Daily Archives: October 10, 2014

A double standard at the Free Press? I am shocked! Shocked!

Ah, the Burlington Free Press: Champion of transparency everywhere outside its own doors.

The Gannett property steadfastly refuses to explain — or often even confirm — the organizational changes, comings and goings, mostly the latter, that affect the quality of its product and the ability of its readers — or should I say multiplatform consumers? — to depend on the Free Press for reliable, comprehensive journalism.

I’m sure the response from Michael Townsend would be, “Well, we’re a business! We have to protect our trade secrets and business strategy. Besides, we’re not bound to the same accountability standards as the public sector.”

Or, as he more succinctly put it to Paul “The Huntsman” Heintz earlier this week,

“I don’t talk to you guys,” he said. “I’m old-fashioned when it comes to competition.”

Oh, really? Well then, riddle me this, Batman: How come your reporters felt free to question WCAX-TV News Director Anson Tebbetts about the station’s mistaken broadcast of a photo of a murder victim?

And how come Tebbetts answered those questions?

“We’ve spent the last 24 hours apologizing for our terrible mistake,” Tebbetts told the Burlington Free Press. “We apologize to the family, her friends, the community and everyone that surrounded this case. It was a terrible mistake, and we’re deeply, deeply sorry.”

If the two men were in each other’s shoes, would Townsend have told Free Press reporters “I don’t talk to you guys”?

The Freeploid has plastered a thorough exploration of the WCAX incident in the prime spot on its webpage, seizing the opportunity to besmirch its’ competitor’s reputation.  And yet, it refuses to answer Heintz’ perfectly reasonable questions about newsroom cutbacks that will affect the quality of the Free Press’ product.

Anson Tebbetts feels a responsibility to his audience. Michael Townsend, apparently, does not.

The Burlington Free Press, transparency hypocrite.

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Condos v. Eastwood: A surprisingly tame encounter

I had some hopes for VPR’s big Secretary of State debate at noon today. Incumbent Democrat Jim Condos, who also won the Republican nomination on a write-in vote but threw it back like a dead fish, faced off against Progressive Ben Eastwood.

I was expecting some sparks to fly. After all, it was Eastwood who spiked a motion at the Progs’ June convention to endorse Condos, referring to Mr. Secretary as a “crony capitalist.” And Eastwood has shown himself to be a loose cannon in the public sphere. So I was expecting Young Ben to come out with guns a-blazin’.

Well, he didn’t. He was, for the most part, rather passive. Also nervous, occasionally uninformed, and in general gave listeners no real reason to vote for him.

In fact, Jim Condos was the more aggressive of the two, pressing Eastwood on his past characterizations of corporations and lobbyists and Condos himself, and his ability to take on the numerous duties of the office. I’d expected Condos to just sail above the fray and basically ignore his challenger, but apparently some of Eastwood’s criticisms had hit a nerve.

For his part, Eastwood occasionally mentioned his past criticisms of Condos, but mostly in passing — as a way to add a little color to his questions and statements.

He did manage to do one thing that, for instance, Scott Milne failed to do: when given the opportunity to ask his opponent a question, he was ready with a good, solid, pertinent one about using the Secretary’s office to oversee lobbyists. Condos had no trouble answering it, but at least it was a solid effort.

Overall, though, Eastwood didn’t have much to offer. Which figures; he’s a young man with a background as an activist, but little or none as an administrator. And the Secretary of State’s office, more than anything else, is a big honkin’ bureaucracy that requires a steady administrative hand. As a political writer, I interact with one piece of that office — elections and campaign finance. There are four other major divisions: Corporate registration, professional regulation, archives and records, and providing information and advice to local governments. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Eastwood did offer a few ideas, but almost all of them had to do with campaigns and elections, and most are actually outside of the office’s purview. His top priority, he said, would be to create an online information exchange where the public could access legislation, testimony, and other information — and also provide input. A Reddit sort of community marketplace of ideas.

Condos’ rejoinder: that’s something for the Legislature to do online, not the Secretary of State. He has advised the Legislature on updating its website and enhancing transparency, but he can’t create the kind of open forum that Eastwood wants to see.

I could cite other examples, but the point is, Ben Eastwood is young, inexperienced, and enthusiastic. Some of his enthusiasms are germane; many are not. But in this debate, he failed to make a case against Condos, and failed to establish himself as a serious applicant for the job.

He did manage one thing, though: he didn’t embarrass himself or his party.

No, I did not watch the freak show.

A study in pink.

A study in pink.

In front of a Susan G. Komen-worthy bright pink backdrop, the recently rebranded Vermont Public Television (now d/b/a Vermont PBS) rolled out the Clown Car O’ Democracy last night.

Yes, the one and only gubernatorial debate featuring all seven candidates for Governor.

Which produced the amusing spectacle of Scott Milne standing uncomfortably next to a Duck Dynasty stunt double, and Dan Feliciano braving sudden death from the razor-sharp brim of a Church Lady hat.

“Amusing spectacle” it was, and amusement was all it was good for. As a way for actual voters to actually make an actual decision, it was a waste of time. And I haven’t seen the overnights, but I wonder if Vermont PBS got as many viewers (74 max) as the ill-fated Burlington Free Press livestreamed debate.

Certainly they could have done better with a rerun of Bob Ross’ “The Joy of Painting.”

In fact, I’d vote for Bob Ross over some of those candidates. And he’s dead.

This notion of an all-inclusive gubernatorial debate seems to bring cheer to some of my friends in the media. It’s so… Vermont, you know?

Well, yeah. But so are rural poverty and frost heaves and agricultural runoff in Lake Champlain.

Vermont law makes it very easy to get a spot on the ballot. Which is fine; I don’t mind having eleventy-bajillion candidates if they get enough petition signatures. But it doesn’t mean they deserve my attention or consideration.

There are, at most, three serious candidates for Governor: Peter Shumlin, Scott Milne, and Dan Feliciano. Ironically, in all the debates so far, we have yet to see the three of them sharing a stage by themselves. More debates are in our future, and maybe we’ll get to see the only matchup that matters. I hope so.

How to waste $142,000

Two suggestions:

1. Get yourself 7,100 $20 bills. Scatter them in a big pile. Douse in gasoline, add one lit match.

2. Spend it on Republican advertising in Vermont.

Image from the RSLC ad. Or maybe from a Cialis spot.

Image from the RSLC ad. Or maybe from a Cialis spot.

As first reported by VTDigger, a national organization called the Republican State Leadership Committee has chosen the second course, pouring $142,000 into a TV/radio ad campaign for Republican legislative candidates.

They might have asked Lenore Broughton how this kind of big-money, old-media, carpet-bombing technique works. She spent at least a million bucks in 2012 on a TV/radio/bulk mail blitz attacking the Dems, and failed to move the electoral needle at all.

But the RSLC didn’t ask her. In fact, they didn’t talk to anyone in Vermont. Just ask one of the first guys they should have talked to.

Rep. Don Turner, R-Milton, the House minority leader, said he welcomed the media campaign, but was unaware of it until VTDigger showed him the ad.

So a D.C.-based Republican organization is running generic ads for nameless candidates, and they didn’t even consult the House’s top Republican. Somehow I don’t think the Democrats are too worried about this. Oh wait, here’s a Democrat now:

It’s just like in 2012, when there was a single Republican donor spending approximately $1 million here in Vermont. The VTGOP is just trying to bankroll their way towards relevance. It’s not going to work. Vermonters have already made it clear that the right-wing agenda has no place in our state, and they will make it clear again on November 4th. The RSLC is spending six figures on behalf of VTGOP candidates and that money comes directly from the Koch brothers and other insidious sources.

That’s from Ben Sarle, the VT Dems’ communications director. Now, naturally you’d expect him to say that. But the facts on the ground support his assertions. No matter what RSLC does, the Dems are extremely unlikely to lose more than a handful of legislative seats; it’s even possible that they’ll add a few to their outsized majorities.

But shed no tears for the RSLC. They’ve got money to burn, with a donor list that’s a Who’s Who of corporate America. In 2012 alone, RSLC spent some $39 million in state campaigns. So a lousy $142,000? That’s pocket change.

Oh, for your further entertainment, here’s the RSLC’s Top 20 donors for the year so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 12.45.55 AM

Mmmm, delightful. Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Banking, Big Pharma. Big Telecom. Wal-Mart. Gambling. The US Chamber of Commerce. They’re all there.

Inclluding at least a couple of Bigs that have been generous to Governor Shumlin: Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Comcast.

Huh.

Say, Ben, perhaps you’d best tone down that talk about “insidious sources.”