Tag Archives: Middlebury College

Is Adam Silverman an obnoxious little jerk, or does he just work for an obnoxious little newspaper?

Great Moments In Journalism, courtesy of the Great Journalist who recently Tweetblocked me. This is the first sentence — the first sentence, I kid you not — of an article posted on the Freeploid’s website.

The Burlington Free Press was first to report about the Dec. 10, 1971, disappearance of Lynne Schulze, an 18-year-old freshman at Middlebury College whose case recently has been linked to Robert Durst.

Jesus Christ on a cracker. Joseph Pulitzer spins in his grave. A.J. Liebling farts in your general direction. Charles Foster Kane gives a sly nod of approval.

If that isn’t the most shameless, blatant, tone-deaf example of self-promotion I’ve ever seen, I don’t know what is.

According to Silverman, the number-one fact you need to know isn’t the 44-year-old unsolved murder or the new revelations about the case. It’s the fact that the freakin’ Burlington Free Press “was first to report” Schulze’s disappearance, and God damn it, we deserve the credit!

On the other hand… the fact that the Addison Independent was the first to report the possible link between Schulze and Durst?

No, the Free Press doesn’t mention that.

Assholes.

Our finer educational institutions engage in some unproductive ass-covering

Thank goodness for the Clery Act, the federal law that forces educational institutions to track and report sex crimes on campus. It’s blown some fresh air into some very stuffy corridors. And compelled us all to take a hard look at what actually goes on in our supposedly safe, high-toned precincts.

The latest, as reported by VPR, is that reports of sexual assaults “saw dramatic increases” in 2013 at Dartmouth and Middlebury Colleges.

Said institutions reacted, sadly, by blaming the messenger. Middlebury:

“While these numbers are a source of real concern, and we will remain vigilant in enforcing our policies, it is also possible that these numbers reflect a greater willingness among individuals to report violations,” said Shirley M. Collado, dean of the College.

And even worse, from Dartmouth:

We believe that the increase in the number of reports is a result of Dartmouth’s efforts to strengthen a climate of reporting rather than an increase in the actual incidence of sex offenses.

“It is possible.” “We believe.” No evidence offered, just a very convenient belief.

Now, I’m sure they’re right, at least in part. But it’s still a disappointing reaction. Especially from Dartmouth, which has much to atone for in these areas.

A little free PR advice. Here’s what you SHOULD have said.

We view this news with dismay. We believe that the increase may be caused, in part, by an improved climate of reporting; but any incidence of sexual assault on our campus is unacceptable.

We have tried to create an atmosphere in which our students learn that sexual assault is unacceptable, and in which they feel absolutely free to report any assaults. Clearly, we have more work to do.

There. Was that so hard?

 

In which I dip my toe into Jim Douglas’ Well of Lost Dreams

A friend in the media loaned me a review copy of ex-Governor Douglas’ memoir, “The Vermont Way.”  And I’ve started working my way through it.

It’ll definitely be “work,” too. I could tell from the first page that, leaving aside my opinion of Jim Douglas, this book is badly written. It’s flat, wooden, and wordy. This sentence, referring to Springfield, Massachusetts, says it all:

It was the county seat, the city where I was born and a municipality adjacent to the suburb, East Longmeadow, in which my family lived.

Boy howdy. Hemingway couldn’t have said it better.

(Photo by the late great Peter Freyne.)

(Photo by the late great Peter Freyne.)

If that was an outlier, Douglas (and his publisher) could be forgiven for a lapse in copy editing. But there’s more. Oh, so much more. Here’s a passage where he might have offered something fresh about Deane Davis, the Republican Governor when Douglas was launching his political career. Instead, he gives us a dry recitation of Davis’ resume:

He was two days away from turning sixty-eight and had completed a successful career as a lawyer, judge, and chief executive officer of the National Life Insurance Company. He had served as president of the American Morgan Horse Association and led Vermont’s Little Hoover Commission, the group that recommended reorganization of state government in the late ’50s.

Morgan Horse Association? What the frack?

If a high school student had written this, he would have gotten dinged for padding the word count. When it comes from Jim Douglas, not only is it lousy writing, but it fails to deliver the kind of insight I’d expect.

Here’s a dinner winner from what should have been a fraught passage — the announcement of the draft lottery during his college years, which would send some of his classmates off to Vietnam. And instead of some hint of emotion or empathy, we get another sentence unworthy of a high school essay:

These days, of course, military service is voluntary, but there have been times in our nation’s history when compulsory induction has been necessary to adequately staff our armed forces.

And by “adequately staff,” he means “replenish our battle-ravaged troops.”

The sentence adds nothing whatsoever to the narrative. Every page has examples of pointless padding, of layer upon layer of verbiage meant to insulate Jim Douglas from betraying actual human feeling or revealing unique insight into his life and career.

Chapter One ends with a passage concerning Douglas’ alleged curiosity about the world outside Vermont. He had studied Russian at Middlebury College; primarily, he says, because it was “the height of the Cold War,” which he defined in a manner, once again, unworthy of a high school essay:

Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev had proclaimed to the United States and other Western democracies, “We will bury you!” and later, for emphasis, banged his shoe on a desk at the United Nations.

These aren’t the words I’d expect from someone who grew up in the Cold War, with the Cuba missile crisis and air-raid drills and bomb shelters full of rations and bottled water. These are words I’d expect from a youngster who looked up “Cold War” on Wikipedia.

He goes on to talk about this curiosity regarding “other cultures” that “never abated,” and was fulfilled to some degree by his gubernatorial travels. The first “other culture” he mentions is Canada, that strange and distant land and “our largest trading partner.” He then rattles off the other stickers on his gubernatorial steamer trunk: Vietnam (where “the people are very friendly”) and 13 other countries listed in alphabetical order — the most unimaginative rendering possible.

There are no revealing anecdotes, no indication of what he learned or where his alleged curiosity took him. I suspect it mostly took him to official meetings and staged VIP tours. Either way, we get no hint that his journeys gave him any insight. After this perfunctory paragraph, “China,” “Vietnam,” and “Korea” only appear once in the book’s index. All three are mentioned on the same page, in a tossed-off recap of a trip “with business leaders” that “generated a large number of investors and inquiries.”

This is supposedly one area of human experience that really engages Jim Douglas’ intellect, and it’s reduced to a dry, soulless recitation of facts.

I’m only through part of chapter three, but one thing I can tell you:  Whatever you think of Jim Douglas as a politician or leader, this book has to be a disappointment. It is so much less than it could have been.

Mahatma’s meltdown

Scott Milne, the man who famously called himself “Gandhi-like,” is finding that it’s awfully hard being a pacifist when the bullets are flying. He made an unplanned call to WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show on Friday morning and… well… spent about 20 minutes ranting about the media’s unfair treatment of the Milne campaign. And specifically impugning the good name of Our State Pundit Laureate, Eric Davis. That will never do, Mr. Milne.

Davis had been a guest during the first hour of the program. He and Johnson discussed the gubernatorial race. The consensus was that Governor Shumlin had left himself vulnerable because of various scandals and issues. And that it’s too bad the Republicans didn’t have a better candidate, because Scott Milne had made a mess of things.

Apparently it was enough to make even a Gandhi-like person’s blood boil. A little while later in the show, Milne called in to rebut Davis’ analysis. Or to slap it around, anyway. At great length and in pretty extreme terms: at one point, he accused Davis of “laughing at me.” Sorry, Mahatma, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Eric Davis laugh at anyone. If he’s anything, he’s a straight arrow, cautious to a fault.

Here’s a sample of Mahatma’s Meltdown:

When you’re bringing people on the air that influence people with, ah, you know, tenured professorships from elite institutions, you need to ask the tough questions and bring out the contradictions in what they said. If you look back on Mr. Davis’ track record of picking things in Vermont over the last few elections, it’s not stellar. And I think it’s a form of, uh, you know, uh, you know, journalistic malpractice. You just let him get away with saying some of those things.

I’m sure the folks at Middlebury College are happy to be considered an “elite institution,” but otherwise, good God. Eric Davis’ track record hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been awfully good. That’s why he’s the go-to political analyst for Vermont media. He knows his stuff, he’s conscientious, he doesn’t take chances, and he certainly doesn’t engage in gratuitous attacks. He has earned the respect he is given by the media and by news consumers.

Milne railed against the notion that his campaign lacks ideas. Which isn’t accurate; what we say is that he lacks policy positions and proposals. Milne’s definition of “idea” includes such things as “Peter Shumlin spends too much time out of state” and “the economy isn’t growing quickly enough.” What Milne is criticized for is his real, true, honest-to-God lack of proposals. He tries to make this a virtue by saying, on issue after issue, that he’s going to get all parties together and work out the best solution.

That’s awfully thin gruel. And besides, his current definition of ideas is at odds with what he was saying earlier on: that he would spend August attacking Shumlin, and start rolling out his own proposals in September. He hasn’t delivered on Part 2. “Give me 30 days,” he said on July 25. It’s been 50 days since then.

Milne also repeated one of the more extraordinary statements he’s made during the campaign:

I am uncomfortable about calling people and asking them for money to support a public policy campaign, and feeling 100% like I don’t owe them something afterwards.

I guess you could say that has a certain freakish nobility. But it’s a fantasy: Politicians have to raise money. Yes, there’s too much money in politics. But Milne has raised a laughably small amount — and virtually all of it from his family, friends, and his own back pocket.

Now we know why. He doesn’t want to ask for money, and he doesn’t want to be obligated.

Somebody should. tell Phil Scott about this. He’s been raising money right and left from contractors and gas companies and rich Vermonters and his vast network of cronies, and insisting that it doesn’t make any difference in his politics. Scott Milne would beg to differ.

Somebody should also tell the Scott Milne of midsummer about this. At the time, he said he planned to raise and spend about $200,000, which would be enough to wage an “unconventional campaign.” As of early September, he’d raised about 20% of that total. And since then, his full-time professional campaign manager has resigned. And we haven’t seen any TV ads or mailings or yard signs or any other tangible measures of an adequately resourced organization.

Milne was upset Eric Davis’ characterization of his campaign as “running on fumes.” He said, “If [Davis] hasn’t talked to my bank, he has no way of saying that.” And he pointed to his paid staff of five people as evidence he had money.

And then he contradicted himself.

We’ve got a strategy. Granted, it’s not perfect. I’m going to make mistakes. But I think our strategy is, you know, we’re running an insurgent campaign. We’re going to use our lack of money as best we can as an asset.

“Our lack of money.” Yep, he said it.

And about this “insurgent campaign” stuff. Yes, Milne is running an unconventional campaign. And yes, Eric Davis and Mark Johnson and me and all the rest of the punditocracy are basing our judgments on political convention: you have to take time to build name recognition, you have to generate news coverage, you have to have a robust infrastructure from the central office to the grassroots, you have to have a decent amount of money to run advertisements and do mailings and staff phone banks and print signs and all that other stuff of retail politics. You have to have ideas and positions that give people positive reasons to vote for you. You need a certain capacity for public speaking and pressing the flesh and handling the media.

And, preferably, you need a track record of accomplishment in the public sector.

Scott Milne has none of that. And he’s made a bunch of obvious blunders.

And so, when measured against every available standard for judging a campaign, Milne comes up short.

Now, if his “insurgent campaign” taps into a vast unseen reservoir of support, then all us conventional thinkers will get our asses kicked on November 4.

And I, for one, will be more than willing to admit I was wrong.

But I am extremely confident that I’m not wrong.

Of course, if Milne loses it’ll be Eric Davis’ fault.

What I need are people who want change and balance in Montpelier, to be naive enough to believe that they can make a difference by voting. And having people like Eric Davis that don’t think that, there’s a  lot of that, but somebody like you giving him a microphone week after week, when he’s got a track record he has of saying things that are factually inaccurate, I believe he purports an awful lot of opinions like they’re facts and you let him get away with it, and I don’t think that’s fair.

He went off the rails in mid-sentence there, but his point was that Eric Davis’ negativity was going to keep him from building momentum, and cause him to lose the election.

Sigh.

Like I’ve said before, pundits and reporters and even little old partisan bloggers like me simply don’t have that kind of influence. The vast majority of voters have already made up their minds. And the rest of ’em won’t spend the next seven weeks poring over media coverage of the campaign. The crowd of political junkies who pay a lot of attention to this stuff is a very small crowd indeed.

No, Mahatma, Eric Davis won’t kill your insurgency by the power of his punditry. Peter Shumlin will kill it with his superior organization, warchest, and advantages of incumbency. The Vermont Republican Party will kill it with its nonexistent grassroots organization, lack of resources, and internal divisions. The voters will kill it because a solid majority of them are liberal or progressive, and the Democrats have a built-in advantage.

And Scott Milne will kill it with his lack of political experience and smarts, and his poor performance on the public stage.

By all conventional measures, Scott Milne has run a terrible campaign. And I’m a guy who, when Milne first came on the scene, had some hope that he’d turn out to be a solid representative of moderate Republicanism. If he were doing a good job, I’d be reporting as such. But he’s not.