Tag Archives: VTDigger

Bernie’s gift to the Trumpers

In the campaign of 2016, Bernie Sanders offered a progressive critique of our economic/political system that resonated with a broad swath of the electorate. He articulated things that many of us had been thinking for a long time, and did it in a way that cut through the white noise of political discourse.

He did a lot of things right. There’s one thing he got wrong — well, let’s say he got it partly right — and as it turned out, that one thing may have made a crucial difference for Donald Trump.

Bernie’s analysis of trade and domestic job losses focused mainly on one element: international trade agreements.

He’s about one-fourth right. We’ll get to the other three-fourths in a bit.

His simplified message proved very powerful in his fight for the Democratic nomination, and was a core argument in his case against Hillary Clinton. But afterward, it became a potent weapon in the Trump arsenal. One could argue it won him the election, since his extremely narrow victories in Rust Belt states were due to economic anxiety focused on those evil trade deals.

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I seem to have struck a nerve

In my roughly five years of blogging about Vermont politics, I’ve criticized just about everybody at one time or another. Even our sainted Congressional delegation has come in for a bit of bashing here and there. For the most part, my targets handle it well. (Either that, or I’m beneath their notice.)

But there’s one group that is more easily offended than any other, and more likely to react badly. It’s not politicians or operatives or lobbyists or bureaucrats.

No, it’s media organizations.

Curious, if you think about it. The media is accustomed to dishing it out, but has a harder time taking it.

The touchiest media outlets in Vermont are the Burlington Free Press (blocked my access to its Twitter feed) and VPR (one staffer told me I “hate VPR”, which is not true; I hold it to a high standard because it’s so richly resourced in an age of media shrinkage).

To that list we can now add VTDigger. Which is a shame because I respect and support ($10 per month) its work. But this year, Digger has failed to live up to its own standards on the subject of ridgeline wind. I have recently written three pieces exploring Digger’s apparent bias on the issue; the most recent was posted last weekend.

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Do campaigns matter anymore?

On the national level and in Vermont, the Democratic Party had the vastly superior organization. They were solidly networked from grassroots to leadership. They had more paid staff, more field offices, bigger phone banks, more robust GOTV efforts.

Now that it’s all over, those seemingly bulletproof advantages didn’t make a damn bit of difference.

Here in Vermont, as I wrote (and VTDigger’s Jon Margolis sees it the same way), you might as well have had no campaign whatsoever. If we’d had the election a year ago, Phil Scott would have beaten Democrat X by five to ten percentage points on the basis of (a) his popularity and name recognition, and (b) the unpopularity of Governor Shumlin.

And after a campaign of unprecedented length and expense, Phil Scott won by eight percent. Big whoop.

Elsewhere, the 2016 election shuffled some names, but the political landscape remains virtually unchanged. The Dems continue to hold the non-Phil Scott statewide offices and the Legislature’s partisan balance barely moved. For all of Scott’s assertions to the contrary, this was no mandate for his agenda — it was a mandate for him personally. The Republican platform got precisely nowhere except for his candidacy.

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VTDigger punts on third down

it looks as though Vermont’s best nonprofit news organization has stepped away from the hot-button issue of the Stiles Brook wind farm on the Windham/Grafton border.

From what I hear, VTDigger decided a couple weeks ago that it would stop covering the story. At least until after Tuesday’s advisory vote.

Which is too bad. I mean, from my point of view, better no coverage than the badly one-sided anti-wind stories Digger had been posting. But I’d much rather they examined their product and took steps to improve it. Dropping the subject like a hot potato looks like timidity, not a desirable quality in a journalistic enterprise.

Plus, in calling a halt to its coverage, its earlier slanted material stands as VTDigger’s official record.

On the news side, I understand that Digger editors declined to pursue a story about apparent bias in the Windham town clerk’s office. The clerk is a vocal opponent of Stiles Brook, and was accused of misusing her position to sway the town’s advisory vote on the project. The issue was covered by the Rutland Herald’s Susan Smallheer and Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck; the latter is a fuller account. Nothing from VTDigger.

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On the handling of unsavory candidates

Preface: This post was written before Paul Heintz posted his story on this subject. My questions are still valid; my thoughts about the extent and consistency of media coverage are tempered somewhat by his article.

Looks like the Vermont Republican Party’s candidate-vetting system has a few holes in it. Turns out that one of VTGOP’s candidates for House has a little revenge-porn problem. WCAX: 

He’s running to represent Colchester in the Legislature, but the divorced businessman is also now facing revenge porn charges.

The alleged victim went to police back in July telling investigators Patrick Liebrecht was posting sexually explicit images of her on social media without her permission.

The alleged scumbag, Pat Liebrecht, has denied the charges… and in the process, he pretty much admiited they’re true.

According to the affidavit, the woman told police once she broke up with him this summer he began posting them on her family and friends’ Facebook pages and threatening her saying, “I will make plenty of trouble for you.”

When police interviewed Liebrecht they say he admitted to posting the nude photos and comments. …

Police say he then denied that the woman was nude in the photo and told them that he could “go onto National Geographic and see that stuff.”

Meaning what, exactly? He only showed boobies?

The VTGOP quickly distanced itself from Liebrecht, although they can’t do anything to get him off the ballot. He will remain a standard-bearer for Republicanism and a potential state officeholder. An ironically apropos one, in the Year of the Trump.

But the case of Mr. Liebrecht, along with those of social-media sulliers Michael McGarghan and Bill Lawrence, raise some questions regarding the party and the media.

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About the Iberdrola offer

So, wind developer Iberdrola has come under fire for its cash offer to people in Windham and Grafton, should its proposed Stiles Brook wind farm be built. The individual payments would be in addition to sizeable payments to each town government.

Opponents call it bribery. Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s office said no, it wasn’t against the law. But a few days ago, Secretary of State Jim Condos said he was “greatly concerned” by the offer. As VTDigger’s Mike Faher reported, Condos acknowledged that the offer wasn’t illegal, but it was “pushing the envelope” in using cash to influence voters.

(I’ve been critical of Faher’s wind coverage, but full credit to him for a well-written, balanced piece.)

Sounds dire. But when you read the whole story, it doesn’t seem nearly so clear-cut.

First, Condos didn’t contradict the Attorney General’s legal decision. In fact, he said that he respects the AG’s ruling and “will follow [its] guidance.”

And second, when Iberdrola clarified its offer, Condos walked back his initial statement.

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Here’s how you report a wind story

As one of my correspondents put it, “It’s a sad day when the Chester Telegraph is outperforming VTDigger.”

But it’s true. While Digger posted a slanted, incomplete story about the American Bird Conservancy weighing in on the Stiles Brook wind farm, the Chester Telegraph’s piece is a model of good journalism. It explored the story beyond the press release, it discovered nuances, identified relevant expertise, and fairly represented both sides of the story.

VTDigger’s Mike Faher, you may recall, uncritically reported on the American Bird Conservancy’s criticism of the Stiles Brook plan, giving weight to the wind farm’s potential impact on the threatened Bicknell’s Thrush. ABC’s Michael Hutchins was given loads of space to air his concerns — and only at the end of the article did Faher reveal that Hutchins didn’t actually know anything about Stiles Brook.

By contrast, the Telegraph’s Cynthia Prairie dug into the background of ABC’s involvement, and actually contacted a Vermont-based organization that’s been studying the Bicknell’s Thrush for a quarter century: the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

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