Category Archives: The media

About ISAAC! And Other Unknowns

I received a couple of polite emails over the weekend from one Isaac Evans-Frantz (or ISAAC! as his campaign logo identifies him), informing me that he would announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate today at noon, and inviting me to cover the event. “We haven’t seen much press yet about the campaign and thought you might be interested,” he wrote with a touch of wistfulness.

ISAAC! is a young man who’s done a lot of good things in his life. He brings ideas and energy to a campaign that exists entirely in the shadow of Senator-In-Waiting Peter Welch.

But no, I won’t be covering his announcement. Well, I guess I’m sort of covering it by writing this, but the rest of this piece won’t be about him. It’ll be about Quixote-style candidates and what we owe them.

Which is not much, really.

Look, I respect anyone who gets into the arena. Almost anyone; nothing for Cris Ericson here. Extra respect if ISAAC! really commits to the campaign instead of sitting around waiting for invitations to debates. But that doesn’t mean he deserves coverage.

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Lightning Round!

Well, the shower drain of political news is once again backed up, so it’s time to apply some rhetorical Liquid-Plumr and get the system going again. In today’s installment: the VDP at a crossroads, a really stupid lawsuit from a once-reputable publishing house, a complaint about Peter Welch being too good at fundraising, and maybe the worst political cartoon I’ve ever seen. Let the plunging begin!

The Vermont Democratic Party needs to take a look in the mirror. The VDP is once again looking for an executive director. Claire Cummings lasted about one year on the job before offering her resignation under circumstances unknown. As I wrote upon her hiring, “Cummings is the fourth person to hold the job in less than four years — and the fifth, if you count then-party chair Terje Anderson’s unfortunate tenure as interim ED in 2019.” Well, now they’re looking for their fifth in five years, or sixth if you count Anderson.

It’s sad. It’s pathetic. It’s a mess. And now the VDP must hire a new ED in the middle of election season. It needs someone who can hit the ground running with deep knowledge of Vermont and of campaigning. And it desperately needs someone with the guts to confront party elders if need be. I can think of at least one person who fits that descriptor to a tee. No names, because I don’t know where the search is going to go. But i can tell you one thing: If they hire someone from outside the state and/or someone under the age of 25, it’ll mean they’re happy with the status quo. Or, to put it another way, it’ll mean they’re seriously out of touch and full of unwarranted conceit.

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The Forum Conundrum

Tonight (Wednesday), VTDigger is hosting a very important early event in Vermont’s most competitive primary race of 2022 — the Democratic contest for U.S. Congress. It’s the first high-profile candidate forum in the race. There are five declared candidates; four of them will be included.

Above is the other guy: Dr. Louis Meyers, hospital physician at Rutland Regional Medical Center. Why won’t he be there? Well, because VTDigger, for reasons of its own, refused to invite him.

I’m not here to bash Digger; I think they made a considered decision. But on balance, I think it’s a mistake to exclude Meyers.

Meyers is a moderate Democrat. He’s been a practicing physician for three decades, and offers first-hand experience with the health care system. No reason to not take him seriously so far.

The other side of the coin: Meyers has twice run for state Senate in Chittenden County and finished dead last in both Democratic primaries.

If pressed, Digger would likely point to his electoral record and claim that he has no proven appeal. Certainly not compared to the three heavyweights in the race: Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, and Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale.

But then there’s the fourth candidate, Sianay Chase Clifford. She has Congressional experience as an aide to U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachiusetts, but she’s never run for or held elective office. And while she spent her youth in Vermont, she moved away to go to college and only returned to Vermont within the past two years. She has no more proven appeal than Meyers. So why will she be there?

Digger knows. I don’t.

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PARKING PANIC!!! And the Reactionary Nature of Local TV News

Local TV news does more than its share of ridiculous things, but this one from WPTZ really got my goat. It’s about the modest changes to North Winooski Avenue approved by Burlington City Council Monday night. And it’s called…

Businesses in Burlington’s Old North End unsure of their future as North Winooski Parking Plan is set to happen

AAAAUUGGGHHH Parking Panic!!!!!!!!

The story, such as it was, quoted two — count ’em, two — Old North End business owners worried about the plan’s reduction of 40 parking spaces along the corridor.

This sort of thing is the red meat of local TV news: Raising fears about the unknown.

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A Curious Erasure

Chelsea Edgar didn’t have an easy assignment. The Seven Days reporter was given the task of writing a comprehensive take on the life and times of the late Peggy Luhrs, pioneering feminist, antiwar activist and, in her later years, a loud and unapologetic TERF. Luhrs lived a long time and accomplished many things. But she was a source of hate for the transgender community.

Doing right by all of that is a tough balance to strike. But there was one big area where Edgar and her editors absolutely fell down on the job.

Not a single transgender person was quoted.

Five friends were quoted, as well as five community activists, some of whom work in the LGBTQIA space. Luhrs herself was quoted at least seven times, and there were multiple examples of her harsh rhetoric. (One of her friends uttered a toned-down version of the TERF point of view.) The conservative Republican Bradford Broyles even got the chance to call trans women “biological males.”

But no room for transgender people. We should have heard from trans women at least; many of them were directly affected by Luhrs’ hateful actions.

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Farewell to One of the Good Ones

I’ve got nothing bad to say about Emilie Stigliani, the now-departed executive editor of the Burlington Free Press. She’s smart, energetic, open-minded, and apparently a poet as well, who knew. She’s now departed for Sacramento after nine years at the Freeps, the last three as ExEd.

Stigliani’s job was the professional equivalent of pushing the boulder up the mountain and waking up the next morning back at the bottom. She presided over the paper at a point well into its decline phase, as ad revenue and subscriptions dwindled away, newsstand sales essentially disappeared, and her corporate bosses continued to expect handsome profits off the ever-diminishing operation.

None of that was her fault. Nor was it her fault that, during her tenure, I canceled my online subscription because the Free Press had become all but irrelevant to my work and my interests.

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I Think They Used to Call This “Whoredom”

The good people of Brattleboro must be wondering “What in hell happened to our local newspaper?” Because the Reformer’s owner, Belarusian native and skillionaire currency trader Paul Belogour, has begun exercising Rich Guy’s Prerogative over the paper’s content.

Last week the Reformer published a despicable opinion piece by Belogour entitled “War is the Answer” in which he explained why the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a good thing. Well, actually, he didn’t say “invasion.” He said “the war between Russia and Ukraine,” which is exactly like saying “the battle between lion and antelope.”

That was bad enough, but at least it was labeled “opinion” and carried the usual disclaimer “The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.” But now the paper has published a “news” article that’s essentially a handjob for the boss.

The story, entitled “Refugees to be housed at Belogour’s Bulgarian hotel; his pro soccer team opens doors to displaced women, children.” Said soccer team is also in Bulgaria. It doesn’t even try to connect the story with Brattleboro, because there is no connection.

And it carries the weakest possible disclosure. Belogour is identified, deep in the article, as the owner of Vermont News & Media. Astute readers will know that’s the parent company of the Reformer, Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal. The rest of the reading public will not make that connection. It’s a deceptive, inadequate disclosure. But I bet it made the boss happy.

Those pieces are bad enough. What we don’t know is how many pieces have not been published. Newspapers have wide latitude when it comes to running wire service copy and syndicated columnists. If there was a ban on coverage of the global communitys reaction or the humanitarian disaster or Russian aggression or the heroism of Ukraine’s president, we wouldn’t be able to tell.

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Let’s Just Stop With the Convoy Crapola, Shall We?

“The parking lot is filled with red, white and blue.” Eh, nope.

Hey, remember the great Trucker Convoys that tied up downtown Ottawa and shut down the Ambassador Bridge because Truckers Mad About Freedom? Yeah, doesn’t that just scream “February”?

Well, it’s March, and I think it’s time to stop paying attention.

VTDigger, WCAX-TV and WPTZ-TV didn’t agree. They sent reporters to cover Freedom Convoy gatherings in Lebanon, NH and Champlain, NY. And having sent the reporters, they felt duty-bound to produce stories — despite the fact that the only “news” was how few people bothered to show up. And both broadcasters devoted more than two minutes to the story, which is an eon in TV time.

The reporters allowed themselves to become stenographers for the convoy movement. Participants were given plenty of time to list their grievances and depict themselves as simple, peaceful, freedom-loving Americans. There was no mention of the chaos and economic disruption caused by the Canadian protests, which was exactly the outcome the American organizers had hoped to produce.

See the image above? That’s a screenshot from WPTZ’s story. While that image was on screen, reporter Liz Strzepa said that the parking lot was “filled with red, white and blue.” Um, I see only six flags, ma’am.

Maybe that was an unfortunate juxtaposition and the lot was much fuller than it appeared. But Strzepa never showed a wide angle. There were many close shots of a few people and a few vehicles, but no establishing shot that would have given the whole picture. Probably because it would have exposed the gathering for what it was: a complete washout.

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The Mask Slips

And the Academy Award for Painfully Earnest Passive Aggression goes to…

The topline from this week’s gubernatorial Covid presser was probably the Scott Administration’s apparent determination to push harder for getting Vermonters vaccinated. The governor practically accused the unvaccinated of betraying their fellow Vermonters and promised a new messaging strategy. I doubt it was because I’d just written the exact same thing last Tuesday, but hey, if they’re taking my advice, that’s fine with me.

However, for the political observers in the crowd, the most telling development came near the end of the marathon presser. VTDigger political reporter Lola Duffort asked a pointed question about chief of staff Jason Gibbs slagging an administration critic last week. (This was after two hours of nobody else bringing it up.) In his response, Scott made it clear that Gibbs was absolutely speaking on his behalf — and that Scott shares Gibbs’ condescending attitude toward critics and skeptics.

Yeah, the mask slipped, revealing the mean-spirited flip side of Governor Nice Guy.

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The Digger Deal is Good for All involved

Yesterday’s announcement that VTDigger and the VTDigger Guild had reached agreement on a contract was, I have to admit, a surprise. The terms were an even bigger and pleasanter surprise.

That’s because Digger management had stonewalled the talks for at least a year since the Guild organized. There was no reason to think that management would ever change its tune, but now it has. And I’ve renewed my monthly donation to Digger, which I suspended in May when the Guild went public with its account of the stonewalling.

Another sign of a healthy union/management relationship came in the comments on the settlement from both sides. Digger founder Anne Galloway said the talks “resulted in mutual respect, better communication and excitement about the future,” and spoke of “the Guild’s commitment to the VTDigger mission.” Lola Duffort, ace reporter and co-chair of the Guild local said negotiations were “a long and at times difficult conversation, but we had it as equals, and the organization is much stronger for it.”

Which is almost word-for-word what I wrote when I suspended my monthly donation: that the Guild wanted to support Digger and its mission, not tear it down.

VTDigger is at a critical juncture in its development. It is trying to build a sustainable, professional enterprise capable of thriving in a time of dramatic change for its industry. …The Guild wants to be a partner, not an antagonist. It isn’t making outlandish demands. Guild members want Digger to prosper, and to fully become a model for sustainable journalism.

The Guild contract is a big step in that direction.

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