Tag Archives: Mike Donoghue

Hey Hey, We’re the Veepies!

This being midsummer in a non-election year, things are a little bit show in #vtpoliland. Or maybe there’s stuff going on, but since there are practically no reporters on the #vtpoli beat right now, we’d never find out about it.

As a result of this lack of news, this edition of the Veepies (our awards for stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere) roams far afield into the realms of journalistic conflicts of interest, conservatives panicking over nothing, and even sports talk radio.

That’s where we begin. The Please Stop Talking About Something You Know Nothing About Award goes to Rich and Arnie, co-hosts of the afternoon talk show on Burlington’s 101.3 The Game. On Tuesday afternoon, the day Simone Biles withdrew from the team gymnastics competition, the boys pulled down their pants and showed their asses for all to see. (The show is archived on the station’s website and podcast.)

Arnie repeatedly referred to BIles’ mental health crisis as “having a bad day,” and accused Biles of costing her team the gold medal. Rich questioned “the timing” of her withdrawal, and asked, “Was she having a bad day first, or was she having a bad day after she messed up the vault?” (She withdrew after a subpar performance on the vault.)

This happens every time a societal or political issue intrudes on the Toy Department of Life. Sports talk radio is suddenly, horribly out of its depth.

Look, guys. You can’t schedule a mental health crisis. You don’t know what’s going to set it off. When it happens, it can be like a tsunami dragging you down. We know that Biles felt unable to compete safely, so withdrawing was the responsible thing — for her well-being and for the team’s prospects in the competition. So just shut up about issues that you can’t be bothered to learn about, and stop making fools of yourselves.

After the jump: Two cases of conservative hysteria, and a veteran reporter steps in it.

Continue reading

Ain’t No Cure For the Dumbertime Blues: The Veepies, Hot Weather Edition

Here at theVPO Institute for the Study of Political Inadequacy, we have yet to establish a causal link between the weather and incidences of stupidity, but it stands to reason that our current heat wave would fry a few synapses. Anyway, here’s a rundown of what’s new in the land of busted neural connections.

First, and we’ll have to put the Award Factory on double shifts to crank out enough Veepies for these honorees, is the No One Was Driving, Officer, We Were All In the Back Singing Award to the Scott administration, the Legislature, and members of a special “working group” for cutting way back on the “motel rooms for those experiencing homelessness” program without actually, uhh, creating an alternative. Members of the working group have my sympathy; they were given an impossible task and did their best. As VTDigger’s Katie Jickling reported back in March, the working group was established because no one could think of a halfway decent solution. It was a convenient receptacle for a very hot potato.

And the group, faced with the same set of dismaying facts (federal funding going away, not enough state dollars to carry forward, and an overheated real estate market), came up with this little cluster: Eligibility has been significantly tightened, which means that several hundred Vermonters could be tossed out of motel accommodations on July 1 without anywhere else to go. Eligibility will be further tightened on September 22, leaving hundreds more on the streets.

In many areas, rental housing just doesn’t exist. Elsewhere, it’s way too pricey. Homeless service organizations are trying to prepare, which includes arranging supplies of camping equipment. Because hey, nothing says “summer fun” like homelessness! Maybe we can give ’em discount rates at some of the less popular state parks.

There are no easy answers here. But given the fact that we’re currently awash in federal Covid relief funds, is there really an excuse for this massive policy failure? Veepies all around!

After the jump: Burlington Dems need a calendar, a plea to not use a veto session for its intended purpose, a once-respected journalist enters the Conspiracy Zone, and a new low in far-right commentary.

Continue reading

Who needs institutional memory?

Well, as was foreshadowed in this space, two mainstays at the Burlington Free Press are accepting Gannett’s early-retirement offer. As of October 31, Mikes Townsend and Donoghue will no longer grace the masthead or the pages of Vermont’s Shrinkingest Newspaper.

On their own, these departures won’t spell doom for the Freeploid. But look at what’s happened over the last couple of years: the paper has dumped almost all of its experienced news staff, leaving us to the tender mercies of twenty- and thirty-somethings who are (1) short on experience, and (2) in many cases, still finding their way around Vermont.

Count ‘em up: Terri Hallenbeck, Nancy Remsen, Sam Hemingway, Tim Johnson, Matt Sutkoski, Candace Page, Lynn Monty, now Townsend and Donoghue. (Apologies if I missed anyone, which I probably did.) That’s a lot of institutional memory, especially on the hard-news side of things. The remaining olds, to use the term very loosely, are mostly doing features: Brent Hallenbeck, Joel Banner Baird, Sally Pollak. Dan D’Ambrosio is kind of a hybrid: he does some good work, but he also does some client-servicing in the business pages.

(Here’s an interesting note: if there’s a staff listing on the Free Press’ website, I sure as hell can’t find it. Used to be very accessible. Now, if it exists, it’s well-hidden. Too embarrassing?)

Continue reading

Soylent Green is old journalists

Uh-oh. The soft, rustling footfalls of Death can once again be heard in the open-plan offices of Gannett newspapers, including the Burlington Free Press. Gannett CEO Bob Dickey issued this memo earlier today:

I wanted to let you know that today we are offering eligible, long-term Gannett employees within certain business segments and departments of our company the opportunity to take advantage of an early retirement program.

The employees who are receiving the offer all satisfy the criteria of being 55 years of age or older with at least 15 years of service as of October 12, 2015.

That’s right, boys and girls: it may be less than one year since Gannett launched the (Mostly Empty) Newsroom Of The Future, but it’s already time for another round of cost-cutting!

Er, pardon me: “providing the company flexibility to reinvest” and “better align our structure to become a next generation media company.”

Continue reading

Fighting with both hands tied behind their backs

My pageview stats for the past several days tell a stark tale: I should stop writing about mental health, and go back to renewable energy*. So naturally, here I go with another piece about mental health. Ever the contrarian.

*Of course, if I really wanted to make clickbait, I’d probably write about nothing but Bernie Sanders.

The mental health care system has often come under attack in Vermont for mistreatment or overtreatment of patients, for alleged forced hospitalization, restraint, or medication. Indeed, the practice of psychiatry in general has few friends in the state. There’s a simple reason for this, and it has nothing to do with the quality of care.

It has everything to do with privacy.

Medical practitioners are legally bound to guard patient confidentiality. This is a very good thing, and I would not seek to change it. However, one of the unintended effects is that when a doctor or nurse or hospital is accused of harming a patient, only one side of the story is heard: the patient’s. If providers tell their story, they are breaking federal law and the ethical standards of their profession.

Continue reading

If it didn’t happen in the Free Press, it didn’t happen

The Burlington Free Press takes tremendous pride in its scoops. Front-page placement, social media bragging. It’ll also follow up endlessly, whether fresh developments warrant it or not. And sometimes the “scoops” aren’t worth the paper they’re (at least for now) printed on.

Its pride in the Liquor Control Commission overtime affair is justified. Mike Donoghue discovered an abuse of the system and aired it out. One result: the amazingly well-timed retirement of Commissioner Michael Hogan.

Great. Good work. But I find it awfully curious that while the Free Press has devoted lots and lots of space to the LCC, it has published exactly one story — count it, one — about Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s refusal to investigate himself for possible campaign finance violations.

And that one story was an Associated Press production. No staff time whatsoever, as far as I can tell.

The only explanation I can think of: the story originated in Seven Days. The Free Press can’t claim credit; it’d just be playing catch-up.

If that’s not enough to get your Spidey Sense tingling, how about the fact that the Free Press has published not a word about State Police Corporal Jon Graham’s Facebook posts? The story first broke Friday night on WCAX, and has been widely re-reported elsewhere. But not in the Free Press (or on FreePressMedia).

Stories like these are usually catnip for the Free Press: allegations of official misconduct, of a kind that’s sure to generate pageviews and controversy.

Sorrell is supposedly testifying before a Senate committee this afternoon. I expect the Free Press will be there, and will report on the story — because now, it’ll have a fresh hook to hang the story on, and won’t have to credit Paul Heintz for the scoop.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. But the Free Press’ track record informs my cynicism. And for the life of me, I can think of no other explanation for Our Former Newspaper Of Record almost completely ignoring two significant stories in state government.

The old boys’ network at Liquor Control

The Burlington Free Press’ Mike Donoghue has been doing what he always does — carpet-bombing government agencies with public records requests* — and his mighty labors have once again brought forth a mouse. Relative to other public-sector featherbedding scandals.

*I wonder how much he’s cost the taxpayers of Vermont with all his requests. Gee, somebody ought to file a public records request for that.

But it is an interesting mouse, I’ll give him that.

The story concerns an off-the-books arrangement between Liquor Control Commissioner Michael Hogan and LCC staffer WIlliam Goggins, whereby Goggins was promised at least ten hours per week of paid overtime “without having to provide any documentation.”

This arrangement went on for 14 1/2 years, and enriched Goggins to the tune of $162,857. That’s about 12K per year; not that many dollars, really.

But while the money isn’t huge, the process stinks to high heaven. It’s a fine example of the Old Boys’ Network, where unwritten deals between longtime colleagues can fly under the radar for years without any questions being raised. It’s not the Shumlin administration at fault; it’s the Vermont Way. This arrangement began when Howard Dean was governor, continued throughout the Douglas years, and came to an end by Jeb Spaulding’s order this January. And only then because the budget was so tight, the administration was looking everywhere for ways to save.

As Donoghue reports, the Hogan/Goggins deal was unusual for state employees of equivalent rank and responsibility: top administrators don’t usually qualify for overtime. They’re stuck with their salaries. (In Goggins’ case, $75K per year.)

Hogan and Goggins insist there was nothing untoward about their arrangement. I’ll acknowledge that Goggins may well have earned his pay, although since he didn’t have to keep records we’ll never know; but the nature of their deal raises a giant red flag. And yes, I’ve got some questions:

— How many other sub rosa deals are there in the back offices of state government?

— How many such deals might exist in bodies like the LCC, which is directly overseen by the Liquor Control Board, not the central administration?

— Are there any other irregular arrangements in the LCC specifically? Mr. Hogan’s occupied that chair for a long time, and he seems to enjoy a liberal interpretation of his administrative discretion.

— And finally, should we perhaps take a second look at Auditor Doug Hoffer’s examination of the LCC, which got nary a glance the first time around? If the Hogan/Goggins agreement is any indication, the commission might need a good air-clearing. Now would seem to be the time to ask more questions, instead of blithely accepting Hogan’s response to the Hoffer audit:

“There are some things in the report that we could do, and are doing,” Hogan said. “But time has proven [this system] works. I don’t think it’s a broken system.”

Perhaps Michael Hogan isn’t the best judge of whether Michael Hogan’s own administration is “a broken system.” Reminds me of Bill Sorrell blandly assuring us all that Bill Sorrell has done nothing wrong.

Well, at least the Free Press dumped its political reporters BEFORE the list came out

A big oopsie from the Montana province of the great Gannett Empire.

On Jan. 28, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza released a (deeply flawed and incomplete) list of the “best political reporters” in each of the 50 states. One of the four Big Sky nominees was John Adams of Gannett’s Great Falls Tribune.

Unfortunately for the Trib, only two days after the list came out, Adams declined to go through the mandatory re-interviewing process for all Gannett journalists. He balked because his position — capital bureau chief — was being eliminated, and he didn’t want any of the jobs on offer.

After serious thought and consideration I opted not to apply for any of the positions. I have been very happy in my role as the capital bureau chief for the Great Falls Tribune and would have liked to have continued in that role, but I did not feel any of the available openings in the Tribune’s new “newsroom of the future” were a good fit for me.

Bad timing, Tribbies. By contrast, our local Gannett House O’ News ‘N’ Stuff, the Burlington Free Press, had the sense to jettison its two best political reporters (Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen) a couple months before Cillizza posted his list. The Freeploid still suffered the lesser embarrassment of having Cillizza name Mike Donoghue and April Burbank as two of Vermont’s top four state political reporters, when Donoghue’s beat is only partly political and Burbank had been on the beat for less than two months.

Well, it ought to be an embarrassment, but the Freeploid is actually proud of its reporters’ “achievement.” But then, it long ago established its reputation as Vermont’s Most Shameless Newspaper Media Organization. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cillizza’s source wasn’t someone inside the Free Press and/or Gannett; he depended heavily on reader nominations for states he wasn’t familiar with, and he clearly hasn’t a clue about Vermont. It’s hard to imagine an objective reader nominating Burbank (Donoghue maybe, just on seniority) for the honor. Nothing wrong with Burbank, she hasn’t been covering state politics long enough.

 

A little shameless, and ironic, self-promotion by the Freeploid

Okay, so the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza puts out a list of the best political reporters in each of the 50 states. He describes the list as a combination of reader recommendations and his own knowledge. It’s fair to assume that the farther away he gets from Washington, the more dependent he is on his readers.

Take Vermont, for instance. Cillizza’s list was sadly incomplete and, in two instances, ironically off-target.

He names four reporters. Paul Heintz of Seven Days; no problem there. Kyle Midura of WCAX; he does a fine job by TV standards.

The other two: Mike Donoghue and April Burbank of the Burlington Free Press.

Hahahahaha.

Nothing against either of them; they’re perfectly cromulent reporters. However…

— Neither is primarily a political reporter. Both are on the Freeploid’s vaguely-named Accountability Team. The Free Press draws heavily on the Associated Press for its political coverage.

— It was only a couple months ago that the Free Press jettisoned its political reporters, Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen. Both would be better choices for Cillizza’s list than Donoghue and Burbank.

The thickly-laden irony isn’t stopping the Free Press from celebrating its dubious honor. Three Freeploid functionaries have Tweeted the big news; here’s one of them.

Nice, Aki. I’m sure your former colleagues are sharing a bitter laugh.

As for Cillizza, he clearly doesn’t know much about Vermont media. He completely ignores VTDigger and VPR, two of the three best outlets for state political news. The Digger diss isn’t surprising, since he named it the Best Political Blog in Vermont two years ago. Small problem there: VTDigger isn’t a blog. It’s a professionally staffed news operation.

Cillizza does acknowledge the possible incompleteness of his list, and he has added people to it since he first posted it. I’ve sent him an email with my suggestions, and perhaps he’ll include them.

My top three noms: Anne Galloway of VTDigger, Peter Hirschfeld of VPR, and Neal Goswami of the Vermont Press Bureau. If I expanded things a bit, I’d include Dave Gram of the AP, Stuart Ledbetter of WPTZ, Bob Kinzel of VPR, and Mark Johnson of WDEV. Mark doesn’t report as such, but his daily radio show is the best single platform for discussion of state politcs and policy.

On the subject of Vermont’s true Best Political Blog, modesty forbids me.

Mikey Pom-Poms is at it again

I can explain everything.

Nobody was Tweeting, officer. We were all in the back seat singing.

Last night saw another outbreak of TwitBoasting from serial offender Michael Townsend, the Burlington Free Press’ Cheerleader-In-Chief.

The first one wasn’t that bad:

Okay, fine, share a little love with one of your hard-working scribes. Nothing wrong there. But then came Step Two in Townsend’s descent.

Mike Donoghue was at the Statehouse yesterday, but I’m told he wasn’t covering Shumlin’s budget address; he was dogging people about this delinquent-taxpayer list. Short version: earlier this week, the state released a list of its top 100 tax scofflaws — 50 business, 50 individual. But just the names; not the amounts owed. Donoghue is seeking the amounts.

That’s the big scoop. On the day of Gov. Shumlin’s budget address, when he’s setting the agenda for this legislative session, the Free Press’ senior reporter is stirring up a tempest in a transparency teapot.

And then came Townsend’s topper:

Oh, Mikey.

Look, it’s perfectly okay to talk up your own reporters. But why do you have to run down everybody else?

As I’ve said before, this is why all the other reporters think Townsend is a jerk and the Free Press is a fount of institutional arrogance.

Also, please lose the fake cowboy stuff. Donoghue and Burbank are good reporters; they’re not The Magnificent Seven.