Archive (2008)

Blogversation 4

Exile from Rochesterturning and Evan Dawson have both posted another installment of the Blogversation.  Evan's post is a good round-up of what's been said recently, and he even admits that sometimes, some reporters are lazy.  (Gasp!  Where are my smelling salts, I feel a faint coming on!)  Exile notes that bloggers often can tell hard truths because they're outsiders, and a lot of the press corps (in Washington at least) have become insiders. 

I think we're about ready to wrap up, though I hope we do it again.  In closing, if you think that I'm tough on the D&C and local media, let me direct you to a recent interview with the creator of the Wire, David Simon.  He's a former journalist at the Baltimore Sun, and he focused the final season of his show on his old paper.   However, he did it in a clever way, because the real point of the season was everything that the paper missed:

The main theme is that [...] it's a newspaper that is so eviscerated, so worn, so devoid of veterans, so consumed by the wrong things, and so denied the ability to replenish itself that it singularly misses every single story in the season.
This was a story about a newspaper that now -- on some fundamental basis -- fails to cover its city substantively, and guess what -- between out-of-town ownership, carpetbagging editors, the emphasis on impact journalism or Prize-culture journalism and, of course, the economic preamble that is the arrival of the internet and the resulting loss of revenue and staff, there are a fuck of a lot of newspapers that are failing to cover their cities substantively.
I hope our real media in Rochester is in better shape than the fictional media in the Wire.  Thanks to Evan, Exile and GOP for an interesting conversation.

Morning News (Some Non-Spitzer!)

Randy Kuhl's reaction to the Spitzer news makes WENY and the Star-Gazette.

In other topics, Kuhl was one of a small group of Republicans who crossed party lines to vote for the ethics reform bill in the House.  How that vote happened is an interesting story.

And, once again, Kuhl makes the list of the top 100 golfers in DC. 

Spitzer Afternoon Report and Musical Interlude

In the "that didn't take long" department, the Massa campaign just announced that it donated the $2,000 received from Eliot Spitzer to the Net Domestic Abuse Program in Steuben County.

Update:  Here's the rest of the Press Release:

Yesterday, the National Republican Congressional Committee issued another baseless attack against Eric for receiving this money despite the fact that he clearly never would have accepted these funds had he known about this situation prior to Monday's news. Strangely, the NRCC and Randy Kuhl continue to remain silent about the $10,000 Kuhl received and refuses to return from indicted Congressman Tom DeLay.
Below is a copy of Eric's statement:
"We're both shocked and dismayed by this unexpected news about our Governor. We expect a higher standard of leadership from our elected officials, and we have been let down. If in fact these accusations are true, I hope the Governor does the right thing, but right now my thoughts and prayers are with his wife, family and the people of New York at this difficult time."
Others invoke Shakespeare and Greek Tragedy, but the most apropos literary reference I've seen recently is from a young singer name Jenny Owen Youngs.  The refrain of her song, "Fuck Was I", captures what might be going through Spitzer's head about now:

Skillet on the stove is such a temptation,
maybe I'll be the lucky one that doesnt get burned.
What the fuck was I thinking?
I've embedded the song after the break.  In addition to the refrain, the music has a slightly dirge-like quality.  The lyrics are here, and Jenny has a MySpace page.

Follow the Money, Not the Spin

Eliot Spitzer's on the hook for "structuring" -- moving money around to duck the $10,000 reportable cash transaction limit.  That's a serious federal crime.  Spin that ignores that fact and treats this as just a private sex scandal is missing the big picture.

There's also no evidence that Spitzer used campaign money or state money to support his habit, and since he's independently wealthy, it's unlikely that he did.  Spin that tries to make Spitzer campaign contributions look dirty is missing the big picture.

So, Spitzer should resign, because he's essentially admitted that he's guilty of a minor crime (prostitution), and it also appears that he's guilty of a more serious crime (structuring).


It's clear that he has to go, and go quickly.  New York isn't Louisiana, so being caught on tape arranging an appointment with a prostitute doesn't fall under the dead girl/live boy rule.

That said, prostitution should be legal and taxed.  At $1,000-$5,500 a throw, these prostitution rings could be a revenue goldmine.

The Favor Factory

The Seattle Times has done a deep dive into earmarking.  First, they went through a huge, mainly manual effort to compile a database of Defense earmarks and campaign contributors who get earmarks.  Then, they researched some of those earmarks, and found some incredible, yet typical wastes of money.

For example, one earmark by Sen. Patti Murray (D-WA) for a heads-up display used by Army troops was for a device that had lost an Army bid.  Most of those devices are stored in a warehouse and will never be used.  Another of her earmarks was for a patrol boat the Navy and Coast Guard didn't want, and that they gave away almost immediately after it was received.

Rep. David Wu (D-OR-1) got an earmark for a local clothing manufacturer for T-shirts for the Marine Corps.  The shirts are synthetic fabric which burns and melts easily, and are banned in combat. 

The Times' was able to correlate all of Murray and Wu's earmarks with significant campaign contributions from officials for the earmark recipients' companies.  Their database covers all of Congress, including Randy Kuhl.

The Times' effort to compile this database and track down worthless earmarks was documented in a recent episode of Bill Moyers Journal, which can be viewed online.  If you have any interest in journalism or earmarking, take 20 minutes and watch it online -- it's well worth the effort.  Also worth a read is the summary story by the main Times' reporter, David Heath.

He Said Journalism and NRCC Spin

In today's Syracuse Post-Standard, the Washington notebook column  solves the he said/she said dilemma by simply ignoring the other side of the story.  Columnist Mark Weiner re-prints National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spin without analysis or balance.

The main subject of Weiner's piece NY-25, where it looks like there won't be a primary.  This means that Democrat Dan Maffei, who came within a few thousand votes of beating incumbent Jim Walsh in 2006, will be the candidate in the general election.  The NRCC spin is that this is a good thing, because Maffei's possible primary challenger, Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll, would have been a better candidate.

Perhaps there's a tiny bit of truth in that, but fact-based conventional wisdom is that primaries eat up campaign chests and bloody up primary opponents, so the lack of a primary in NY-25 is probably good news for Dan Maffei.  Since Weiner is writing a column, which is an opinion piece, he could have just said that.  Or he could have called up Maffei and gotten a reaction quote.  Either way, getting some factual balance into his column would have been easy, so he's either a biased or incompetent "analyst".

The NRCC and its Democratic counterpart, the DCCC, are full of spokespeople whose entire job is to spin any seemingly negative fact for their party into a positive.  For example, the Democrat just won a special election for Denny Hastert's old seat in the Illinois 14th.  The NRCC spent nearly 20% of their cash on hand defending the seat.  The last time a party lost the Speaker's seat, in 1994, it signaled the beginning of a dozen years of Republican dominance in the House.  Clearly, this is bad news.  The NRCC's response is typical:  "one state does not prove a trend [...] not a bellewether of what happens this Fall." 

I don't fault the NRCC for spinning NY-25 or IL-14.  But journalists should not be basing entire columns on what these people say.

By the way, I stumbled on this piece because Weiner mentions NY-29, saying that Kuhl is running despite widespread retirement rumors.   He got that right, at least.

Announcement Roundup

Most of the area papers and television stations covered yesterday's Kuhl announcement, as did national political sites like CQ and Politico, which did a pretty good job of capturing the bittersweet nature of the announcement:

Kuhl’s decision to run for reelection is a mixed bag for national Republicans. The party has been frustrated with his lackluster fundraising pace so far, despite his inclusion on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s list to help out vulnerable incumbents.
But an open seat for an already cash-strapped committee would present the GOP with another set of problems — namely, recruiting another credible candidate and ensuring a new candidate would be able to fundraise effectively from scratch.
If you want to read all of the announcement stories, here's a Google search which will list them all.

SEIU Mailer

My wife received a mailing [pdf] today from the Healthcare Education Project, a joint venture of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA).  The four-page glossy mailer urges the reader to "write Congressman Kuhl today and urge him to vote against President Bush's proposed healthcare cuts".  A list of cuts for 29th District hospitals is displayed prominently on the second page of the piece.

The attached postage-paid return card is addressed to the union, which is a round-about way to "tell Congressman Kuhl" anything.  I assume the mailing was targeted at women, since my wife isn't a union member or healthcare activist.

Kuhl's Running

Reader James points out the Messenger-Post story on Kuhl's announcement.  The D&C has it, too.

Update:  Ontario GOP was at the press conference and notes that no primary challenge is expected, according to party chair Steve Minarik.

Blogversation 3

Evan Dawson asks a couple of interesting questions in his latest installment in our Blogversation.  Before getting to those, I'd like to make a couple of comments on installment 2.

GOP gets it right when he notes that there's still a big spot for traditional media in local markets, and that the pre-eminence of blogs as information sources is most evident at the national level.  And I think that Exile made a very important observation here:

In the era of blogs, I don’t think the same old gentleman’s club media ethos really flies anymore.   Given the choice between toothless but high-minded traditional media meanderings and tough, direct (and, yes, maybe rude) blog banter, serious readers will choose the latter.
To expand on this a bit, I think it's more than just the tone that attracts blog readers -- it's the way that content is presented. The McCain-lobbyist story reported by the Times and the US Attorney scandal reported by Talking Points Memo show the contrast.  In the Times story, editors sat on the story until they felt comfortable that all the reporting was done, and then it was disgorged in one big blob.  TPM posted the US Attorney story as they reported it, with periodic "where are we now" summaries.  This approach allowed TPM to break down the story into digestible chunks, and it also gave them the ability to quickly correct mistakes and back out of dead ends.  The Times story fell into a trap where a dead end (mistaken innuendo about a possible affair) overshadowed the rest of the story.  The result is that TPM readers know more about the US Attorney scandal than Times readers know about John McCain's relationship with lobbyists.

This is relevant to Evan's second question: 

Paige writes on Rochester Turning that he would like to see more fact-based reporting -- instead of the "He said, She said" style.  Do you guys agree?
The short answer is "yes", but I understand that it's not easy.  The facts aren't just sitting around for reporters to discover after five minutes on Google.  The FAIR plan, for example, was packaged in a way that makes it extremely difficult for reporters to ferret out the ultimate tax impact of the change.   To unwind the real impact of FAIR would probably require a series of investigative reports by a specialist in taxation.  This kind of deliberate obfuscation is common in today's politics, and it causes reporters to revert to "he said, she said" because they don't have the time to explain the story more fully.

Part of the solution is for reporters to use their blogs as a place for the "deeper read".  If the story is too complex to be fully aired on the on the reporter's main story (whether in print or on TV) , they can backstop it with blog posts that drill into more detail.   Another part of the solution is to post raw documents and video, so readers can catch something that the reporters might have missed.  The WHAM blog is doing some of this now, and I think it's a model for what a lot of local journalism will look like in the future. 

Reporters and the public should continue to demand transparency and full disclosure from government.  There also needs to be attention paid to unnecessary government complexity in New York State.  It's easy to get cynical about simplification efforts like Al Gore's in the 90's, but his now-forgotten effort to simplify was a good start.

Evan asks another question on information quality: 

Elmer writes on The Fighting 29th that blogs offer a real chance to find misinformation.  While that might be true, doesn't it seem that blogs are rising as a form of respected journalism?
Elmer's right that there's a ton of misinformation on the Internet, and a lot of it is on blogs.  On the Internet, the consumer has more responsibility for finding correct information, but it's not that hard to determine whether you're reading good information.  Since everything that's been published on a blog is usually available in its archives, you can read through a good selection of a blogger's work to see if he or she makes sense over time.  Usually blogs are discovered by following links from other blogs, and those recommendations are another way to judge if the information is good.  It's not perfect, but I don't think misinformation is a serious problem for someone who's willing to do some work to vet their information sources.

Finally, I want to address Evan's headline question:  "Does Steve Minarik Run the World?".  I agree with Evan that the primary responsibility of journalists is to examine the decisions of the Brooks administration, no matter who is really calling the shots.  I think that the role of Minarik as the "evil genius" behind the Brooks administration is probably interesting and worth reporting, but, like the role of Karl Rove in the Bush Administration, it can become a distraction.  The real story is what's being done by Brooks and the County administration, no matter who's behind it.  I'd rather have the media focusing on the viability of Renaissance Square rather than digging up Minarik/Brooks dirt.  In other words, follow the money, as they say on the Wire.

Mid-Morning Kuhl Is He or Isn't He Update

He tells the Star-Gazette that we'll find out on Friday.  The Hornell Evening Tribune quotes Kuhl saying that he "giggles" when he sees retirement rumors.