Category Archives: The media

Well, Digger Has Belatedly Removed That Dwyer Essay

Three days after it posted a thinly-veiled endorsement of Molly Gray by an advisor to the Molly Gray campaign, VTDigger has thought better of it and taken it down.

Not sure why they did it, but to judge from the above Editor’s Note, lawyers may have been involved.

Ouch.

For those just joining us, on August 3 VTDigger posted a commentary by Carolyn Dwyer, longtime Pat Leahy consigliere and advisor to the Gray campaign, that laid out the attributes Dwyer wants to see in our next U.S. Representative. Those attributes closely tracked with Gray’s own biography. Dwyer also tried to posit Becca Balint as an “ideological warrior,” which is laughable considering that Balint has spent the past six years in Senate caucus leadership. In that position her first duty is to keep the caucus united, not impose her own policy vision. And the biographical note accompanying the essay failed to disclose Dwyer’s role in the Gray campaign.

I wrote up this adventure in journalistic carelessness soon after it happened. The next day, Digger rewrote the biographical note to include a reference to the Dwyer/Gray relationship.

Which only made posting the piece look worse, because it was a tacit admission that Dwyer was, in fact, promoting her candidate on Digger’s commentary page. That’s a no-no, and Digger has apparently realized that only three days late.

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Molly Gray Has a Friend at the Messenger

Meet Emerson Lynn, editor emeritus (and editorial writer) for the St. Albans Messenger, respected presence in Vermont journalism, and, according to a letter to the Messenger, court stenographer for Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s campaign for Congress.

On Thursday July 14, the Messenger published an editorial written by Lynn endorsing Gray in truly fulsome terms and bashing her main opponent, Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. The essay sounds like it was written by the Gray campaign.

Which, maybe it was.

The letter is from Natalie Silver, who was an advisor to the 2020 Gray campaign and is now Balint’s campaign manager. (I was told about the letter and inquired with the Balint campaign, which supplied it to me.)

In the letter, Silver accuses Lynn of being a shill for Molly Gray.

In 2020, during Gray campaign meetings, Silver wrote, “It was discussed openly that you were a Molly supporter and that the campaign would coordinate with you on your editorials, even drafting language for you.” Silver claimed the same thing is happening now on Gray’s behalf. Further, Silver asserts that “you have never spoken to me or [Balint], nor asked us a question about any of the various goings on in the campaign,” and, in fact, rejected the offer of a meeting. (Full text below.)

Silver doesn’t come across as selflessly heroic in this. In 2020 this arrangement helped Silver’s candidate and she was fine with it. Now it hurts her candidate and she’s complaining, so this is a case of situational ethics all around. But hey, situational ethics are standard in politics, are they not?

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“Overabundance of Caution” Means Whatever the Hell Tom Evslin Says It Means

The VTDigger commentary space is often a repository for the very best in straw-man punching: setting up an easy target and dispatching it with, if you’re talented enough, a rhetorical flourish.

Well, Tom Evslin, entrepreneur, serial Republican donor, self-appointed technology seer and number-one fan* of Elon Musk’s Starlink Internet service**, went one better in the straw man competition. He threw together a whole bunch of miscellaneous straw men under the rubric of “overabundance of caution” and went straight down the line, punching each of them in turn. All in service of a point that apparently made sense to him but is, in fact, utterly incoherent.

*He has given his own Starlink satellite dish a nickname: “Dishy”

*His occasional musings on the glories of Starlink have found a home on True North Reports, because Musk is the closest thing reality offers to an Ayn Rand hero. Except Musk is a phony; his companies have received literally billions in public sector grant funding.

The overarching point is that Our Political Leaders sometimes overreact to a potential danger, thus putting us all in metaphorical shackles. And by “overreact,” I mean doing something that Tom Evslin disagrees with. Ah, if only we were all as wise as he.

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What We’ve Lost

“Why doesn’t the press cover __________?” is a question I’m often asked. There are a few answers, depending on context. Sometimes the press has covered it, but not as extensively or impactfully as you’d like. Sometimes there’s no coverage because it’s not that much of a story. But the most accurate answer is, “WHAT press?”

We all know the media business has shrunk, but I don’t think we realize exactly how far the shrinkage has gone or how deeply it affects the quality and quantity of news.

Go back, say, ten years. Not that long ago. The Associated Press had three reporters. The Burlington Free Press had at least two reporters at the Statehouse and covering state politics. The Times Argus and Rutland Herald had a three-person Statehouse bureau. Seven Days had three, and they’d deploy more if the need arose. VPR had two. WCAX and WPTZ each had a deeply experienced Statehouse/politics reporter full-time, and WVNY/WFFF usually had a young reporter on the beat most of the time.

On the other hand, VTDigger was barely more than a glimmer in Anne Galloway’s eye.

Well, actually, it was Galloway by herself, working her ass off. No time for glimmering.

Now, Digger has three Statehouse reporters plus issue specialists who frequent the Statehouse when their beats are involved. So that’s an improvement over the good old days. But look at the rest of the landscape.

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VTDigger’s Twitter Account Calls Gubernatorial Race Five Months Early

Well, that settles it. Phil Scott has won re-election to a fourth term as governor.

He has, according to VTDigger’s Twitter feed, which assumes that legislative Democrats will once again face Phil Scott veto threats in 2023. Here’s the entire tweet:

Yup, it’s confirmed in the text beneath the photo of the Statehouse dome as seen through autumn (?) leaves. Phil Scott, re-elected. Brenda Siegel might as well pack up her tent and head home.

Seems like a teeny-tiny breach of journalistic principle, does it not? Calling the election five months before it happens?

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This Needed to Happen

Landmark moment in Vermont journalism: VTDigger founder Anne Galloway is stepping out of her leadership role and back into reporting. Her new title, editor-at-large, seems to offer her a great deal of freedom to work on big projects. You know, the kind of stuff that goes undone amidst the daily bustle of shoestring journalism.

Something like this needed to happen. It should have happened years ago, but I’m more than a little surprised it happened at all. It takes a rare clarity of vision to realize that the organization you brought into being has outgrown you.

VTDigger would not exist without Galloway’s dogged determination, without her burning the morning-to-midnight oil and probably risking her health, mental and otherwise. As it slowly grew, its internal structure didn’t develop accordingly. That’s because Galloway was still working as if she was head of a tiny, struggling startup. She was chief editor. She was the head of the entire enterprise. She was the public face of VTDigger. And, when she felt the call, she dove back into the foxhole of reporting.

It was too much for any person, and it inhibited Digger’s growth into a sustainable institution with a consistent management structure. Now it seems that that push has finally come to shove, and Galloway had to choose which role/s she wanted to keep and which she was willing to let go of.

Necessary disclosure: I worked for Galloway for a few months in 2020. She fired me under dubious circumstances. But I haven’t changed my view of VTDigger as an organization. I saw it the same way before I signed on, while I worked there, and after my defenestration. Before, during and after, it was an organization in need of transition with a leader who was deeply ambivalent about letting it happen.

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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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