Daily Archives: October 8, 2015

Sorrell versus the record, part 1: the MTBE deal

Earlier this week, former Mark Johnson Show host Mark Johnson produced his first podcast for his new employer, VTDigger. It was a 50-plus-minute interview with Attorney General Bill Sorrell, headlined by Our Eternal General’s stout denials of any wrongdoing. (It was also an excellent example of Johnson’s interviewing skills. His departure from WDEV was a big loss for our public discourse, and I look forward to his Digger podcasts.) Sorrell is, of course, the subject of an independent investigation for campaign finance-related activities.

SorrellCriminalThe interview reveals Sorrell in all his self-centered, fumblemouthed glory. He is, as always, the innocent target of politically motivated attack and quasi-journalistic hit pieces. But it’s worth taking a close look at how he explains himself, and comparing that to what’s on the record so far. (The independent investigator, Tom Little, is famously tight-lipped about his work, so we have no clue what he may have discovered.)

I’m breaking this up into parts because otherwise, it’d be horrifically long. This installment, Sorrell’s explanation of the MTBE lawsuit, is itself pretty damn long. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, the bottom line is: Sorrell’s interpretations and recollections are self-serving, and often at odds with the facts. In my judgment, it’s unclear whether Sorrell violated the law; but his behavior and his insidery relationships with key players are disturbing at the very least. There is an appearance of wrongdoing, whether there was actual wrongdoing or not.

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Editorializing by Photograph, Free Press style

It’s Thursday, which means the Burlington Free Press brings us the weekly excretion from the mind of Art Woolf, Vermont’s Leading Economist On Retainer. Woolf’s column is the usual stuff: a handful of statistics and some shallow speculation on What It All Means.

This week’s subject: statistics that show Vermont has a relatively high rate of people receiving federal disability benefits. He points out that this is a drag on the economy, because thousands of potentially employable Vermonters are sitting on their asses collecting gummint checks. Well, he doesn’t say that, but the implication is clear. He begins from the unspoken assumption that we have more than our share of freeloaders. Not that there might be actual reasons for it, or maybe it’s just a statistical fluke; nope, if we have more disability recipients than average, there’s something funny going on.

But that’s not what I’m writing about. No, I’m writing about the photograph that accompanies the column on the Freeploid’s website. Which, as of this writing, is the featured article on the home page. Screenshot below.

Freeps front page, VWCThe image is a file photo showing a kinda scruffy-looking guy in a red T-shirt holding up a sign. The photo is cropped so you can’t see the full context, but there’s enough to tell me this much:

The photo was taken at the Statehouse. That T-shirt is the unofficial uniform of the Vermont Workers’ Center. When VWC people go to the Statehouse to lobby lawmakers, they always wear that shirt.

So what are you saying, Free Press? That the Vermont Workers Center should really be called the Vermont Shirkers Center? They’re layabouts, spending their days at the Statehouse while collecting disability? They’re lobbying for more welfare, so they can live more comfortably at the taxpayer’s expense?

Or was the photo just a quick grab out of the file, no slight intended?

I’m sure the photo will be taken down without explanation sometime soon. And I’m sure that if the Free Press chooses to explain (which they almost certainly won’t), they’ll say it was a mistake. But this is the kind of thing that makes people mistrust them.

Update, late Thursday night: The image is no longer on the Freeploid’s home page, but it still accompanies Woolf’s column. For shame.