Posted at 10:16 AM on November 14, 2008
by Bob Collins
It doesn't take much to create fact from myth in today's media environment; just repeat an allegation often enough and hope nobody ever says "prove it." Chances are, nobody will. A glance at the letters to the editors in the past week shows that many people have already bought into the notion that Minnesota -- which 10 days ago was collectively patting itself on the back for having the most engaged voters in America -- is actually -- if you follow the narrative that's been designed -- a state inhabited by crooks, liars, and low-lifes, run by crooks, liars, and low-lifes, destined to be represented in Congress by crooks, liars, and low-lifes.
The phone rang the other night at the airport while I was picking up my in-laws for their annual visit. It was my sister in Vermont, wondering what the latest was on the Senate recount. She didn't actually laugh, but I could hear the tone. A few minutes later, after getting my in-laws' baggage and extending pleasantries, I got the question, "Is your election over yet?" followed by the usual disbelief that Minnesota had somehow screwed things up good.
How did our national esteem drop so far in 10 days? Here's an easy example:Yesterday, Al Franken's hired gun held a news conference to claim a woman -- and not just any woman, a woman who'd had a stroke -- had her absentee ballot disqualified.
"So despite her efforts to get a ballot on time, consider the candidates, submit that ballot on time, her ballot didn't count, because there was a mismatch in the signature that was on file with the county," Marc Elias continued. "There are stories like this throughout Minnesota."
Wrong. Because nobody put two important words together -- "prove it" -- the story raced around for hours before someone called the Beltrami County auditor and found out the story wasn't true.
A few days ago, the Coleman campaign whipped up a frenzy by noting that 32 absentee ballots were found in an election official's car. Later, an election official said the story wasn't true, but that didn't stop Gov. Tim Pawlenty from going on national TV -- twice -- to repeat it.
"We don't have any evidence of wrongdoing," Pawlenty noted, shortly before dropping enough innuendo to suggest he did.
Yesterday, Republican National Committee Chair Mike Duncan sent out a fundraising letter saying...
On CNN this morning, anchor John Roberts conducted a clinic for reporters covering the story when he invoked the two most needed words in this mess: "prove it."
"The Obama-Biden Democrats and their liberal special interest allies are trying to steal these election victories from Republicans."
"Well, we've got to make sure there's not a thumb on the scale, particularly in Minnesota, where the system is being regulated by a secretary of state who is partisan, and we gotta make sure we have our people in the rooms, making sure there isn't a stray count," Duncan responded.
Roberts recognizes a non-answer when he hears one. "This fundraising letter clearly states they're trying to steal this election," he noted.
"Well, we have to be careful," Duncan responded. "There's lots of reported irregularities in this election, going back to ACORN when they tried to register people illegally....."
"Is it accurate to say they're trying to steal this election?" Roberts insisted on asking. "Does that language go to far?"
After a nervous laugh, Duncan said, "John, I've not got that in front of me right now, but I want to be sure we are vigilant and do not allow anyone to influence the outcome of these elections and we have every resource to do that."
Roberts didn't give up. "'They're trying to steal these election victories' is pretty charged language."
"Do you want anyone to steal an election?" Duncan said.
"I don't want anyone to steal an election, but there's no evidence anyone is and it's hard to reconcile how you put that language into a fundraising letter," Roberts said before turning to another subject, while letting Duncan wallow in his deserved national embarrassment. We know how he feels.
Roberts was right. And Mike Duncan proved it.
Though we don't technically have a hometown airline anymore now that Delta has absorbed Northwest, the Atlanta-based airline still provides a fair amount of economic activity for Minnesota. And doesn't it know it. Less than a month after Delta officials pledged to keep its Twin Cities hub, the company has made it clear there's a significant maybe involved.
Thursday's hearing at the Capitol was an exercise in veiled threats, centered around state-backed debt for Northwest, given years ago in exchange for a promise to keep the headquarters here.
Lawmakers don't have a lot of clout in preventing Delta from closing Northwest's Eagan headquarters, and former-Northwest-now-Delta official Ben Hirst got that point across pretty clearly without exactly saying so.
The legislators stressed that a deal is a deal.
"To the extent that the Minneapolis airport has higher costs per enplanement than Cincinnati or Detroit or other competing airports in the Delta system, then all that happens there is that Delta has an incentive to locate flights through those airports rather than here."
Translation: Push us, and we'll close your hub.
Rep. Debra Hilstrom said Delta can't just say they're not going to honor the deal. To which Hirst replied the company would, if pushed, just write a check for what's owed, adding:
"In uncertain times, liquidity means security for our company and for our people, so we would prefer to leave the bonds in place," Hirst said.
Translation: If you push us to early repayment, we'd have less cash and we may have to close your hub.
That sent Rep. Ann Lenczewski on a new tack: repealing tax breaks Delta-Northwest gets.
Hirst's response as quoted by Session Weekly:
Such actions could result in increased employment costs at the airport, which could force Delta to scale back its operations even further.
Translation: Fine. We'll close your hub.
Oh, and about those taxes. Metropolitan Airports Commission spokesman Pat Hogan sent an e-mail today noting that the airlines pay them:
Airlines and other businesses at MSP DO pay property taxes. (I believe a look at the Hennepin County tax rolls will show that NWA pays millions in property taxes for its airport facilities.) What MSP tenants do not pay is the Statewide Commercial/Industrial tax. That tax was established to fund education. MSP is not in any city nor does it contain any residences that might use area schools, so the Legislature determined airport tenants should not be subject to that particular tax. Utilities, fire and polic protection are provided by the MAC, and airport tenants cover those costs through rent payments and other charges.
(I'm looking for Northwest employees who are in "limbo," who don't know whether they'll be in Minnesota or Georgia. Please contact me.)(2 Comments)
(Note: The audio will have "typing sounds" periodically because I taped it on my computer. If it drives you to distraction, you can find "clean audio" later today on the Midday page)
The Internet has given any person with a decent connection the ability to make his/her voice heard. It was supposed to -- and I think certainly has -- enhanced dialogue surrounding news and other issues. It's added new perspectives from people who aren't just like us.
It's also, of course, given a megaphone to people who have nothing to say, but say it anyway and this week the Mankato Free Press is the latest news Web site to say "enough."
"In particular, I was hopeful we would have a civil discourse on matters where we disagreed," publisher Jim Santori said in a story on the newspaper's Web site. "Unfortunately, allowing anonymous posts on the forum opened up the opportunity for people to attack others with impunity. It got so bad that, in some cases, I found people fearful to engage in dialogue because of the actions of others."
Last October, MPR's Tim Post tackled the issue in a story about reader comments at the St. Cloud Times and other papers.
Mainstream publishers have wondered for years whether reader comments associated with news stories put a newspaper's credibility -- one of the few assets that still has value -- at risk.
(h/t: Bob at alamn)(2 Comments)
Last summer, I covered an event outside the Xcel Energy Center in which the top brass of area law enforcement announced they had a deal for enough cops for the Republican National Convention.
Here's the image I took of the event.
You'll have to take my word for it that Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher wasn't there and it wasn't until I heard MPR reporter Laura Yuen's story on Thursday that I took notice of that.
Chief John Harrington and Fletcher, according to Laura's story, were clashing around the time over how many cops would be needed and what form of presence they'd assume.
He said while the public may have been surprised by the intensity of police presence downtown, it's probably because residents paid attention to early assurances from the department that anarchists would not be causing safety problems -- assurances that, as it turned out, were based on faulty intelligence.
Still unclear, however, is who was in charge during the Republican National Convention?
In the second part of Yuen's series this afternoon, Fletcher says he had nothing to do with the most controversial aspects of the RNC police actions, Harrington will say it was Fletcher's department who took the lead in investigations that led to the pre-RNC raids.(1 Comments)
When you're a reporter for community media -- a small-town radio station or a newspaper in a suburb -- you have a different role and a different relationship with people than the big-shots. In many ways, it's a better relationship, and the stories are more meaningful, too.
The Shakopee Valley News is providing a great example of that this week. Unfortunately, it's happening in the context of the killing last week of Ruth Ann Maddox. Readers of the paper are submitting remembrances of their encounters with her on various stories. It's a not-to-be-missed read.
Her husband is charged with second-degree murder. The story appears in this week's paper, pretty near Maddox's last story about a 5-year-old who's collecting crayons and coloring books for orphans in India.
So many different angles to take on the continuing saga of "the bailout generation."
Let's start here. Coming on the heels, as it does, of the Legislature's hearing into the bailout of Northwest Airlines yesterday, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's letter to members of the Minnesota congressional delegation seems poignant. Coleman's letter says if the feds bail out Ford, maybe -- maybe -- the Twin Cities Assembly Plant can stay open.
Dear Senator Klobuchar, Senator Coleman, and Congresswoman McCollum:
As the debate has progressed regarding the proposal to infuse the U.S. auto industry with federal aid, I am writing to explain what economic relief would mean for the City of Saint Paul and encourage you to support such a plan.
Saint Paul has been the proud home of the Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant for more than 80 years. It is one of the best performing plants in the Ford Motor Company. Despite its performance, though, Ford officials announced in 2005 that it would shutter the plant as the company moves away from producing the Ford Ranger truck. As you know, Ford announced an extension of operations at the plant earlier this year, and I thank each of you for your strong support in that effort. But as the plant is now scheduled to close in 20II, we need to take advantage of this important opportunity to support Ford and encourage new innovations in the auto industry that will allow for the permanent
operation of the Saint Paul plant.
Since the initial announcement, the City has worked closely with Ford to determine the future use of the site. We need to do everything we can to keep the plant - providing more than 2,000 well-paying jobs at its peak - open.
The value of this plant cannot be understated. The Ford plant has provided generations of our residents the ability to own a home, pay for college, and live the American dream in Minnesota. We are also fortunate to have a strong workforce at this plant, which continues to set the standard for innovation and efficacv at Ford.
Providing economic relief to Ford could create the opportunity for significant job growth in Saint Paul and the region. If we can incentivize Ford to innovate and expand their operations by retooling our plant, we can spawn green industry that could boost the local, state, and regional economy. Since 2006, we have actively promoted the potential for building a green-collar economy in the region, and retooling the Ford plant would boost Minnesota's effort to take a leading role in such manufacturing. With the University of Minnesota's research in altemative fuels, our available land for supportive industry, and a statewide commitment to provide new opportunities for job growth in green manufacturing, we are uniquely poised to take full advantage of the federal investment
and provide tangible economic retums.
Saint Paul has a well-educated, creative, world-class workforce and a long history of partnership with Ford. Ford has been a good neighbor and a good corporate citizen in our city. To be clear, our priority has always been to keep the plant open, and we used every tool available to us to that end.
The possibility of economic relief represents a new tool and a great opportunity and I urge you to consider it as the City and nation look to Washington for help in solving our economic crisis. I have appreciated our partnership in working to find the best alternative for the Ford plant and keeping it and the jobs it provides in Saint Paul. As always, I will continue to make myself and any of my staff available to meet with you on this issue. I now look to your leadership on the federal level to help us and Ford take full advantage of the opportunity to build a new manufacturing economy that will employ families for generations to come.
Christopher B. Coleman
On Thursday evening, MPR's Tom Crann, the host of All Things Considered, looked at the changing face of the big financial market bailout (noted here several days ago, but who's counting?) with two members of the Congressional delegation.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar said there was "a clear need for a change of course." She says Congress needs to examine how the money spent so far -- $250 billion -- has been used. Asked about Congress giving Paulson powers without oversight, Klobuchar said Congress couldn't "micromanage" the bailout. Listen
Rep. Collin Peterson, the oft-forgotten member of the Minnesota delegation, was more direct. Peterson, who voted against the bailout, left the distinct impression the people in charge of hundreds of billions of dollars, have no idea what they're doing. "Now he's (Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson) changing his mind every couple of days again," he said. "They're bungling this whole thing beyond belief, which is kind of what I figured they were going to do." Listen
Today on Capitol Hill, the man administering the bailout was called on the carpet to explain what's going on. Rep. Dennis Kucinich held up the original bailout bill and read from the section that said the Treasury Department should do all it can to "keep homeowners in their homes." What happened to that section?
So, we have the financial institutions bailout and the auto industry bailout. What's coming? Big cities. Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, Shirley Franklin of Atlanta and Phil Gordon of Phoenix -- all mayors -- have sent a letter to Paulson asking for a piece of the action.(2 Comments)
News Cut is going on vacation. Nothing serious, I'm just burning up vacation time so I can accumulate more. Walking away from a new blog while trying to develop an audience for it is risky business in these economic times and up until recently I tended not to do it. But News Cut has been warmly received and for that I thank you for your very insightful contributions.
I almost dropped my vacation plans (Note: There are none, I'll be working on the airplane and resting a sore shoulder ravaged by a year of non-stop blogging.) when I heard the Senate recount would start next Wednesday. I thought it would give me an opportunity to live-blog at a recount center:
9:00:05 That's one for Franken
9:00:30 That's one for Coleman
9:00:45 That's one for Franken
9:01 00 That's one for Coleman
But some people may not have seen the humor in eight hours worth of that.
Please let me return to an inbox full of e-mails with interesting people you know that you think should be "News Cutted."(2 Comments)
The Minnesota Secretary of State has made a video and slides available of the training it provided this week for people involved in the recount of the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota.(1 Comments)