Friday, December 31, 2004

No solon Left Behind

Curious about the candidates to replace John Bohlinger in the Senate, I ran Corky Harkins through Google. This hit was interesting for a couple of reasons. One is that I've heard that Harkins' fondness for motorcoach trips cost him his Senate primary race against Bruce Simon. Supposedly, he took off for a couple of weeks right before the election.

The other is Harkins' choice of favorite books. I haven't read the "Left Behind" series, so I shouldn't be too judgmental, but when you consider all the great books that have been written since, say, Homer, it seems like, at best, an odd choice. Obviously, millions of fans disagree.

HD 12 fuss

Outpost associates Brad Molnar and Rob Natelson take a predictably dim (and blistering) view of the Supreme Court decision in the House District 12 race. As I noted over at City Lights, I agree with them that the Supreme Court acted improperly if all it did was substitute its own opinions for those of the duly constituted local officials. But since we haven't seen the legal reasoning behind the court's decision, I'm willing to cut the justices some slack for now. But there are interesting parallels to the 2000 debacle in Florida, with implications for both parties:

1. Remember all the Bush supporters who said that people in Florida who were too dumb to mark their ballots properly didn't deserve to vote? I'm still waiting to hear a Republican make the same observation about this race, even though, if you look at the disputed ballots, it's pretty clear that some of these voters were pretty darn clueless.

2. Democrats who didn't like having the U.S. Supreme Court nose its way into the Florida vote better not crow too much about the Montana Supreme Court's decision in this case. As a rule, elections ought to be settled at the most local level feasible.

Having said that, I still think that the ballot I posted below (provided by the Jore campaign) is highly questionable. I don't know what the "NLA" or "NRA" by Cross' name is supposed to mean, but one reasonable guess would be that the voter wrote his or her initials to show that Cross, not Jore, should get the vote. However, I should have noted yesterday that the Jore campaign says the smudge is an erasure. That isn't obvious in this copy, but if it was clear in the original, that would lend weight to their argument that it was a vote for Jore.

X-Mas Greetings

My column this week takes a (typically for me) belated look at the Christmas fuss.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The fatal ballot

This may be the ballot that cost Rick Jore a House seat and Republicans control of the Montana House. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Bloggers you know

Here's a short piece from the Montana Heritage Project about Montana blogging. Some bloggers you know are mentioned.

Sunday, December 26, 2004


The MT GOP E-brief accuses Yellowstone County commissioners of "underhanded chicanery" for failing to select a replacement for Sen. John Bohlinger from nominations submitted by the Republican Central Committee here. That's a tough charge, considering that two of the three commissioners are Republicans, and the lone Democrat, Bill Kennedy, stayed out of the fracas. The session hasn't even started yet, and Republicans are already beating each other up.

Coke vs. pop vs. soda

At last, a county-by-county map on a topic that really matters.

Christmas in Iraq

An Outpost reader sent along this fascinating e-mail from a buddy serving in Iraq:

Hi frm Iraq!

Mail arrived today. Got a package my folks shipped that had some much-needed toner for a printer, along with two post cards and a card in a red envelope... Also got a christmas stocking from the East Helena VFW, full of candy and other odds and ends... no idea how they got my name and address.
Doesn't seem at all like xmas; no sign of snow (although it is quite cool in the mornings - below freezing), no decorations, no constant barrage of sappy christmas music from every storefront (for that matter, on the Forward Operating Base, or FOB, there is no such thing as a storefront). There is music at some storefronts, but it has a distinctly non-US touch... anyone who has heard it knows what I mean, and anyone who hasn't should check it out at least once in their lifetime, just to say they did.
Had some kind of upper respiratory crud since Kuwait, which generates amazing quantities of thick nasty mucous. Hope it goes away soon, but sleep is hard to find...
By the way, disclaimer before I get too far: everything I say is true, but 1. lacks specifics because of security requirements and 2. isn't all the story - it's a complicated land of contrasts, and you could probably find a counter-example to anything I could possibly say.
The Iraqis have done me the favor of not mortaring our FOB since I arrived - very quiet, considering that this summer, it was one of the most mortared FOBs in Iraq. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have been our nemesis instead. Since I arrived here just a few short days ago, several convoys have been hit, and one had six casualties. Now remember, casualties doesn't necessarily mean deaths; in this case, one individual will probably lose sight in one eye; one will probably take three to four months to heal up, but most likely be just fine; and four already went back to work. Shortly before we arrived, another convoy was not so lucky; three soldiers were riding in the cargo compartment of a Hummer when it was hit by an IED, and a fragment of shrapnel penetrated the armor and a soldier's face, removing enough of it to kill him. Another lost a leg, and the third, although he sustained only minor physical injuries, will probably have a hard time for the rest of his life with the experience. He saw what was rest of his comerades and did what too many of us naturally do: fainted. Now he feels guilty for not having been able to render greater immediate assistance - although in this case, it most likely wouldn't have made a difference in the outcomes anyway.
Mosul has of course made the news; the good news is that a repeat is unlikely, given the accuracy of most of the indirect fire systems (rockets and mortars) that the AIF have been using. The bad news is that with a glorious victory such as this, they're likely to launch many more hoping to have a similar stroke of luck.
AIF, by the way, is "Anti-Iraqi Forces", a classic example of spin. The AIF are made up of multiple components; Former Regime Elements, Disgruntled Iraqis, Foreign Jihadists, Iranian and Syrian non-jihadist proxies (this last being subject to much dispute, but I personally am sure they're a part of it - see or for more on the topic)... the list goes on and on. But since we're liberating and building freedom in Iraq, and since the American public has a short attention span, we don't name each group. Instead, we just use a group label that implies that they're against the Iraqi people... even though the majority of their foot soldiers (but perhaps not the organizers, financiers, and training cadres) are, um, well, Iraqi people. Calling them AIF isn't wrong, exactly; they really are against the majority of the Iraqi people... but it's definitely spin.
I have to convoy between our outlying FOB and the much larger FOB that has our Brigade Headquarters at least twice a week for meetings. Very interesting - every time you go past a dog, or a car, or a pile of gravel, or trash by the road, or a patch in a curb, or a pothole, or a bridge, you hope that it doesn't blow up. Amazing how many ways a truly creative jihadist can come up with to hide old munitions... Most IEDs here are improvised out of old munitions, because they are in such supply. There are vast tracts of land that are litterally littered with old shells and bombs, stockpiled as the Iran-Iraq war or the "Kurdish problem" swung its way back and forth, and then forgotten. Want to build a bomb? just go hike around for a while until you find a shell you like... And not all IEDs use munitions. The numbers of IEDs are stupendous, but of course only the ones that cause casualties, preferably deadly, get reported on CNN - and not even all of those. The majority either cause damage, but no injuries, or are discovered before being detonated; in our Battalion's AO, there are only token numbers that go off every day (I can't get too specific without violating Operational Security, or OPSEC). Most Iraqi factions generally try to avoid killing Iraqis with their IEDs, but the jihadists and the foreign fighters just don't care - if a few kids bite it too, well, it's all for the cause... and actually, more Iraqis die from IEDs than Americans. We have armor, after all.
The convoy goes past mud huts with poor farmers trudging around looking grim, and their innocent kids waving at the convoy - often without smiles. Their disgruntled parents have taught them that they shouldn't enjoy waving to the infidels, but they haven't quite broken the habit of waving itself. Every once in a while, we also pass the home of one of the highly placed members of the regime, and the contrast is stunning - Huge white homes with orchards, gardens, pools, etc, all for one family, and two hundred meters down the road an entire village of mud huts on far less land, with everything drab dirt except the clothes. In many ways, it reminds me of eastern Turkey, but without anyone who seems to hope for the future. Of course, part of that is built into the religion; you are supposed to accept what Allah has willed for your life. To even try and change it is most likely heresy!
The large FOB that serves as the Brigade Headquarters is on an old Iraqi airbase; it shows that the military were definitely better treated than the general public, but the facilities are still a far cry from the homes of the regime insiders. There are dirt fields fenced off with signs reading "Warning - High Radiation Area", but presumably, the missing WMD aren't in 'em... although it's probably residue from the programs, which did exist, even if they never did generate Wal-Mart sized warehouses of chemical warheads. Seems the picture a certain still extant regime painted rather dramatically overstated the case. There are pyramid-shaped concrete bunkers that we've taken over, designed to shelter the Iraqis from air raids from Iran and then the US... there's also a ragged half-pyramid with a monument sticking out of its middle for those who died inside it during gulf war one. We probably all watched the video on CNN as it got hit...
Elections are coming up, and many of the troops we work with are extended until they're over - though they're not happy about it, they're professional and keep on going. These elections will choose a group to write a new constitution... and the first elections for the form of government that results will probably take place about a year from now, roughly the time we're slated to rotate out. Which means, of course, that there's a good chance that we too will be extended. Only time will tell.
Well, would love to write more, but I really must be getting to sleep; have to get up in the morning and convoy in the opposite direction to an outlying village to check into reports that the violence there is getting pretty bad... Will keep my eyes open for dogs along the way.


In his City Lights column, Ed Kemmick picks up on something I mentioned here. Wonder why it is that neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to notice that they are politically much closer to each other than they are to any of the third parties in this country? Governance in this country overwhelmingly takes place in the big political middle, and Republicans and Democrats stand toe to toe over that middle ground.

First one side, then the other

I have to wonder if some people have trouble deciding which side of the bed to get out of in the morning. This letter in today's Gazette (fifth letter down, under the heading "Judges should follow opinion of most voters," begins by arguing, quite sensibly, that the job of judges is to interpret the law based upon the constitution. Then it concludes by arguing, "Judges should be subject to recall from the ballot box if they do not represent the opinion of the majority of the voters."

Which do you want? Interpret the law or obey the voters? No wonder public notions about jurisprudence are so muddled.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Foreign orders

I'm paying bills this Christmas Eve and just noted, once again with irritation, that my Billings Gazette payment now goes to Portland, Ore. Why am I paying somebody in Oregon to get a local newspaper?

Self-serving addendum: Every subscription payment to The Billings Outpost is personally handled, drooled over and deposited by the editor and publisher.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Networks get religion

Here's my take on the United Church of Christ ad that two networks wouldn't run, along with related controversies.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

World's dumbest columnist

Joseph Perkins widened his lead in the race for World's Dumbest Columnist with this entry, which appeared in today's Gazette. Perkins notes, accurately, that reporters rate low in public esteem for ethical standards. He then finds "prima facie" evidence of media bias in three recent Iraq stories:
1. The reporter who got a soldier to ask Donald Rumsfeld about vehicle armor.
2. The NBC correspondent who filmed an American soldier shooting an apparently wounded Iraqi.
3. The Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.
Perkins acknowledges, as any journalist would, that all three of these are legitimate stories. Then he adds this odd but true sentence: "Indeed, when stories appear on the front pages of major dailies or air on the evening news offering decidedly negative assessments of America's prosecution of the war in Iraq, or reflecting badly upon this nation's men and women in uniform, many Americans wonder about the reporter's motivation."

The upshot being -- what? Reporters shouldn't do stories, no matter how legitimate, that might cause Americans to question our motivation? Even Perkins isn't willing to go that far. So he ends with this insipid drivel: "In many cases, if not most, the reporter may simply be calling it as he or she sees it. But in at least some cases, it seems, the reporter's story is driven by anti-war bias."

Oh. And what might Americans wonder about the motivation of columnists who write such pathetic crap? Only one conclusion is possible: Such writers are determined to lay claim to the title of World's Dumbest Columnist. But no one will catch Perkins.

Back to blogging

Just turned in the last of my grades for the fall semester, and I don't start back to school until Jan. 10. So my self-imposed exile from blogging is at an end -- for at least a couple of weeks. That isn't meant to say that I will be blogging much; I still have a huge backlog of Outpost work. But any blogging at all would beat what I have been doing.

Friday, December 17, 2004

No mo so do

Effective today, I'm taking South Dakota Politics off my blog roll. Here's why.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Sirota on Schweitzer

You will want to read this Washington Monthly piece about the Schweitzer campaign.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Joke of the weak

Best line from "A Prairie Home Companion's" fall Joke Show last Saturday:

What's the difference between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War?

George W. Bush had a plan for getting out of the Vietnam War.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Mail bugs

Ed Kemmick is bugged by a letter to the editor in today's Gazette. I was bugged by the same letter for a different reason. "When will Montana get a newspaper that is owned by Montanans and run by Montanans," the writer asks.

Well, there's the Outpost, now seven years old and still struggling. And the Missoula Independent, a dozen years old. And the Queen City News, pushing three. And the Butte Weekly, a couple of months older than the Outpost. The writer's question has an easy answer: When more Montanans start supporting the Montana-owned and Montana-run newspapers that already exist.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Sort of extreme

Over at City Lights, Tony Lewis brands me an "extreme moderate." As a great statesman once said, "Extremism in the defense of moderation is ... " well, never mind.

Unlike Tony, I have no particular interest in using my newspaper (or the blogosphere) as a soapbox to preach to the world. What does interest me is making the world a better and more reasonable place, even if only by tiny increments. I don't see how to do that by standing at one extreme and trying to pull the world toward you. I think you have to take up reasonable ground somewhere in the middle and try to steer in the direction you want to go.

Heck, you don't even have to know where you want to wind up. You just have to steer.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Excessive exaggeration

I was surprised to the see that the Gazette printed this letter today (scroll to the bottom). I have declined to print it.

I got suspicious when the writer said that Russ Doty's book is 108 pages long, and 54 of those pages are footnotes. I have a copy of the book in front of me. It is 134 pages long. Footnotes are included at the bottom of each page, so I don't know how many pages they cover, but they appear to be the sort of documentation one would expect in a well supported academic paper. The bibliography is nine pages long, including a lot of personal interviews.

Then there's the allegation that Doty lied about saying he worked for the Public Service Commission rather than the Railroad and Public Service Commission. The name changed; Doty's service did not, and I have never heard him misrepresent that. I also have never heard his "supporters" misuse the "assistant attorney general" title, although it is a confusing term and they might well have done so.

We've got about 80 political letters to the editor in the pipeline, and I don't fact check them all. I'm sure the Gazette can't either. But the obvious distortions in this letter jumped out at me.

The letter writer says that "excessive exaggeration is a sign of insecurity." Wonder what he's insecure about.

UPDATE: Now Russ Doty has filed an additional libel complaint, this one alleging seven more libels by Molnar and four in the letter cited above. Most of the new complaints against Molnar concern a letter he wrote to the Outpost last week. I think Doty's gone on a bit over the edge with this one.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Go West, young man

Just ran across this letter while trying to track down the spelling of Horace Greeley's name. I had to break my personal blogging ban long enough to ask this question: Will any current or future occupant of the White House, or any serious aspirant to that office, ever even once write anything so clear, so eloquent, so honest and so right?

I didn't think so.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

GOP on the web

Montana Republicans have produced what they say is the state's first internet video politcal ad. I couldn't get it to open (not that I tried very hard), but you can try here.

Your ID for sale

This story may provide some insight into why Albertsons started doing this.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

For what it's worth

Of the 18 students in my new journalism class last Thursday, only a couple had heard of blogs, nobody had one, none read them and no one knew the origin of the term. Not a scientific sample, obviously, but if anything I would have guessed the sample would be biased in favor of blog knowledge. But that was a pretty typical result for my journalism classes. Makes me wonder, as I speculate here, about how important blogs really are.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

There she is

OK, I swore off blogging, but who else would tell you that Miss Montana now has her own blog?

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Bye-bye, blog

I've been blogging even less than usual of late, weaning myself for the long hiatus that is now overdue. I'll be teaching two courses at Rocky this fall (starting Tuesday!), plus working at the writing lab at MSU-Billings, plus trying to put out a newspaper and running a business. I haven't got time for this. It's bad for my health.

I may have some thoughts about it all in The Outpost next week. Otherwise, see you around.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Trib scoop

Here's news I couldn't find in today's Gazette. Look at the fourth paragraph.

Actually, it won't be in this week's Outpost either. It broke too late for our deadline.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Kerry update

After receiving endless grief in the blogosphere, the LA Times, Washington Post and New York Times all have weighed in with stories on the Swift Boats controversy. Sorry, I'm too lazy to track down the links for you, but it all strikes me as good work. The LA Times gave the best overall summary of the controversy I have seen, and the Post and NY Times both advanced the story with new information I had not seen elsewhere.

Are the anti-Kerry bloggers happy? Of course not. Pure spin, as they see it. I don't know. If I had to choose between what I have been able to find in the blogosphere and what has appeared in the big media, I'll take the big media.

Nothing to see here

Here's the no-news front page story of the week. The gist of it appears to be that a U.S. House candidate is adopting positions held by the presidential candidate of her own party and using language similar to his own to describe them.

Tip to reporter: When she starts claiming that she won medals on a Swift Boat, then it's a story.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Strike over

Just got a fax from City Hall saying that Teamsters Local 190 employees are going back to work beginning today.

The City Council is expected to ratify the contract on Aug. 23. The union will vote within the next couple of days, the news release said.

The union will continue to pursue an unfair labor practice complaint over the termination of three probationary and 11 seasonal employees.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

New blogger 2

I'm late on just about everything this week but should still take note that Kalamity Karen has started her own blog. She says she's "hoping for a PG-13 rating and serious lack of politics."

Grammatical bias

The debate over liberal bias in the media rages endlessly, but rarely does one hear much about other sorts of media bias. As, for example, the bias shown by the (ahem) editor of The Billings Outpost when he edited this letter.

The standard rule in newspapers is that letters to the editor are edited for typos and grammatical misfires, just like any other copy. But when a letter writer makes grammatical errors in a letter that criticizes the editor for having pointed out earlier grammar lapses, then, well, the editor tends to weaken. Call it bias. Or call it fair warning to readers who might be considering buying the letter writer's book.

Kerry redux

The other thing I wanted to say about Kerry and the Swift Boat vets was that, with each passing day, it gets harder to justify media silence on this. Even the Kerry campaign has deigned to acknowledge problems in Kerry's account of his alleged journey into Cambodia. But enter "Kerry Cambodia" into Google News and almost nothing turns up outside right-leaning websites, the Washington Times, the Telegraph and the New York Post.

A bit of caution is in order before trashing a candidate's biography. The blogosphere operates in an entirely different mode than the mainstream media: Among bloggers, the value of a story is determined by its volume. The more comments, the more links, the more buzz, the bigger the story. Reporters are restrained by their inability to opine endlessly. They have to find a way to move the story forward before they can write a daily story. And they are held accountable for what they write in ways that rarely exist in the bloggers' world.

But this story, whatever the facts, is taking on a political life of its own. Somebody, somewhere in the national press, had better be doing some hard digging.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Kerry's claims

Just as with Bush-AWOL claims, I have found myself utterly engrossed in the Kerry-Swift Boats controversy. I'm late getting to this, thanks to my technically challenged blog the last week or so, but perhaps it's not too late for a few observations.
1. A fair amount of hypocrisy exists among the Kerry critics. For many of them, Bush's honorable discharge was all the proof they needed that he had fulfilled his commitments. Kerry not only has an honorable discharge, but a fistful of medals (suitable for throwing) to boot. Does that settle the case? Not at all.
2. Whatever the merits of their claims against Kerry, the Swift Boat vets went over the line in their ad attacking him. Their biggest goof was their failure to clearly distinguish between their claims about Kerry's service and their distaste for his anti-war protests. Since Kerry has invited voters to judge his fitness for the presidency based on his service in Vietnam, their estimate of that service is relevant and useful. They are entitled to their opinions about his protests, but their opinions about that are no matter valuable or useful than anybody else's, including my own. But they are happy to leave the impression that his service itself was dishonorable, and even their most serious claims do not make that case.
3. The charge that appears most likely to stick is that Kerry was never in Cambodia, as he has repeatedly claimed. What would explain such a false statement? Beats me. He used the claim purely for rhetorical purposes, and why tell lies just for that? That would demonstrate a reckless nature that Kerry has not demonstrated in public life before. Could he be honestly mistaken? Perhaps. He is 60 (I think), and I am 53, and I am amazed at how inaccurate my own memory has started to become. It's scary. Perhaps he and I are both headed down a dark road into forgetfulness and confusion.
4. Mainstream media have been slow to move on this story. In the blogosphere, the slowness is taken as evidence of liberal bias. That's one possible explanation, of course, but not the only one. Here are a few others:
a. The Swift Vets book is published by Regnery, which has a history of advocacy for the right. That doesn't mean the book is a lie, but it does justify some caution.
b. The media generally are slow to move on challenges to military records. I thought the media moved awfully slowly on the Bush-AWOL claims when they surfaced in 2000, and that could hardly be blamed on liberal bias. If anything, I think the media's caution may be blamed more on their fear of being accused of liberal bias for attacking the bona fides of people with hard evidence of valor, such as medals or testimony of fellow soldiers. Some evidence for this argument can be found here.
Oops, have to go to a meeting. More thoughts later.

Sacred cows

The Outpost tries to milk one sacred cow: the Billings Area Chamber of Commerce.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Much better

I think comments are back up now. Sorry for the long hiatus.

Better now

I have had some nasty code redirecting this blog to another site, but I think it is fixed now. Don't have time at the moment to mess with it to say for sure. I suspect I will have to make more changes later to get comments working right, but I will work on it this evening. Sorry for the downtime.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Just wondering if this works.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Fox trot

How Fox News deals with journalists who write hostile stories about the news channel: It blacklists them.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Sun rises in east

Joseph Perkins solidifies his claim on the title of Dumbest Columnist in America with this piece, which ran in The Gazette this week. The columnist begins with the thesis that, contrary to the conventional wisdom that Americans are almost evenly divided in party allegiance, Republicans are much stronger than Democrats. Then he bumps into this fact: a Gallup poll finds that 45.5 percent of Americans lean Republican; 45.2 percent lean Democrat.

Gee, sounds pretty close to me.

So he abruptly changes his thesis. What's important, he says, is that Republicans have been gaining ground. Experts have overlooked that fact, and the mainstream media have ignored it, he says.

Amazing. Republicans have been picking up governorships, House and Senate seats and control of state legislatures all over the country, and IT HASN'T BEEN REPORTED! Thanks God that Perkins let us in on the secret.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Liberal schmiberal

More "liberal bias" foolishness at Patterico's Pontifications. My comments are near the bottom. What silly people.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Blogging Democrats

Now that the convention is over, I finally got around to noticing that the Montana delegation had its own blog at the Democratic Convention.

Blogging the convention

Here's another pretty negative view of how bloggers covered the convention. An underlying current appears to be that blogging is mostly writing about yourself while journalism is mostly writing about other people.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Blog blah

Charles Cooper doesn't think much of how bloggers covered the Democratic convention. I wouldn't know. So far as I'm concerned, since the invention of C-SPAN, I would never want to watch a convention any other way.

Tet tut

City Lights comments on Rob Natelson's assessment in this week's Outpost of media coverage of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam. Interesting he should bring that up, since Rob and I have had a fairly long exchange of e-mails on that very topic this week.

To sum up, Rob essentially argues that Tet was a huge setback for North Vietnam. Tactically, the North attained some of its geographic objectives but was unable to hold them. Strategically, the offensive nearly destroyed the guerrilla forces in the South and failed to ignite a revolution against the Americans. U.S. media deliberately distorted the results of the offensive because they had their own cynical agenda and were tired of the war.

I agree with him that coverage at the time wasn't all it could have been, but there were understandable reasons for that. It's pretty hard to hit the ground running covering a massive, wide-ranging assault when you've mostly been following small guerrilla operations and the occasional Khe Sanh siege. It's also true, I think, that the coverage never caught up with the reality of the battle, but there also were good reasons for that. For one thing, the Pentagon's credibility had been pretty well spent earlier in the war. For another, so much began happening on the home front -- mass protests, assassinations, LBJ's withdrawal -- that the followup to Tet got eclipsed.

To me it seems, although I admit I don't have the data to prove it, that media coverage was generally more conservative than public attitudes, and that rather than shape public opinion the media largely lagged behind in reacting to it. Furthermore, while Tet may have failed in conventional military terms, there was nothing conventional about that war. Of all the hard lessons that war taught us, Tet taught us the hardest: No matter how much of an edge one side in a war may have in wealth, logistics and military technology, the side that is willing to pay the heaviest price usually wins. North Vietnam could lose tens of thousands of soldiers and just keep coming. We lost our stomach for it.

But my biggest disagreement with Rob was over his notion that media coverage is much better now than then. This morning, I wrote this response: I wish I could be as sanguine about the breakup of the [media] oligarchy as you are. During the Vietnam War we had three major networks, all of which had greater news resources then than now. I think their reporters would tell you that all those news operations were more independent of corporate concerns then than now, too.

Now we have four networks, but Fox doesn't do news outside of its all-news channel. Of the three all-news channels, one is owned by Rupert Murdoch, one of the biggest oligarchs of them all; one is owned by Time Warner; and one by Microsoft and NBC. This is hardly the burgeoning of independent media.

The situation among newspapers is even worse. Almost across the board, newspapers have scaled back coverage, especially foreign coverage, since Vietnam. While a few new players have arisen -- USA Today, most prominently -- others have died off, including major dailies in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Where multiple dailies survive in the same city, they mostly do so through joint operating agreements.

Of course, there's the internet, but it still provides little original reporting. It does provide access to major foreign news outlets, and that has been extremely valuable. This isn't coverage that didn't exist before, but it is coverage that few Americans got to see.

For my money, talk radio adds almost nothing to the debate. Limbaugh hasn't had a fresh idea in 10 years. Hannity parrots the Republican line. O'Reilly is articulate and nonpartisan, but he's also a bit of a bully and tends to obsess on social issues. Michael Reagan can't get over his childhood. Savage is a wacko. Roth is unlistenable. I would trade the whole batch for one good episode of "Firing Line."

At the same time, the Pentagon has become far more effective at controlling war coverage. While there was good stuff about the Iraq War in newspapers, TV coverage struck me as almost universally prettified. Even the easiest wars are ugly affairs, but very little of that made its way to American viewers.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Reader responds

I should have posted this a couple of days ago, but I was busy publishing a newspaper. David Merriman responds to a post below:

I see I need to elaborate :-)

My original comment was (in part) " ... I wonder how much of the
contempt bloggers have toward journalists is because of the _unadmitted_
bias those journalists have, versus the open (even 'in-your-face')
partisanship of bloggers."

I don't propose that ALL journalists have the unadmitted biases I
referred to; but I would hope that you would concede that there are some
who do. Further, I would also hope that you would admit that even in the
most 'enlightened' news outlet (print or broadcast) there is
likely to be a corporate culture that would prefer to see any
given news item in a particular way (glass half full/empty); futher,
that any reporter working for such an organization is - in all
probablility - going to comply with those preferences.
My question, then, was how much of the output of the reporters that
wholeheartedly 'bias' their reports to meet their companies demands
(without understanding what it is they're doing to the profession and
SPIRIT of journalism) are the target of blogger disdain? Who is more
worthy of respect: the person that stands up and says what he thinks
whether you like it or not, or the one that suppresses their own opinion
for fear of 'offending' someone? Yes, I know that reporters have to keep
their jobs by only writing stories that meet their editorial staff's
expectations - and therein lies the problem. No, the blogger doesn't
have as much at stake as the reporter; but then, the blogger probably
doesn't have as much potential influence, either.
As for the rest of the chain from writing to delivery, I would submit
that it is primarily the author and editor that must bear the burden of
any biases - those 'higher up' daren't go TOO far for fear of losing
market, those lower down simply don't have the horsepower to have much
of an effect.
Finally, I'd suggest that the bloggers that kick up the most fuss about
journalists are a relatively small minority; I think that most of us
recognize and understand the constraints that the majority of maintsteam
journalists must work under, and respect their efforts. I, for one,
wouldn't be a reporter in Baghdad right now for ANY amount of money - no
matter what the organization was!

My response to his response: There's more going on here than I have time to deal with in detail. Let me just say this: I think many bloggers would be surprised to discover how little pressure there is on reporters to slant stories in any particular way. Everybody knows a horror story or two, but those stories are horrible precisely because they are rare.

What does happen in modern corporate journalism is that it rewards people who think and act in certain ways. Those ways aren't necessarily, or even usually, liberal. Corporate climbers tend to be cautious, circumspect, sensitive to business concerns, and never too far outside the mainstream. Again, this is all fairly subtle. Malcontents can survive for a pretty long time in corporate journalism; they just tend not to get promoted, which is fine with some reporters.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Full disclosure

In a comment below, David Merriman wonders whether bloggers' contempt for journalists arises from jouralists' failure to acknowledge their biases. That's a common theme in the blogosphere, but I have never heard anyone suggest exactly what journalists should do about it. Most blogs are a one-person show; most newspapers are the result of the work of dozens or hundreds of people.

Maybe some sort of detailed disclaimer could be attached to every story, say, for instance, on an Iraq story: This story was written by a reporter who favored the war in Afghanistan but believes the war in Iraq was unjustified and poorly planned. It is accompanied by photographs from a photographer who opposes the war but hopes it lasts long enough to win him a Pulitzer Prize. It was edited by the city editor, a libertarian who supports the war but doesn't think tax dollars should be used to pay for it. Final editing was by a copy editor who has voted for Democrats in every election since 1960. The headline was written by a news editor who never votes and thinks both parties serve a political system that is fundamentally corrupt. Final responsibility for the placement and editing of the story was in the hands of the managing editor, who never read it because he spent all day in budget meetings. He works for an executive editor who is sympathetic toward moderate Democrats but tries to conceal that from his boss, the publisher, who is a conservative Republican and serves on the board of the Chamber of Commerce. She in turn answers to a chief executive officer and a board of directors who live in another state and don't give a damn what's in the paper, so long as it generates more profits this quarter than last. Finally, the paper was delivered to your doorstep by a carrier who favors the war so long as he doesn't have to fight it.

Would a disclaimer like that satisfy the bloggers? Or perhaps some more generic disclaimer would do: This newspaper was written and edited by journalists who have been trained to observe the world objectively and without bias but whose ability to do so may have been compromised by their professional and personal experiences and their human shortcomings. It is published by an unthinking, heartless corporation that would just as soon be manufacturing crack cocaine if it thought that would make more money.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Sad cow

Wait until PETA gets ahold of this.


When is a fire not a fire? When it's a fish stick.


Paul Stephens of the Montana Green Party seems to be working up the most readable candidate platform I have ever seen. Scroll down to Sex and Drug Workers Protection Act to get started. But don't scroll too fast; he has interesting comments on Martha Stewart along the way.

Montana blogger

Maybe I'm the last guy to notice this, but David Merriman has started a blog.

Are bloggers journalists?

I was glad to see that The Billings Gazette reprinted Alex Jones' piece in the Los Angeles Times about blogging vs. journalism. The column isn't on the Gazette website, apparently, but you can work your way to it by starting with Jay Rosen's excellent discussion.

Just two observations:
1. The blogging world bubbles over with contempt for conventional journalism, routinely challenging reporters' competence, integrity and even patriotism. But when a journalist mildly fires back, some bloggers go nuts.

2. Bloggers often mistake contempt from mainstream reporters for the last gasps of a dying, obsolete and elitist breed. Some of that may be fair, but there's at least one other reason for it. Reporters as a species always have carried around buckets of contempt for those who sit around critiquing the work of others instead of burning shoe leather and phone lines: editorial page editors, the copy desk, bureaucrats, academics, thumb-sucking think-piece writers of all sorts. It's a working-class mentality that dates back to the days when reporters were hired off the street and changed jobs as often as they emptied the fifths of whiskey in their desks. To working reporters, most bloggers are just parasites riding on the backs of those who do the real work. Until more real reporting goes on in the blogosphere, that attitude probably won't change.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Dear God

Here's one way to keep up the troops' morale.

Power of protest

This is nicely said, even if a bit too optimistic, and relevant to some of the discussion below.

Abe Lincoln, trial lawyer

The Montana GOP E-Brief says "a lot of Montanans just aren’t comfortable with Trial Lawyers running the state," which is true, but it set me wondering why no Republicans have disowned the party's greatest trial lawyer, Abe Lincoln. That set me off wandering until I found this, which is Lincoln on the Mexican War (spelling and punctuation from the original):

Again, it is a singular omission in this message, that it, no where intimates when the President expects the war to terminate. At it's beginning, Genl. Scott was, by this same President, driven into disfavor, if not disgrace, for intimating that peace could not be conquered in less than three or four months. But now, at the end of about twenty months, during which time our arms have given us the most splendid successes--every department, and every part, land and water, officers and privates, regulars and volunteers, doing all that men could do, and hundreds of things which it had ever before been thought men could not do,--after all this, this same President gives us a long message, without showing us, that, as to the end, he himself, has, even an imaginary conception. As I have before said, he knows not where he is. He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man. God grant he may be able to show, there is not something about his conscious, more painful than all his mental perplexity!"

"The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln," Volume 1, Edited by Roy P. Basler, Rutgers University Presss, New Brunswich, New Jersey, 1953, pages 431-42

The man was not only a lawyer but a traitor!

Brown out

Jan Falstad wrote a great story about NorthWestern Energy bonuses today, and Republican governor candidate Bob Brown already has latched onto it, saying he was "angered and astounded" by the bonuses.

His news release goes on, "Brown said the Northwestern situation is just another unintended consequence of deregulation, which Brian Schweitzer's running mate, then-Rep. John Bohlinger, voted for as a member of the Legislature in 1997."

Neither Brown nor his running mate, Dave Lewis, was in the Legislature then. Now he is asking us to believe that he would have been the voice of courage and conscience standing up against the forces of dereg, if only he had been there. OK, Bob, we're trying.

Hot sauce

The more you read of this, the funnier it gets.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Response here

Mtpolitics has a long response to the post below, but I am having a bit of trouble getting a handle on it. He seems to think I said some things that I didn't say, and he responds with hypothetical examples that aren't strictly on point.

Let's begin with things on which we agree. We agree that this is not fundamentally a First Amendment issue. However, with respect to radio play, which Mtpolitics mentioned in his first post on this topic, I would make the same argument that I made about PETA's TV ads. When a broadcast outlet operating on publicly owned airwaves bans a performer for purely political reasons, then that action does have First Amendment implications and could appropriately be raised at a license renewal hearing.

Mtpolitics and I further agree that the owners of the Aladdin have the right to engage whatever performers they choose. The owners' actions in this case appears to have been excessive and foolish, but the owners have a right to be excessive and foolish.

We agree that people have a right to boycott. I have been boycotting Charmin toilet tissue for better than 30 years now, all because of those annoying Mr. Whipple ads. I listen to Rush Limbaugh occasionally, but I don't buy Snapple because Snapple tried to use Rush's celebrity status to sell its product. When you invite consumers to judge your product by the status of those who endorse it, then you have to live with all the implications of that endorsement.

Finally, we agree that words have consequences. My point was that punishing those who say words you disagree with also has consequences, and those consequences have dangerous implications for a political system that depends for its survival upon citizens who freely and frankly exchange political views.

So much for agreement. Mtpolitics' hypotheticals seem to miss the point, including the one in his first post that involved punching a performer in the nose. Physical assault is a crime, not a form of political expression. An employee who badgers customers would indeed be terminated, but that is strictly a job performance issue. I might conceivably abandon a mechanic who attempted unremittingly to impose his views on me, but it has never happened, and I suspect I will go to my grave without having experienced it. The country is at far greater risk from those who are afraid to express their political opinions than from those who refuse to stop.

Mtpolitics also dismisses my reference to the Dixie Chicks as a red herring because, after all, the effort to ruin their careers apparently has failed. That failure is good news, but it doesn't render the effort irrelevant.

The risk of losing advertisers because of my opinions is a risk I am willing to take. For evidence, guess how this affected our advertising relationship with the Billings Outlaws (actually, they were pretty good sports about it, once they cooled down). But in a world in which people are increasingly willing to use their power as consumers and advertisers to stamp out views with which they disagree, much more than my business is at risk.

The strangest part of this exchange has been the comment to Mtpolitics' website that dismissed my position as "leftist blather." If concerns about the health of democratic debate trouble only leftists, then let's hope there is no right wing in this country.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Freedom ain't free

Jackie Corr sends along this link about the perils of celebrity political activism. This sort of thing doesn't seem to bother mtpolitics, but it makes me nervous.

I would never argue that anybody should be forced to listen to any particular music, watch any movie or read any book (unless you are taking one of my classes). If you can't stand the Dixie Chicks, for whatever reason, fine.

Just remember that the whole concept of self rule is built around the principle that people who disagree on politics can still get along in everyday life. When I get my car repaired, I don't ask the mechanic his position on the war. When I buy a hamburger, I don't check first to see how the patty flipper voted on Cobb Field. None of my business, and it makes no difference.

Increasingly, however, it seems that people want to punish those they disagree with. People don't want to just criticize the Dixie Chicks' politics, they want to keep the Dixie Chicks from ever working again. That makes no sense to me.

If we're going to start choosing artists on the basis of their presidential politics, where does it end? Do I boycott Bob Dylan because he stole records from his friends when he was a kid? Hank Williams because he was a drunk? Frank Zappa because he gave his daughter a funny name?

I figure that if I am going to tolerate Ezra Pound and Leni Riefenstahl, which I do, then there really is no place to draw a line, so I don't.

Obviously, this is an issue with personal implications. I'm no artist, and certainly no celebrity, but as a newspaper publisher I know what it's like to lose business because you print something somebody doesn't like.

In one memorable case, an advertiser told us he wouldn't do business with The Outpost because we were too liberal. Our alert ad rep pointed out that he bought ads from The Gazette and asked if it wasn't too liberal for his tastes. It was, the advertiser said, but The Gazette is owned by an out-of-state corporation. He was willing to let the corporate drones off the hook, but he was determined to punish a local business he disagreed with.

It may not be easy to be a politically active celebrity these days, but it isn't easy being the little guy either.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

News loses

Daschle vs. Thune has thoughts on the status of monopoly news coverage in the Dakotas.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Fahrenheit heat

Ed Kemmick is pretty tough on Fahrenheit 9/11. While what Ed says is right as far as it goes, the movie left me feeling much better than it apparently left him feeling.

Does anybody really think that the public debate over Iraq would be enhanced by additional facts? I've had about as many facts as I can stand. Moore could have made a judicious, balanced, factually rigorous film about Iraq - and 11 people would have seen it. He's a polemicist, not Frederick Wiseman. It made me feel good to see such a rank piece of propaganda getting full commercial film treatment. And I suspect Moore, perhaps despite himself, has done more to spark healthy public debate than any other American.

I was thinking about this topic anyway after again seeing "The Last Detail" on TV last night. This is a great movie, a gritty, blindingly realistic view of life as an enlisted man in the Navy. Dissing the military has fallen so badly out of style that when the movie ended, I wondered whether such a movie could be made today. "Fahrenheit 9/11" gives me hope that it could.

Saturday, July 17, 2004


Paul Whiting sends along this article, which supports my ongoing contention that conservatives and liberals are on the wrong sides on Iraq: Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) gave a speech saying, 'The true conservative position, the traditional conservative position, is against this war.' He pointed out, 'It is very much against every conservative tradition to support preemptive war.'”

New blogger

Chuck Rightmire, a frequent commenter here and elsewhere, has started his own blog.

Brian's blog

The Montana GOP E-brief says that Brian Schweitzer's blog has been dropped from his website. I checked the site and found the blog, but it hasn't been updated since May 20 - which makes his posting record worse even than mine. Also, the blog doesn't appear to be linked to the home page.
The GOP's dubious interpretation is that Schweitzer couldn't take the heat in his comments section. My guess is that Schweitzer, like this editor, has trouble finding the time to keep up with it.


One reason I've been ignoring this blog is that I had to get my course syllabus nailed down for the English 119 course I'm teaching at Rocky this fall. Finally got that e-mailed off. All the readings I came up with (except one) are work related:
1. Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville.
2. Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell.
3. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Barbara Ehrenreich.
4. Working, Studs Terkel.
I'm also having them read a long article from Harper's magazine by David Foster Wallace on prescriptivist vs. descriptivist language. It's a bit dense, but well thought out and pretty darn funny, too.

Back up

I installed Site Meter here for a while, and it stopped the page from scrolling -- a definite defect in a blog. I think it's fixed now.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Alabaster cities

Finally got around to reading the Missoula Independent's roundup of Montana cities that have adopted resolutions opposing the Patriot Act. Made me wonder why the issue hasn't come before the Billings City Council.

Silly question, I suppose.

Fair's fair

Every time I blog about not blogging (see below) I get the urge to blog. Can't pass up pointing to this article, which makes an argument that I have been making for several years: Computer hackers ought to be executed. Not all of them - just a few, to provide instructive examples to the rest.

Capital punishment is largely wasted on murderers, who as a class value life less than most people and who often act out of short-term motivations that aren't easily deterred by the prospect of distant and uncertain punishment. But hackers -- a couple of executions there would really get their attention. And be good for the economy, too.

Blogging lag

Sorry about the lack of blogging. I'm just way, way too busy these days, and it's going to get worse before it gets better.

In the meantime, if you aren't totally burned out on Wal-Mart stories, you can find interesting ones here, here and here.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

I'm having trouble generating any sympathy for Greyhound's declining ridership. I haven't ridden a bus in a couple of decades and hope to hold out for a couple more. Three incidents drove me to the decision.

1. My brother was looking for a bus schedule from Memphis, Tenn., to Victoria, Texas, and called Greyhound. The attendant read off the itinerary: "... Leave Nacogdoches, 11:40; arrive Houston, 11:45 ... ."

Wait a minute, my brother said. It's 140 miles from Nacogdoches to Houston.

Oh, yeah, said the attendant, that can't be right. It's got a layover in Corrigan.

2. I visited my brother and rode the bus from Memphis to Nacogdoches. As we were pulling out of the Memphis station, the driver said, "Well, this bus never has been on time, and I guess it probably won't be today."

This elicited a good-natured chuckle from riders, except me. I had a tight connection in Jackson, Miss. Sure enough, we pulled into Jackson a couple of hours late, I missed the connection, and arrived home 24 hours late after spending a night roaming the streets of Shreveport, La.

3. When my daughter was a little tyke, my wife took her on a bus ride to East Texas to see the grandparents. This time the bus pulled into Waco with plenty of time to make the connection to Longview. Except for one thing: The bus to Longview left early. It was pulling out of the station just as their bus pulled in.

That's it, I said when I got the news. Never again. And that still holds.

Interesting comments over at the Outpost website on this week's PETA story. One comment that doesn't show up there is a letter to the editor from the Northern Plains Resource Council complaining that the story provided no rebuttal to the Center for Consumer Freedom's characterization of NPRC as an "East Coast propaganda machine."

That's probably a fair criticism. I included the remark in the story to give readers some perspective on where the Center for Consumer Freedom is coming from. Juxtaposing its views of PETA against the views of an organization familiar to many Outpost readers, I thought, would give a sense of its ideology and tactics. But I can see why NPRC would resent the comparison without further elaboration.

Friday, July 02, 2004

P.J. O'Rourke can't find any conservatives to argue with. But he says so hilariously.
The U.S. Senate is preparing to apologize to Indian tribes for, you know, trying to kill them off and stuff.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Mtpolitics takes note of the news story about a Kalispell auto dealer complaining that Brian Schweitzer bought vehicles out of state. The dealer describes himself as a conservative Republican.

Time was, buying local was the theme of dependable Chamber of Commerce sermonizing. In recent years, supporting local businesses seems to have become a liberal issue -- for reasons I have never fathomed. If the governor candidates get into a "more local than you are" debate, then I'm all for it.
The Medienkritik distortion of German media comparisons between Abu Ghraib and Auschwitz is getting some well deserved attention.
Rob Natelson's complaint against the University of Montana law school is drawing some attention in the blogosphere. Also here.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Blogging is supposed to provide instant opinionating and fact checking, but misinformation still spreads with amazing ease.

This tale starts at Medienkritik, which accuses the German media of "drawing parallels among the American soldiers’ abuses in Abu Ghraib, Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and the Nazi’s concentration camps." A serious charge, if true.

The evidence? An article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung by feminist critic Alice Schwarzer, who observes that the outstretched arms of a hooded Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghraib remind us of the crucifixion and that photographs of heaps of naked bodies there remind us of photos of heaps of naked bodies in concentration camps. From which she concludes ... nothing. She doesn't allege that the two events are equivalent. She doesn't excuse German behavior. She doesn't even mention the analogy again. The article is instead about whether women react to and inflict torture in ways different from men (a possibility that right-wing darling Ann Coulter also has raised).

Now some people maintain that the magnitude of horror in the Holocaust was so great that it can't be compared to anything else. I don't agree with that and think it is potentially dangerous because it can make us dismissive of the possibility that such a thing could happen again. But I understand the argument and respect it.

Still, you don't have to read German to notice that Medienkritik is hyperventilating. For one thing, it acknowledges that the article had appeared only in a "low-circulation, leftist, feminist rag" and as an opinion piece in the Frankfurt paper. It takes a mighty broad brush to make a throwaway line in two publications hold up for an indictment of the "German media."

Second, Medienkritik even provides a photo link to prove its point that Schwarzer is ugly. Writing can be a tough racket, but one benefit is that it provides a level playing field for ugly people. Medienkritik clearly has lost all perspective.

Nevertheless, the post got picked up in Jeff Jarvis' Buzzmachine, which quoted it without comment, and in Glenn Reynolds' popular Instapundit, who adds the observation, "This self-serving historical revisionism pretty much explains the German position on the war. Note to Germans: You're not fooling anyone but yourselves."

No, Glenn, you are fooling yourself. A Medienkritik commenter said his posting was "profoundly dishonest and morally corrupt," and that's giving him all the best of it. Even if you put the worst possible face on Schwarzer's allusion, Reynolds' interpretation is wildly irresponsible. He has turned one offhand comment in one opinion piece in one German newspaper into an indictment not only of all German media but of the German people as a whole. If this nonsense had appeared in the mainstream media, bloggers would be all over it.

As it is, the blogging world still has a lot of growing up to do. As this incident demonstrates, simply having the power to link doesn't prevent bad information from spreading. You still have to go read the post.
Mtpolitics says we probably won't be able to agree on whether PETA ads should run. But we may not be as far apart as he thinks.

First, kudos to Craig for (I think) breaking the story about the ads being pulled. Chalk up one for the blogosphere.

Second, I'm not sure the sequence of events suggested in my post is accurate either, and I say so in the post. In my story that will appear in next week's Outpost, station officials specifically deny that they were caving in to Stockgrowers' pressure. They say they were responding to viewer complaints. Outpost readers can swallow this with as many grains of salt as they deem appropriate, but the images in the ad were disturbing enough that it's a credible explanation.

Third, I wouldn't dismiss First Amendment concerns so lightly. Again, the public airwaves are a government-regulated monopoly. Anybody can start a newspaper (I'm Exhibit No. 1) but it takes government permission to own a TV or radio station. So when stations take actions that limit access to the airwaves of people with unpopular views, then that raises a First Amendment concern in my mind. And that's especially true when broadcast stations are increasingly in the hands of an ever-shrinking number of owners.

Fourth, I do, in fact, have serious concerns about McCain-Feingold. I was surprised that the Supreme Court gave it a pass. One of the these days I will get around to reading the decision and trying to figure out why the law passed constitutional muster.

Fifth, appealing as it would be to get rid of the FCC, it's not practical now. So long as the public owns the airwaves, some regulation will be necessary. I would certainly like a better FCC -- one, for example, that was less worried about indecency and more about media conglomerates.

Finally, I might still come around to Craig's view if someone can show me that PETA is engaged in or encouraging criminal activity. PETA denies that it does so. David Martosko of the Center for Consumer Freedom (see Craig's links) has plenty of nasty things to say about PETA but stops short of criminal allegations. Until that case is made, I would err on the side of letting PETA have its say.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The "soul-snatching corporate culture" has taken the fun out of newspapering, columnist Kathleen Parker says.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Over at mtpolitics, Craig has turned up a pretty good story. Seems that the KSVI and KHMT TV stations has been broadcasting a controversial PETA ad promoting vegetarianism, then pulled the ads after the Montana Stockgrowers complained.

Craig welcomes this development, since he views PETA as essentially a terrorist group. I'm not sure how true that is, and I don't have time to research it today. PETA's official website does call for nonviolence, and I don't know of any criminal charges pending. So PETA seems to have as much right to a public forum as anybody.

As my comments on his site indicate, I'm uncomfortable with Craig's position for a couple of reasons:

1. It bugs me when powerful economic interests use their clout to force unfriendly messages off the air. If we can hear a hundred commercials a day promoting meat consumption, what shouldn't we hear one or two taking the opposite tack? I don't know this situation well enough to be certain that happened here, but it's worrisome.

2. Commercial broadcasters operate under federal licenses, subject to renewal, so when a station refuses to air a controversial opinion, that comes dangerously close to government censorship. I'm within a hair's breadth of being an absolutist on First Amendment issues. I think it's appalling when American citizens can't use their own money to purchase air time to make political and philosophical arguments on subjects of their choice. That's not how I read the Constitution I promised to protect and defend.
From the Republican Party, this bizarre news release:

Evidence is mounting to indicate that false allegations
against Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg are being coordinated by
Senator Max Baucus.

The false allegations originated in the Washington D.C. periodical Roll
Call and were based on a cryptic, anonymous email that has never been
traced to its original source. Though obviously baseless in content,
Democrat Party Chiarman Bob Ream yesterday threatened to exercise
"freedom of information" rights to "expose" the details of the story.

New evidence suggests that Senator Max Baucus prompted Ream's action.

Two former Baucus staffers are closely involved in the scheme, including
Ryan Seher, the current campaign manager of Tracy Velazquez and former
Baucus staffer; and Bill Lombardi, current communications consultant to
Bob Ream and former Baucus communications director. Further, the story
originated from a Washington D.C. political magazine that Baucus's
current staff has frequent contact with.

"The relationships between all of these individuals seem, well, just a
little too convenient," said MT GOP Executive Director Chuck Denowh.
"Baucus has a history of using Bob Ream to do his dirty work, and
judging by their past actions, there is nothing they won't do to damage
a Republican's reputation."

As no evidence has been proffered to suggest that the false allegations
have any base in reality, the revelation of Baucus's involvement could
have serious repercussions on the elections this November. "The Montana
Democrat rank-and-file are getting pretty tired of Bob Ream's
stranglehold on their party and the persistently negative image he has
concocted for them," said Denowh. "This is one of the reasons that
Rehberg enjoys such strong support among Democrats in our state."
Rehberg's approval rating has been consistently in the 60th percentile;
Baucus has languished with weaker numbers.

"Baucus's fragile ego has been severely damaged recently," said Denowh,
"Not only was his wife Wanda Baucus recently arrested for assault, but
Rehberg has consistently been beating him in Montana approval polls.
This appears to be nothing but a selfish attempt to besmirch our popular
Montana Congressman, Denny Rehberg."

Baucus and Ream have been involved in other smear campaigns, most
recently with the allegations leveled against 2002 US Senate candidate
Mike Taylor. "What we're seeing is nothing new," said Denowh. "Baucus
and Ream know that they can't compete with us on real issues, so they
consistently resort to this sort of negative campaigning. I'd say
enough is enough; let's focus on what really matters to Montana."

A few observations:
1. Although the news release never specifies what the "false allegations" are, they presumably involve the widely circulated rumor that Rehberg and Burns got drunk on a trip to Kazakhstan and Rehberg fell off a horse and broke a rib. If so, the rumor isn't entirely baseless. They did make the trip, they did drink, and Rehberg did fall and hurt himself. He denies that he was drunk, and no credible evidence has surfaced that he is lying. So the allegations may not be valid, but they aren't imaginary.

2. The news release alleges that two former Baucus staffers were "closely involved" in the scheme. Evidence for this is even scanter than evidence Rehberg was drunk.

3. "the story originated from a Washington D.C. political magazine that Baucus's
current staff has frequent contact with." The magazine was Rollcall. The list of Washington politicians who don't have frequent contact with Rollcall would be very short.

4. "the revelation of Baucus's involvement could have serious repercussions on the elections this November." Even if that revelation ever surfaces, this proposition sounds like wishful thinking. Baucus isn't even up for re-election. Are people going to vote for Brown or Rehberg because they don't trust Baucus? Or Ream? Does not compute.

5. The rest of the news release is itself a smear. So the Republicans make unsupported allegations that Baucus is to blame for unsupported allegations, then use those allegations as a basis for smearing Baucus and the entire Democratic Party. Now that's politics.
I'm still trying to sort through reading materials for my freshman comp class at Rocky this fall. Lately, I've been rereading George Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London" -- a terrific read, by the way, by an author who is best known for what is not nearly his best work. Orwell describes the world as it existed before governments erected social safety nets. In that world, people who can't get work because they are sick or injured or crazy just slowly starve. It's no surprise that no country that ever gets past that stage ever votes to go back.

Which leaves me thinking that even the most dedicated free-market conservatives don't really want that sort of world again. We're all liberals; we just disagree on the price.
Jay Rosen has another great, but long, piece on media bias (with more than 200 comments and counting).

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

City Lights solicits comments about German attitudes and knowledge about America. I'm no expert, but I did spend a couple of years in Germany and I read a fair amount of German press coverage both immediately following 9-11 and following the start of the Iraq war.

I'm clearly in the camp that says Germans know us better than we know them, although I also agree with some of the commenters that Germans are more ignorant of us than we might imagine. It seems credible that a lot of Germans wouldn't recognize Montana -- but I never met one who hadn't heard of Texas.

One thing about Germany is that the gap between the educated classes and ordinary folks is greater than it is here. Far fewer Germans go to college, and many are directed into technical or vocational classes after a few years of elementary school. Many more Americans fall into the categories some of the commenters describe: a few years of college, a year or two here and there of a foreign language, some overseas travel. So we pick up bits and pieces of what many Germans never really experience at all.

Still, the German press routinely reports about American politics and entertainment in great detail. The reverse isn't true. And Germans are, of course, much more likely to speak English than we are German.

The e-mailer who was mad at Germans ought to have read some of the post-9-11 coverage. The German papers not only treated it as a huge story, the coverage was overwhelmingly supportive and sympathetic. "We're all Americans now" was a common theme.

The contrast with the Iraq War coverage was startling. The German press clearly saw it as a huge mistake and criticized Bush constantly. We weren't all Americans anymore. I encountered some sentiment that Germans shouldn't help America get out of the mess it had placed itself in.

Is it fair to blame, as the City Lights' e-mailer does, this huge change in attitude solely on Germans? I don't think so. If any country in the last century has learned a lesson about the danger of getting into wars you haven't thought through carefully, it's Germany. Sometimes, friends don't let friends start wars.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

The letter here (scroll down to "Corporate influences undermine voters' trust") contains a certain irony. The writer remembers Reagan as the type of president Americans could once trust, but doesn't seem to recall that the path to today's manufactured presidency was paved during the Reagan era. All the hallmarks of the modern presidency -- limited press conferences, staged photo ops, staying on the single message of the day -- were either initiated or perfected during the Reagan presidency. Not to mention the Iran-contra affair, one of the most sweeping instances in history of an administration lying to its constituents.

The last president who truly tried to be the people's president was, for all his faults, Jimmy Carter. Remember him walking to the White House on inauguration day, the cardigan sweaters, the fireside chats (with no actual fire)? Even the infamous "malaise" speech was a failed attempt to connect to Americans at a personal level, like a preacher exhorting the congregation as the sermon winds down. Carter's attempts to humanize the presidency probably helped get him elected, and probably helped get him defeated, and nobody since then has had the courage to try to govern that way.

Ever since Carter, the presidency has been just another p.r. job.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

My column about The Outpost's recent successes, and its draconian personnel policies, is up.
Has anybody noticed that Bob Brown's proposed clean campaign pledge doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense?

As reported in the GOP E-brief, the pledge reads:

"On television, radio ads, newspaper ads, direct mail, and in phone calls all parties agree not to criticize, attack, condemn or characterize in any way any of their opponents in the 2004 election. Instead, all candidates agree to only use paid communication to highlight their own views on the issues of importance to Montana voters. Issues associated with governing the state of Montana ought to be the focus of this campaign.

"Should any party break the pledge the other party shall be released from the conditions of the pledge."

As I read this, Brown would violate the pledge if he said, "Brian Schweitzer is a fine fellow, and I think he would make an excellent governor." Wouldn't that statement violate the "characterize in any way" provision of the pledge?

Then there's the misplaced "only." As I read the pledge, candidates agree not to say anything about issues of importance unless they are paying to say it. If the pledge said what I suspect Brown meant to say, the "only" would have gone after "communication."

Schweitzer's version makes more sense, but I can't say that I like it much better. I don't think much of clean campaign pledges. They always have a provision canceling the agreement if either party violates it, so all a pledge really means is that the candidates agree to run a clean campaign for as long as they run a clean campaign.

If candidates want to pledge a clean campaign, they should pledge it to themselves, as a matter of conscience; or to God, as a matter of morality; or to the voters, as a matter of honor. The one person to whom no pledge is owed is the opponent.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I wear my cynicism like a cheap coat, so patriotic stirrings are rare. Last week I had two patriotic impulses, and neither was Reagan-related.

The first was familiar and came as I walked out of American Lutheran Church after voting. Happens every time. I always get this vague good feeling about myself and my country and the whole world every time I vote. It's such a good, cheap high that it amazes me that most people don't bother.

The second came as I sat through plank committee meetings at the Democratic convention. I know politics is corrupt and tainted by money and ultimately run by the big boys. But there's something about that grassroots effort, citizens working out their political philosophy with each other, with everybody welcome and everybody getting a chance to speak -- well, it just got to me.

Damn, I love this country.
Pulled an all-nighter getting out the Classified section yesterday and today. No big deal there, but it was the second all-nighter of the week -- and it's only Wednesday. I was at the office for 25 hours straight starting early Sunday morning after covering the Democratic convention most of Friday and Saturday.

And I feel pretty good. My goal is by September to have gotten over this sleep thing altogether. Then I can create my "Sleep is for losers" bumper sticker. Every entrepreneur will want one.
In a comment below, Ed Kemmick wonders why I bother to respond to some of the more idiotic blogger attacks on "mainstream media." It's a good question, especially since I'm not even part of mainstream media, and especially since I quit the mainstream media in part because of the same complaints bloggers have.

Some of it is sheer laziness. Since I keep my own hours, and work a lot of them, I'm always looking for excuses to do things that are vaguely work-related without requiring much actual work. What would you rather do, edit your eighth obit of the day or sound off on some unsuspecting bloggers' website?

Some of it is sheer frustration. I didn't want to educate Mr. Porretto, I wanted to spank him. I know lots of good, honest journalists who have devoted their lives to high-quality, fair reporting and writing. To see some jerk put them down just sets me off sometimes. Maybe if I hadn't devoted so much of my own life to this business, and if I got paid better for it, I wouldn't mind so much.

Still, Ed's right. It's not my job to defend the New York Times. It's a poor use of my time, and it doesn't help the Times. But even as I was thinking that very thought after reading Ed's comment yesterday, I was already firing off another round of comments on yet another website. I'm a hopeless case.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

I have at last achieved some notoriety in the blogosphere. Francis W. Porretto has banned me from his blog.

My offense? I was guilty of the rather pedestrian observation that it was dishonest of him to willfully mischaracterize the New York Times obituary of Ronald Reagan as an "undisguised hit piece," then to use that mischaracterization as the basis of an attack on the integrity of the reporter who wrote the obit and on the journalistic profession in general. As it turns out, Mr. Porretto's blog tolerates attacks on the integrity of others but not on his own integrity. That's his prerogative, but isn't it the sort of policy that, if it were adopted by the mainstream media, would be assaulted in the blogosphere as -- dare I say the word? -- arrogant?

Note to Mr. Porretto: To bone up on the meaning of "undisguised hit piece," read this column by Christopher Hitchens. No Mafia hit man ever pulled off a neater job. Mr. Hitchens is unfair and intemperate -- and possibly not even sober; on the one occasion when I heard him speak, he acknowledged that he had fortified himself with a drink or two too many before facing a presumably hostile Texas A&M audience.

But unlike Mr. Porretto, Mr. Hitchens retains his integrity. Not only does he back his accusations with facts and examples (something Mr. Porretto doesn't deign to do) but he willingly battles the aspersions on his integrity that inevitably follow such a piece. On MSNBC, Mr. Hitchens' unrestrained attack on Reagan reduced Joe Scarborough and Ken Adelman to sputtering rage, demonstrating that even a week of national mourning can be relieved by moments of unintentional hilarity.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Democracy in Idaho is officially dead.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Friday is Ronald Reagan Day in Montana, Gov. Judy Martz has proclaimed. So party hearty.

"The passing of President Reagan marks the end of great era in American
history," Gov. Martz stated. "President Reagan made whole an America
that had been fractured by war, Watergate, and economic downturn. He wanted
America to thrive. His eternal optimism and courageous leadership created
hope and promise in a nation that had gone too long without encouragement."

Maybe my memory's going the way of Reagan's, but I don't recall 1980 as such a grim time. 1972 was worse. 1968 was definitely worse. Even 1964 was worse.

1980? We had inflation, of course. And Carter made his infamous "malaise" speech. But the speech didn't prove that malaise existed; in fact, the voters' rejection of Carter demonstrated that they weren't buying that kind of talk. I always took the whole "Morning in America" spiel as just campaign blabber. Maybe I missed it.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Nearly everybody I talked to about the Lee Enterprises poll that showed the Republican gubernatorial primary in a dead heat just a couple of weeks before the election was skeptical. Virtually without exception, people said:

1. Bob Brown would do better than the poll showed.

2. Ken Miller would do better than the poll showed.

3. Pat Davison would do worse than the poll showed.

Guess what? Conventional wisdom was right on all three counts. Of course, none of that proves the poll was wrong. Sentiments can change rapidly right before an election, especially one as negative as this one was. Next time, though, I will pay closer attention to conventional wisdom and less to the polls.

The defeat of the Cobb Field and Heights pool proposals raises this question: Is there any proposal that could pass in this town right now?

Tuesday night's vote was only the latest in a string of bond issue defeats. A new high school was beaten down. Voters rejected a new library. They turned down a cultural mill levy. But there were problems with each of those proposals.

The school district was hurt by the plan to build on the West End, as well as by internal dissension and aftereffects of the stike. The library, I'm convinced, was a worthy proposal, but it wasn't obviously worthy without a fair amount of study, and most people won't study. The cultural mill levy probably looked too much like socialism for this town.

But the baseball bond issue seemed to have everything going for it. Even the proposal's strongest critics seeemed to agree that something had to be done. Bond supporters raised better than $100,000 and spent it wisely. They lined up lots of support from business and nonprofits. They tried to answer every question anybody raised. But again the voters said no.

Here's my question: Did the bond supporters make some simple error that doomed this proposal? Or have we reached a point in Billings where nothing outside of a sewer or a city street will ever get built unless a philanthropist or private enterprise builds it?

If the latter is true, then I fear we are on our way to destroying the system that built 20th century America.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Got back late yesterday from the Butte Press Club's annual meeting. More on that later, but I've got to get a paper out today.
Will Pat Davison ever learn how to run a political campaign? Perhaps, but not in time for this election. His news release on Saturday noting the passing of Ronald Reagan misspelled the former president's name -- three times.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

This letter arrived too late to make The Outpost before the election, but it's worth a read:

Just read the "Cobb Field Strikes Out" article [Outpost, May 27]. It brought up a number of "whys" for me also.

Why is it when the city needs something, we can't get what we need, without it being a monument to someone's ego?

We need a better ball park! No question about that. The Mustangs, Scarlets, Royals, fans and yes the city deserve something better.
Why can't we have a new ball park, in the same configuration as we currently have, and not move all the major lighting? Tom Llewlyn made a good point.

Why do we have to have a field eight feet deeper, unless it is to accommodate the underground batting cage? That might be OK if additional seating goes down another eight feet, but expecting people to sit on a grassy hillside, in our Montana sun and/or "rain", come on get real! The stampede to cover will be worse than it currently is.
And why stop with only 4000 "real live" seats. I have seen Downtown Billings Night, and other special nights exceed 4000 many times over the years.
If there are skyboxes, why not have them be part of a roof, or cover, that can extend over the majority of the seats behind home plate like it now does?

Do you think the neighbors are going to like the diagonal (and dangerous if I might add) parking? What do you gain? Two or three spaces on one side of a block?
This also, in essence, makes the diagonal parking street a "One Way Street."
Did anyone consider that the number of vehicles probably will be multiplied with the splash park families in addition to the ball game fans. Will they shut down the splash park during games like they now close the pool? Just picture the number of vehicles backing into traffic after a game. You think there is traffic problems now? Just wait.

Speaking of parking. Why does the parking have to be in the back of the outfield instead of closer to the ticket booths and front gate? It will be almost a "two block walk" from the center of the proposed parking area, as illustrated, to the ticket booth and front gate. Why not take a note from the Metra handicapped parking and ticket booths? With the field in the same approximate position, and if the splash park was on the Northwest corner, the parking could be where it is now and extend up N. 27th Street for one-quarter to one-half block. Why not make it as easy as possible for your customers to do business with you? We "seasoned citizens" would appreciate a little consideration in the parking. Most of us don't have the young legs and/or the wind that young survey takers and planners of ball parks have.

The "plaza" looks nice, but serves little or no useful purpose. Are trees mandatory? Put them in some parking dividers and let the rest of the area be for vehicles.

I agree, the new ball park idea is great. I also agree, the proposed plan, as advertised, needs work.

Mustangs start June 18. Lets all go out to the ball game.

Harold Kelso

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

In the weekly Montana Green Party Bulletin, Paul Stephens is upset about a Lee Newspapers poll that asked opinions on a Schweitzer vs. Brown and Schweitzer vs. Davison gubernatorial matchup but not on a Vincent vs. Brown or Davison matchup.

He writes:

"Like all polls based on commercial media "spin" and advertising, it is necessary that the polls reflect the amount of money spent on advertising. Because Schweitzer has raised and is spending about 20 times what Vincent has, he is clearly the "frontrunner" and must win the primary election. If he didn't, and wasn't portrayed in this light, why would any candidate want to pay the same commercial media which commissions and publicizes the polls?

"So it is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. And the media can make sure it happens by not even considering how the better Democrat might do against the Republicans. For all we know, Vincent might beat both Republicans by a larger margin than Schweitzer. And we have no idea what will happen when
the Republicans start in on Schweitzer's career in Saudi Arabia, and the fact that he has made a fortune, indirectly, from the same oil imperialism which is killing American soldiers on a daily basis. He might end up with 20% of the vote, whereas Vincent, probably the best-prepared governor
candidate we have ever had, would easily win against any Republican if people knew who he is and what he stands for. But the corporate media will heavily bias their coverage of his campaign for the simple reason that he isn't paying them enough to help their bottom line."

I'm not quite sure how this meshes with the Gazette's endorsement of Vincent.
What should the tax rate on rich people be during time of war? Would you believe 100 percent?
Still trying to decide who should be governor? Here's your instant voters' guide:

You should vote for Bob Brown if you think government should be run by people who have devoted their lives to it.

You should vote for Pat Davison if you think the absolute worst thing that anybody could ever do to you is raise your taxes.

You should vote for Ken Miller if you think that governors should look as much like Abraham Lincoln as possible.

You should vote for John Vincent if you think Democrats have had the right answers all along.

You should vote for Brian Schweitzer if think the second-best choice for governor is a Republican.

You should vote for Tom Keating if you think that 19th-century solutions will solve 21st-century problems.

You should vote for Stan Jones if you think that libertarian ideology trumps competence and experience.

You should vote for Bob Kelleher if you think the Revolutionary War was a bad idea.
This commentary on the new Pew Research Center poll on journalists is well worth reading. The discussion I've read in the blogosphere (for example, here) has nearly all focused on the liberal vs. conservative aspects of the poll. The blogosphere's fascination with this feature of mainstream journalism continues to astonish me. The poll covers vital issues with broad implications for the health of American democracy: the extent to which the media are influenced by bottom-line pressures, concerns over quality, concerns over the relationship between journalists and readers, the general sense that journalism is headed in the wrong direction. Yet all anybody wants to talk about is the liberal vs. conservative divide. I don't get it.

I suspect the public's growing distrust of journalists also influences journalists' growing distrust of the public. If the public thinks I'm corrupt and incompetent, and I know I'm not, then the public has no clue, does it? It becomes a self-reinforcing -- and widening -- divide.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The highlight of my Memorial Day was watching the national lacrosse championship game on ESPN. Syracuse held off Navy, 14-13, in what was the most thrilling sports event I have seen in years. Even my wife got caught up in it, and, trust me, that almost never happens.

Since it was Memorial Day, I think everybody was sort of rooting for Navy, which had a Cinderella year and had several players preparing for active duty practically as soon as the game ended. A half-time feature showed a former player who lost both legs in the war. But Syracuse was a worthy champion, with a proud lacrosse history and one of the best players in the business in Mike Powell.

What amazed me was that the game drew 44,000 people (mostly Navy fans) to the Baltimore Ravens stadium. 44,000! I always thought I could be a lacrosse fan if I got the chance, but I have rarely even seen a game, much less had a chance to play. It's a sport with the contact of rugby, the teamwork of basketball, the speed (almost) of hockey and the grace of throwing and catching that distinguishes baseball. And it's an authentic American game. You can't beat it.

In response to comments to the post below:

Craig, Ayn Rand is indeed tempting but, as you indicate, probably too much to take on, both for the class and for me. Thanks for the suggestion.

Eric, Thurber is wonderful but probably doesn't fit. He did, however, have one of my all-time favorite lines about the working life: "There is, of course, a certain amount of drudgery in newspaper work, just as there is in teaching classes, tunnelling into a bank, or being President of the United States. I suppose that even the most pleasurable of imaginable occupations, that of batting baseballs through the windows of the RCA Building, would pall a little as the days ran on." Perhaps "The Catbird Seat" would work?

JR, I have operated my own business for seven years. Contempt? No way. But I do think a certain contempt for business runs through the literary crowd -- probably because writers are so often underpaid. As my post indicated, I would welcome suggestions on material that gives a more positive view. Got any?

Sunday, May 30, 2004

I will be teaching a freshman comp course at Rocky this fall in conjunction with an introductory business course. This means, for one thing, that this site probably will go dormant again for a while. More significantly, it means I am in the market for ideas to marry the two courses.

One possible avenue is a literary approach to business. Possible titles that have occurred to me, or that have been suggested to me, include:

Death of a Salesman
Liar's Poker
Bartleby the Scrivener (a must!)
an essay by Thoreau
Studs Terkel's "Working"
The Jungle
Dead Souls
Barbarians at the Gate

Any thoughts? I can't think of much literature that takes a positive view of business, but I may be overlooking something.