron Carey said that actually, if you searched the site there were still 72 mentions of Bush.

Publius replied that this included many references that were double-counted by the search engine, some that were merely links to outside articles that mentioned Bush, some that were critical of Bush. So the actual number of warm Kennedy comments about Bush, saith Publius, was in the low teens.

Powerline weighed in on (gasp) Kennedy’s behalf, by interviewing Kennedy’s campaign spokesman who said there was nothing to any of it.

The Big Question, if you don’t take the time to look below, said that the whole thing was silly. Of course, in the current climate, Kennedy is deemphasizing his Bushiness and you would too if you were him.

And if you were part of Team Klobuchar you would try to call attention to it. But this counting of changes on the website was not energy well spent.

I still think that, by the way. And I would never have returned to the subject of The Incredible Changing Kennedy Website if Shortridge hadn’t decided that the Star Tribune’s demonic coverage of it had become one of the best reasons to support Mark Kennedy.

If it’s that important then by jingo let’s at least spend another minute on the coverage.

Did I mention that the one and only Strib story about it consisted of 12-inches of type on page 4B?

Utilizing the highlyl-evolved techniques of scientific journalism, my esteemed colleague Conrad deFiebre crammed into those 12 inches the basic back-and-forth over the kerfluffle, quoted from the DFL and GOP chairmen’s press releases, and actually endorsed the pro-Kennedy spin that:

“the claims by MN Publius, picked up by national blogs … Politicalwire and Dailykos, that Kennedy’s site had been “scrubbed” practically clean of the president appear to be exaggerated.�?

Here is where we deviated from fairness and balance. We failed to label another apparent exaggeration, namely the GOP line that only a Democratic stooge could suggest that the website was de-Bushified at all.

But actually, it’s not the choice of words and facts that went into Conrad’s story that extinguished the last shred of Team Kennedy’s patience with the Strib’s transparently false claim to be able to cover the race fairly. It was the fact that we did the story at all which, according to them, the Strib knew to be based on liberal lies.

Even if Conrad quoted the GOP chair calling them lies, even if we call the claims exaggerations, even if we don’t label the Republican exaggerations as exaggerations why write about it at all except to advance the favorite Dem talking point that Kennedy is a Bush lap dog?

Good question. Personally, I’m past the point where I think journalists can always give a good explanation for what makes kerfluffle X a story (albeit, 12 inches on page B4) and kerfluffle Y not a story.

But I will mention one last point that some (undoubtedly biased) observers might think makes it slightly hypocritical for Team Kennedy to argue that anyone who thinks this particular kerfluffle is worth a story (B4, 12 inches) must be working for Klobuchar.

Before Conrad wrote, the Minnesota GOP issued a press release, and sent it to the Strib, giving chairman Ron Carey’s side (did I mention it may have been slightly exaggerated) of the kerfluffle. That’s a press release. As in, we, the state party, invite you to write about, nay, encourage, nay, suggest that you write about this matter.

It begins with the words “for immediate release.�?

Kennedy’s Bushiness problem: He won’t stop shucking, Dems won’t stop jiving

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

Fellow Seekers,

Politics, as Mr. Dooley divulged a century ago, ain’t beanbag. Au contraire, to an alarming degree, it’s splatball.

Especially in the hyperventilating, everything-my-opponent-says-is-a-lie-or-an-impeachable-offense world of blogosphere-activism, you get a lot of points for anything that splashes a little mud on the other guy.

It can be fun, I suppose. And occasionally, serious offenses against truth, justice and the American Way are brought to light.

But then there are the times when ordinary efforts to win an election are treated as hanging offenses. Like, for example, this week’s brouhaha over Mark Kennedy’s deletion of Bush pictures and references from his website.

If you missed it:

In a Monday post headlined “Makeover Mark’s Website Scrubs President Bush�
MNPUBLIUS divulged that the website maintained by Kennedy’s congressional office had replaced a picture of the congressman standing next to a smiling Pres. Bush with a picture of the congressman standing amid a bunch of smiling children and had changed a number of sentences elsewhere to remove references to Bush.

Then the DFL itself jumped in with a press release headlined SCRUB-A-DUB-DUB, KENNEDY WANTS NO BUSH IN HIS TUB.

The state Republican Party responded with a press release in which state chair Ron Carey claimed that the Kennedy website actually has 72 references to Bush which demonstrates that “the Klobuchar attack machine has once again fallen for the blogosphere’s misinformation.â€?

The Strib published a story about it by my esteemed colleague Conrad deFiebre in today’s edition.

MN Publius has added about four or five new posts (depending on how you count them) including one that took the 72 references to Bush on Kennedy’s website, eliminated some that were double counted by the search engine, some that Publius felt were cold or not flattering to Bush and some that were attributable to sources other than Kennedy himself and concluded that Kennedy truly had only 13-15 nice or neutral references (depending on how you count them) to Bush.

I could go on, but perhaps you get the jist of this big story, which got a mention on the Daily Kos, the megablog of liberalism.

Let’s get a few obvious things said:

Mark Kennedy is a Bush Republican. He voted with the administration more than 90 percent of the time since he’s been in Congress. He has the highest Bush agreement rate among the Minnesota delegation.

He isn’t emphasizing his Bushiness this year. Duh. He has moved from running in a district that Bush carried by 57-42 in 2004 to a state that Bush lost by 51-48. And, since 2004, Bush’s approval ratings have plummeted into the 30s nationwide and there’s no reason to suspect Minnesota is an exception.

So, in an astonishing act of common sense, Kennedy is claiming to be an independent thinker and emphasizing, moreso than in the past, the few areas in which he differs from Bush. Wouldn’t you?

For all the same reasons, the Democrats are keen to portray Kennedy as a Bush lap-dog. Duh. Wouldn’t you?

A mature voter can probably rest assured that, over the next two years at least while Bush serves out the remainder of his sentence, Kennedy will be more likely to support Bush’s positions than Amy Klobuchar or Ford Bell or Robert Fitzgerald.

This is not Kennedy’s favorite theme, which probably explains some of the website changes and the congressman’s failure to mention Bush from the podium at the Republican convention. Does that make him a liar or a traitor to his president? I think not.

Are the Democrats out of line in bringing up Kennedy’s Bushiness. I think not. Do they have him in a bind where he either has to acknowledge his least favorite theme or look evasive for dancing away from it? I think so.

Will any further illumination be shed on any important questions by further investigation of whether the correct count of Bush references on the Kennedy website is closer to Chairman Carey’s 72 or Publius’ 13?

That, fellow seekers, I leave that to you.

True life tales of an ink-stained wretch, Entry 1: Am I in the BIG TIME yet?

Monday, June 26th, 2006

First day back from two weeks of glorious vacation in the Canadian Rockies. Spiking hundreds of e-mails on the home computer before heading in to the official cubicle. But some raise e-mails alarms.

A recurrent alarming theme that today is the day V.P. Dick Cheney is coming to fund-raise for Michele Bachmann (Republican candidate for Sixth Congressional District open seat).

I’m covering that race. Is it possible that Workstation Strib lays in wait to send me to the BIG TIME, covering one of the nation/world’s most important and controversial figures for a large midwestern metropolitan daily?

Upon arrival, it turns out, the answer is yes! I’m on the Cheney story.

Nine e-mails later, a few facts are clear. The actual fund-raiser, at a tres elegante Minnetrista estate on the shores of Lake Minnetonka will be totally closed to non-Bachmann donors. (Since I’m covering the race, a donation to one of the candidates might violate objectivity norms.)

But the fax from the White House (BIG Time, BIG Time) titled “Press Schedule of the Vice President for June 26,‿ describes Cheney’s arrival at Grand Island Airport Executive Offices Building as “OPEN PRESS.‿

Editors, reporters, photographers confer. Decision is: Big Questioner Black and a photog will go to the Airport, cover Cheney’s remarks to the Open Press, maybe even ask a big question or two. Another reporter and photog will go to Minnetrista to be denied admission to the fund-raiser. Maybe see if there’s any way to photograph the protesters who have told us during the early morning flurry of phone calls that they will be waving protest signs from boats in the lake (a new protesting trend?), maybe even try to land one of the boats so they can get arrested.

(The protesters tell me by ship-to-shore phonecall – actually just cellphones— include one that makes a pun on the vice president’s first name. My first thought: That one will not get in the paper.

Second thought: Since we can’t shoot the main event or cover Cheney’s speech there, the best picture and most colorful sentences will almost certainly involve the protest boaters, which will cause editor consternation because we often get criticized for allowing a handful of protester to get too much coverage in such cases. (As of this posting, I don’t know how the final story came out).

Last thought: Maybe Big Questioner Black can save the day by getting Veep to say something interesting at airport.

Ha. Fat chance. Get to airport and notice I am only reporter present. I’m either going to get an exclusive interview with man of BIG TIME importance or there is no news here.

Question various men wearing earpieces and serious expressions. The sad, shocking truth slowly comes out.

“OPEN PRESS” means that if I can run the gauntlet of humiliating body cavity searches (actually, it’s all done with the clothes on nowadays, thanks to the metal detecting magic wand) I will be allowed to stand on the tarmac from about 100 yards away, watch the Vice President’s plane land (it’s not even Air Force Two), watch him get off, watch him shake hands with a delegation of Republican greeters, watch him get into a waiting limo, and watch him drive away to Minnetrista.

With notebook and pen in hand (one in each hand that is, I’ve used these tools before) I watch the promised events transpire. The landing. The greeters’ applause. Cheney’s emergence atop the deplaning stairs. He doesn’t even make the obligatory wave for the cameras. (Even the TV photographers start complaining about the lameness of this assignment.) He shimmers down like a gazelle (of a certain age), shakes hands with the greeters, gets in the limo. And he’s gone.

Thanks to the miracle of the cell phone and the internet, I phone headquarters and startribune.com is the global first to report that the vice president has arrived.

In the parking lot, I catch up with some of the greeters. What did you say to him? “Welcome to Minnesota.‿ What did he say? “Good to be here.‿ I decide not to call back in to add this information.

I return to the office, secure in the knowledge that I have covered the vice president of the United States.

Les Miserables

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

Fellow Seekers,

First a joke. Then an apology. Then a promise.

The joke

The Columbia Journalism Review, the most respected name in journalism reviews, publishes a long-standing feature in its inside back cover called “the lower case.”

It’s nothing but actual headlines and excerpts from actual news articles. But they all contain hilarious mistakes or double entendres. (Jay Leno does something similar occasionally, but CJR’s are much funnier for people who really like words.)

For example, one favorite I remember from years ago went:

Nixon to Stand Pat on Watergate Tapes.

Here’s one sample page that I found on the web, but far from the best I’ve seen. If you ever come across an issue of CJR, check the inside back cover and you’ll be converted.

But all that is just to set up another great one I recall, that redeems the “Les Miserables” headline on this post.

It was a passage from a profile of some somebody, and the profile-writer wrote (quoting from memory here):

“His hobby is reading great litterature and his favorite novel is ‘Lame Is Rob’ by Victor Hugo.”

Now, the apology

Anyway, I’m feeling like one of the Les Miserables because of my miserable failure to post anything recently. But for those still checking in occasionally to see whatever became of me, I offer this lame effort at compensatory humor, and this pitiful apology without lame excuses. (I have excuses, mind you, but they are so lame that I can’t get my fingers to type them.)


Now the promise

My inexcuseable streak of non-posting will continue for a couple more weeks. Then I will come back strong and revive this blog. I ask your forbearance and appreciate your patience.

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