Tag Archives: Mark Davis

A tale of two Phils

Throughout the gubernatorial campaign, there were two very different Phil Scotts to be inferred. One was the good guy compromiser who wants to get everybody in a room and work everything out in a broadly tripartisan way.

The other? The business owner whose first venture ran afoul of Act 250, whose current company and favorite hobby are both heavily invested in fossil fuels, whose campaign kickoff took place at the annual convention of Vermont road contractors, who sometimes dog-whistled on issues like abortion, and who frequently made reference to consulting business leaders when making policy.

The first, a moderate in the classic mode. The second, a creature of the fiscally conervative business community.

The first, a candidate who attracted quite a few moderate and liberal voters. The second, a target for suspicion in many liberal circles, including this little tiny one. A suspicion fueled by his single-minded focus on reining in the budget without any tax or fee increases, at a time when (1) we might be in for significant federal cutbacks and (2) we still have an antiquated tax system with multiple revenue sources that aren’t keeping up.

So anyway, two Phils.

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Incoherent Rifle-Wielding Man, Blah Blah Blah

In a time when America is averaging more than one mass shooting per day*, the good people of Burlington just suffered through several weeks of a homeless man riding his bike around town with a rifle strapped to his back.

*FBI definition: four or more people shot in a single incident, not including the shooter. We’ve had 29 in July so far. 

Per Seven Days’ Mark Davis, police “found [Malcolm Tanner] to be ‘incoherent,’ and he insisted that laws do not apply to him.” But they did nothing about him because “he did not seem to be breaking any laws.”

Tra la la.

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A slanted report from a usually reliable source

Not sure what happened in the editorial process at VTDigger, but on Wednesday morning it published a terribly one-sided piece on the F-35 issue.

Those opposed to F-35s at Burlington Airport probably liked the article, and will probably attack me for the following critique. But really, no matter what your political persuasion, this is a clear and obvious example of slanted journalism at its worst.

By comparison, Mark Davis of Seven Days wrote a story that was fair and respectful to both sides and provided readers a clear understanding of the status of the issue.

The two stories provided very different versions of a court hearing in a legal challenge to the F-35 siting decision. At the end of the hearing, the judge said he would consider some extremely limited factors in the case, which was bad news for the plaintiffs.

The Digger article was written by Adam Federman. His name does not appear on the Digger staff listing; nor was he identified at the end of the piece, which is customary for a non-staff contributor.

Federman’s piece is a dutiful chronicle of one side of the issue — the anti-F35 side. The story is framed around their objections, and (unfairly to readers who want to stay informed) exaggerates the antis’ chances of success.

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Just a simple country farmer

The latest on alleged sex criminal and Republican Senator Norm McAllister comes by way of this week’s Seven Days, and it ought to be an occasion for liberal schadenfreude over the fact that Republicans are still stuck with this tar baby. In the story, McAllister insists he will not resign and won’t agree to a plea deal. Republicans had been hoping he would change his tune once it became clear that his criminal case wouldn’t be resolved until sometime next year. But his tune, like Yanni’s, remains the same.

Thus, the 2016 legislative session is set to begin with a whole lot of embarrassing questions and an intense focus on the McAllister case. He might even show up for work, which would be the circus of the century. The Senate may try to expel him, which would lead to, presumably, public testimony from the likes of his former Montpelier roomies, Sen. Kevin Mullin and Rep. Tim Corcoran. It would be instructive to hear them explain, under oath, how they remained clueless about what was happening when McAllister had a teenaged “assistant” sharing his bedroom.

The schadenfreude is tempered, however, because the Seven Days article itself is kind of disturbing. It’s basically a one-sided account from McAllister’s point of view, quoting him extensively, painting him as a sympathetic figure, and providing little context or pushback.

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A watershed moment for legalization in Vermont

This year, the state legislature did its best to tippy-toe around the issue of marijuana legalization. We heard the usual excuses — the time is not right, it needs more study, we’ve got too much else on our plate — and ended with an expensive consultant’s report sitting on a shelf.

Since then, two rather dramatic things have happened. Two weeks ago, Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito called for the legalization of marijuana and the decriminalization of personal use of other drugs.

I always knew that guy was a hippie! (Photo from his Facebook page.)

I always knew that guy was a hippie! (Photo from his Facebook page.)

And now, we have a pro-legalization essay by the top Republican in the State Senate, Joe Benning. His piece, posted today on VTDigger, said legalization is inevitable, that marijuana is a useful and “widely popular consumer product,” that legalization would result in “a safer product,” and — here comes the Republican part — it would create “a legitimate, properly regulated industry [that] can only lead to more real, good-paying jobs.”

Well.

Sen. Benning can’t swing the vote on his own since his caucus numbers a mere nine*. The next step in marijuana law is up to the many Weebles in the Democratic majority, who’ve been painfully hesitant on the issue.

*Originally I wrote “seven,” but the good Senator corrected me. Must have stumbled upon outdated numbers in my expert Googling.

But I’d think that Benning’s advocacy would give them an opening to advance legalization. Democrats tend to be thoroughly spooked by the threat of Republican counterattacks on crime issues. And although Benning is only one Republican, he’s a very influential one. His stand ought to inoculate Democrats from GOP attacks.

It’s hard not to see this as a big step toward the death of the costly and ineffective War On Drugs, or at least the death of its most ineffective component, the war on Weed.

Fill up the dunk tank with Purell, please. I need to feel clean again

Update: Seven Days has just posted a story with more unsavory details. See below.

Things are not looking bright for Good Ol’ Norm. More details came out Friday on the criminal charges against Sen. Norm McAllister; and if you’re not completely skeeved out by them, well, your Skeeve-O-Meter needs a tuneup.

The case against G.O.N. “suggest[s] that McAllister for years used his power over vulnerable women,” reports Seven Days’ Mark Davis:

In December 2012, a woman moved into a trailer home McAllister owned in Franklin and began working at his farm. From the beginning, he asked her for sexual favors in exchange for allowing her to keep her job and home, affidavits say.

Reminder: McAllister’s late wife was still alive when this got started. Extra bonus skeeve points.

There’s a whole parade of horrors in the police documents, with three women alleging nonconsensual sex with McAllister — oral, vaginal, and anal, on dozens and dozens of occasions, sometimes causing pain. And, according to a Sunday evening report on Seven Days, one of his victims may have been below the age of legal consent when the assaults began.

But the low point, IMO, was this:

McAllister also proposed transporting her to area farms so she could perform sex acts on “Mexican” farmhands. He proposed they split the proceeds. She refused.

Eeeeeeeuuuuuuuucccccch. And this is a guy who was an aggressive moralist in his politics.

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Some backstory on the militarization of our police

Last week, while I was out of town for a family Thanksgiving, Mark Davis wrote a nice little story in Seven Days about Vermont police agencies picking up a whole lot of military-grade weaponry, thanks to a federal program designed to shore up military contractors’ bottom lines provide local police with “military equipment left over from America’s foreign wars and stockpiles.”

Which brought to mind some of my own past coverage of specific events tied to this story: a small New Hampshire community talked into buying an assault vehicle by a Rush Limbaugh-listenin’, Tea Party-believin’ salesman, and the small-scale invasion of a small Vermont town.

Instrument of peace?

Instrument of peace?

First stop in the Wayback Machine is February 2012, when Keene, NH had received a $300,000 Homeland Security grant to buy an eight-ton armored vehicle called the Lenco Bearcat. This, for a city with a population of 23,000 and virtually no history of violent crime.

But there was all that federal money dangling in front of the city fathers…

During a City Council meeting, the Mayor was heard whispering to a City Councilor “We’re going to have our own tank.”

Better than Viagra. Of course, the grant won’t pay for operating costs like maintenance, training and insurance.

The most fascinating part of the story, to me, was Jim Massery, salesman for vehicle manufacturer Lenco. His pitch was laden with fearmongering about the need for high security everywhere. In fact, one of his quotes was the following:

I don’t think there’s any place in the country where you can say, “That isn’t a likely terrorist target.” How would you know?

There was a whole lot of that, and you can read more in my 2012 post on Green Mountain Daily. Massery, as I discovered, was a true-blue conservative who believed that President Obama was trying to steal our freedoms, and that the government was spending us into oblivion. And yet he had no problem helping the government militarize local police and wastefully spend $300,000 on a Lenco Bearcat that nobody needed. (The notorious Free Staters of Keene probably thought he was an enemy agent tasked with bringing the power of the police state to their own little community.)

One of Massery’s other pitches went like this:

When a Lenco Bearcat shows up at a crime scene where a suicidal killer is holding hostages, it doesn’t show up with a cannon. It shows up with a negotiator.

And, he might have added, that negotiator shows up in grand style, hunkered down in eight tons of steel. Which brings me to story #2. In June of 2012, a man named Alfred Perreault unknowingly touched off a minor invasion of his town of Washington, VT…

A summer scene befitting a Norman Rockwell portrait was spoiled Monday morning when more than a dozen police cruisers, an armored vehicle and the big box truck that houses Vermont’s equivalent of a S.W.A.T. team set up shop in Washington to take what proved to be one unarmed man into custody.

That armored vehicle was, as it happens, a Lenco Bearcat. Purchased by the Vermont State Police with, you guessed it, a Homeland Security grant.

Perreault was known to possess a goodly quantity of firearms, hence the heavy-handed police response. Which must have triggered (sorry) a sizeable panic reaction among townspeople who suddenly saw this caravan o’death roll into town and set up roadblocks.

It all ended peacefully. But as I wrote at the time, there’s an old saying: To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Our police agencies have been outfitted with military-grade, up-armored hammers. So naturally, Alfred Perreault looked like a nail.

It’s a lot easier for the authorities to escalate a response when they have the tools of escalation close at hand — indeed, when they may well feel a need to justify the purchase and upkeep of all those hammers. Alfred Perreault clearly needed to be dealt with. But did he warrant such a robust response?

You can bet we’ll be asking these kinds of questions again in the future.

Freeploid Follies, Weekend Catchup Edition

Things are getting a little sketchy at the Burlington Free Press, Vermont’s ever-dwindling Largest Newspaper. I’ve got several items to report; none merited separate posts, but they make a nice collective bundle.

— Things are worse inside 100 Bank Street than I thought. And I thought things were pretty damn bad, what with almost every news staffer being forced to reapply for jobs and a new era of clickbait-oriented, sales-friendly journalism about to begin. Er, sorry, that’s the Newsroom Of The Future.

But as Paul Heintz reported in Wednesday’s Fair Game column, the pursuit of clickbait is already in progress:

Sources say that editors have become increasingly focused on web metrics in recent months. Reporters are expected to monitor the number of clicks their stories receive on a daily basis and rejigger headlines and copy to boost readership.

Oh joy. Not only are they allowing reader metrics to determine which stories they cover, they’re rewriting stories and headlines after the fact in hopes of goosing the pageviews. That’s gotta grind at the soul of any self-respecting journalist.

And things will only get worse in the NOTF, when a “Content Coach” will be monitoring pageviews and “coaching” reporters who don’t measure up. (“Say, Terri, any way you could mention the Kardashians in that school-consolidation snoozer?”)

— Speaking of self-respecting journalists, remember the Columbus Day tag team Tweetwar that erupted between The Freeploid’s Mike Donoghue and Adam Silverman in one corner, and Seven Days’ Mark Davis and Paul Heintz in the other? Donoghue and Silverman were vociferously defending the honor of their employer.

Well, interesting thing about that. As Heintz reported on Wednesday, Donoghue and Silverman are two of only four news staffers who are exempt from the reapplication process. No wonder they’re singing the praises of the Freeploid: they got a pass, and won’t have to go through the demeaning and degrading ordeal of having to re-interview at their current employer.

— Speaking of demeaning and degrading, ace journalism watchdog Jim Romenesko reports that Gannett is offering opportunities for current staffers to, ahem, adjust to the Newsroom Of The Future. Gannett’s holding a virtual re-education camp with seminars on subjects like: How to perform well when interviewing for one of the new jobs, writing “sharper” headlines, achieving better SEO for stories, using social media to “establish your brand and personality,” and “cleaning your copy.” The latter will be crucial because the NOTF will include far fewer copy editors, and reporters will be expected to submit publication-ready stories.

You know, if by some hellish circumstance I was offered a job at Bank Street, I’d turn it down. It’s sounding like a truly awful place to work.

— Speaking of truly awful, my Friday Freeploid arrived with a big fat section on pink newsprint. The front page bore the image of a pink ribbon, the Freeploid’s Circle-B logo, and the title “Making Strides: Breast Cancer Awareness.” Inside were a handful of heartwarming articles about cancer survivors and people involved in fundraising, treatment, and research.

But mostly, the 32 pages (!) were full of advertisements by local businesses proclaiming their support for the fight against breast cancer.

Nowhere, as far as I could see, was there any statement that any of the hefty proceeds from this special section would go to cancer research or treatment. Nope, it was the Freeploid cashing in on an emotionally appealing cause. And their many advertisers doing the same.

— Finally, an odd note from late Saturday night. Apparently, the Newsroom Of The Future was empty except for the gray countenance of Executive Editor and Chief Corporate Shill Michael Townsend, because Townsend himself was sending out a stream of Tweets about stories on the Freeploid’s webpage. And one of ’em was a real headscratcher.

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 11.26.38 PM

That’s odd, I thought. So I clicked on the link, which took me to an article about Entergy’s announcement on Friday that decommissioning Vermont Yankee will cost $1.24 billion.

But WTF is with Townsend’s gratuitous shot at single payer health care? The article has nothing to do with health care reform.

Maybe Mike was sitting at his desk on a Saturday night, Tweeting his brains out and drowning his sorrows in a bottle of Kentucky’s finest. Otherwise, how can you explain this out-of-nowhere shot at Governor Shumlin’s top priority? It was certainly unbecoming for the Freeploid’s number one exemplar of the Newsroom Of The Future.

Here’s a protip for “establishing your brand” on social media, Mike: Measure twice, Tweet once.

One man’s cheap shot is another’s cogent criticism. Or, why I bag on the Free Press so much

Those who follow Vermont media accounts on Twitter may have enjoyed a little Columbus Day entertainment by way of a Tweetfight between staffers at the Burlington Free Press and Seven Days, which the Freeploid has long looked down at, but which has become a powerful competitor in the battle for print advertising.

It began with Freeploid vet Mike Donoghue taking a little poke at WCAX:

This was a reference to WCAX mistakenly broadcasting a crime scene photo including the body of a murder victim, which the Freeploid wrote up at great length. Seven Days’ Mark Davis Tweeted a reply about the ‘Loid “firing cheapshots at WCAX.” To which the Freeploid’s Adam Silverman replied “Is someone from Seven Days really one to talk about cheap shots?”

Davis pointed out the “thinly veiled glee” the Free Press was exhibiting over a competitor’s mistake. Donoghue and Silverman accused Seven Days of ignoring the story, to which Paul Heintz replied that he hadn’t gotten a call back from WCAX.

This exchange included two contraditory Tweets from Donoghue. First, he accused Seven Days of ignoring the story because the two entities are media partners; and then he insinuated that WCAX won’t return calls from Seven Days because of some unstated offense.

Which is it, Mike? They’re in bed together, or they can’t stand each other?

Anyway, that’s when I lobbed a couple of spitballs from the back of the class, and Silverman went all Charlie Bronson.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 11.47.41 PM

I can just see him grabbing his crotch as he hit “SEND.”

Which brings me, finally, to the point of this post: an explanation of why I so often criticize the Free Press. Or, in the words of Mr. Silverman, why I deliver so many cheap shots.

Basically, it’s all about the words of Voltaire, best known as delivered by Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben:

With great power comes great responsibility.

The Burlington Free Press is the number-one print publication in Vermont. It ought to be the unquestioned leader in serious journalism. But, because Gannett keeps sucking out its precious bodily fluids to satiate the endless thirst of stockholders, we’re left with a depleted newspaper that can’t serve its readers well but still occupies the largest niche in the Vermont news market.

It doesn’t occupy that niche in any satisfying way, but there it sits, and because of the structure of the news marketplace, nobody can dislodge it.

The Burlington Free Press has great power. To be charitable, it does an inconsistent job of exercising that power. To be less charitable, it’s an almost daily disappointment. So when somebody like Mike Donoghue or Aki Soga positions himself as a guardian of the public trust — and yet expects to be insulated from the kinds of accountability or transparency he expects of everyone else (including WCAX) — well, it makes the rest of us throw up in our mouths a little. Likewise, when Jim Fogler or Michael Townsend serve up a column’s worth of bullshit and expect us to gobble it down like steak.

Too often, the Free Press comes across as arrogant and condescending. And its performance fails to justify its overweening sense of superiority. That’s why the Free Press gets so much criticism. And the occasional cheap shot. Expect both to continue.