Tuesday, October 31, 2006

More Embarrassment: Pioneer Press Endorsement Guidelines Cite Kline As Bad Example

The Pioneer Press has published its endorsement guidelines. They contain more evidence that the newspaper's endorsement process may have been manipulated. It lists seven areas that the Pioneer Press Editorial Board would consider when awarding an endorsement. One of those areas is titled "Respect".

Respect. We like vigorous debate. We are in the free-speech business and are loath to tone things down. Sometimes, personal issues are important. Candidates have to fight — otherwise, why would they be running against each other? But as with partisanship, there is a line. Candidates who flood the airwaves with incessant personal attacks or lame, emotional appeals disrespect the voters.

How much, for example, did 2nd district U.S. Rep. John Kline spend on mailings designed to link his opponent, FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley, to an unpaid advisor's personal views on illegal drugs — views that Rowley does not agree with?

I found it particularly strange that Kline's negative mailers were specifically mentioned in the Pioneer Press' guidelines as an example of what they consider disrespectful. In other words, if you look up negative campaigning or disrespect in the Pioneer Press' dictionary you'll find John Kline's picture.

Listener/Reader Chad P. has a similar assessment:
"... consider the paper's own endorsement guidelines - independence, integrity, respect, creativity, fiscal responsibility, discernment, and unity. I honestly can't see how they can rate Kline ahead of Rowley on ANY of those factors, yet he still wins the overall endorsement?"
Chad P. has a few other good points about Republican blogger Craig Westover's involvement in authoring the endorsement without having the Editorial Board check his facts:
One additional confusing aspect of the endorsement is the level of credence given to Kline's "behind-the-scenes" work. Does Mr. Westover have a basis for this claim? It sounds more like an apologist talking-point to deflect criticisms about his actual record.

They claim consensus was reached before the video was introduced, but certainly Mr. Westover was in those discusions and no doubt lobbied for endorsing Kline using similar claims to those that ended up in the writeup. How much influence did his false claims of Rowley campaign nastiness (or any other issues, for that matter) have on the other board members? Would they reach the same consensus if they had more accurate information?

I truly believe this endorsement deserves a "do-over", although I doubt such a radical step would ever be taken. Still, I plan to write the editor and bring up these issues and others, as you and others have doubtless already done.
Upset? Outraged? Want to see more transparancy and verification in the Pioneer Press endorsement process? Then contact Pioneer Press Editorial Editor Mike Burbach mburbach@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5544. I've written responses for publication but they have yet to be published. You can submit your own at letters@pioneerpress.com. Or mail them to:
Pioneer Press,
345 Cedar Street,
St. Paul, Minnesota 55101

Or fax them to:
(651) 228-5564
Be sure to read the letters guidelines.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The more Pioneer Press Reveals About Kline Endorsement, The Worse It Gets

Getting facts wrong like the Pioneer Press did with its endorsement of Congressman John Kline is bad enough. But now we learn the Pioneer Press Editorial board makes up its mind and then goes to look for specific facts to support its already predetermined conclusion.

Republican blogger Craig Westover who authored the Kline endorsement has now revealed this about the process:
The original draft, written after the endorsement decision was made in a meeting of the editorial board of the Pioneer Press, had a general statement about campaign nastiness, (the Col. Klink ad and the like, but not mentioned specifically). The suggestion was made to ad (sic) a specific, and I didn't want to replay the Nazi card. I'd just seen the film in question with the official Rowley graphics and made a bad assumption the use of the graphics indicated the campaign had a hand it its production. Bad decision on my part.
More than a bad decision. It's a bad process. If you're going to make a reasoned argument you start with the specifics and then build on that to make your conclusion. Not the other way around.

When Westover and the Pioneer Press decided to use my independently produced video as an illustration of the campaign's nastiness, it was because they couldn't find any substantial evidence of nastiness by Rowley herself.

Westover alludes to the Kline/Klink photoshop incident. Note that Rowley immediately dealt with the intern who did it. The Kline campaign also keeps bringing up that one person greeted Kline with at a parade with an "Oil Soars/Kline Snores" sign, but this again was the work of non-campaign staff.

Kline's staff took a comment Rowley made on one of my podcasts that Kline suffered from "good soldier syndrome", meaning he did as he was told and did not question orders. Kline twisted that statement to infer she meant no one in uniform was fit to serve in Congress. She said nothing of the kind and I have the transcript and the tape to prove it.

Kline's campaign has been grasping at straws to paint Rowley has a negative campaigner because Rowley herself has not been the source of any of nasty campaigning or personal attacks. She's stuck to the issues, demanding that Kline be accountable for his record of supporting President Bush 94% of the time including rubber stamping Republican cuts of body armor for troops and cuts in veterans benefits. If Kline consider that dirty, he doesn't belong in politics.

Meanwhile, Kline has signed off on thousands of dollars of expenditures on negative mailers and TV ads. He has tolerated a campaign staffer or volunteer who made pseudo-threats against a blogger supporting Rowley until blog visit logs showed those harassing posts were coming from the Kline campaign office. The posts then stopped, but Kline took no action.

Kline continues to have the Federal Government pay the $90,000 plus salary of his District manager who acted like a thug outside of a Rowley campaign event and only apologized for it because he was caught on camera shouting racial slurs.

Rowley was gracious enough to immediately accept the apology. Kline never accepted Rowley's apology for what her intern did. It's the only issue he has this campaign and it's a damn weak one, so bravo to Westover and the Pioneer Press for not making that part of the editorial.

But just like Westover cited the video without checking the source, Westover bought the bill of goods John Kline has been peddling about Rowley running a "nasty campaign" without really checking the facts.

Any nastiness against Kline in this campaign has been pushback from ordinary people like me who get tired of Kline bullying his opposition with personal attacks and negative ads. He did it in 2004 and he's done it in 2006.

Instead of just issuing mea culpas, Westover should write the truth. It's Kline's constituents, not Rowley, who are getting nasty with him because he's been disrespectful of them with his constant negative barrage.

Error shows Pioneer Press endorsement process flawed, open to manipulation.

Listen to podcast runs 7:13
When the St. Paul Pioneer Press passed on giving its endorsement to Coleen Rowley last week, one of the reasons cited was that her campaign had “spliced (Rep. John) Kline into a video that attempts to personally tie him to Washington scandals without any evidence.”

The Pioneer Press Editorial Board says it does not want to endorse candidates that do negative campaigning. So its decision makes perfect sense, except for one thing.

Rowley’s campaign didn’t produce the video. I did. I did it with my own time, and my own personal equipment totally independent of the campaign.

After I produced the video and posted it on You Tube, I offered it to the Rowley campaign. Coleen Rowley personally rejected using it because it was “too negative.”

The Pioneer Press got it wrong. Very wrong. And to its credit issued a prominent correction on the editorial page the next day. I can’t remember the last time a major Twin Cities newspaper issued a correction on its own endorsement.

Errors happen. But how did such a large one happen on something as important as a Congressional endorsement? The answer : the Pioneer Press has a flawed system where it trusts partisan non-employees to write editorials for the paper, but does not verify what they write.

The writer of this editorial was Craig Westover, author of a Republican/Conservative blog, and an occasional contributor to the Pioneer Press’ editorial pages. Let me make it clear, there is nothing wrong with including people with strong political viewpoints on an editorial board. I trust that the Pioneer Press has people on the board who have strong Democratic leanings as well. But the mistake the paper made was to trust Westover’s reporting without verifying his facts.

Mr. Westover said the endorsement was written by “consensus” of the editorial board and that everyone on the board had seen the video.

When I called the editor for the editorial page, Mike Burbach, I asked him if he or anyone else on the editorial board had seen the video. Burbach said that only Westover had seen it.

When confronted with that fact, Westover paused for a time and then said he thought he had forwarded the video to the rest of editorial board.

To his credit, Mr. Westover took responsibility for the mistake, saying he had “screwed up.” Given his constant contact with all things political, he should have been very familiar with the Federal law requiring candidates to say they approved the message if their campaign was putting it out. He has been a writer long enough to know that you need to verify sources. Westover ignored both of those obvious red flags. Worse yet, the Pioneer Press Editorial Board didn’t question what Westover wrote.

After talking with Mr. Westover I am convinced he characterized the video based upon his own personal political leanings and not on what was in front of him in black and white. In other words he watched it with prejudice. He had made up his mind without even vetting the basic facts.

Westover was the main writer and gatherer of facts for this endorsement, so one has to wonder what else did he not bother to check? Burbach told me the video was not the deciding factor in the endorsement. But if the endorsement is written without checking facts that brings into question the validity of the endorsement’s conclusion that Rep. Kline begrudgingly deserves another term in Congress.

One of the reasons cited for endorsing Kline was that he does “not line up blindly behind all of the administration’s tactical decisions.” Yet Congressional Quarterly reports Kline has voted for the Bush administration’s positions 94% of the time this year and backed the House Republican leadership 98% of the time.

A theme repeated several times in the endorsement was Kline’s support of the military. It said “Our expectation that he will continue to be a voice for the front-line American soldier – especially when doing so requires standing up to his own party.”

Yet Kline’s voting record indicates otherwise. First, Kline voted to send our troops into harms way. Second, when his party voted to cut funds for body armor for the troops, for veterans' health care and job assistance, for full retirement and disability benefits for disabled vets, John Kline was there with his rubber stamp at the ready. No questions asked. That hardly qualifies as “standing up to his own party”.

The Pioneer Press endorsement process appears to work in very much the same way. No questions are asked when suspicious “facts” are written into the endorsement by a known partisan. Even Westover admits his basic characterization of the video, as “without ANY evidence” was “not the best.” And that he “regrets the sentence.” He could not dispute any of the facts in the video, but said it made Kline look corrupt.

Westover once wrote:
“Journalists and bloggers both have biases that we bring to stories. ‘Objectivity’ is not writing without bias. An ‘objective journalist’ is one that subjects his bias to the facts he’s presented with and looks for the truth, not some homogenized “balance” that is neither true nor false.

“A ‘hack’ is a writer that ignores the facts in favor of bias.”

By his own definition, Mr. Westover has crossed over from being an “objective journalist” to being a “hack.” Political hacks should not be authoring or manipulating endorsements for the Pioneer Press.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Update:Paid Republican writer tries to have it both ways

Earlier I posted about how hypocritical it was that Republican-paid blogger Michael Brodkorb is complaining about vandalism to Republican candidate lawn signs in the Eagan/Apple Valley area.

That's because earlier this year he didn't respond to an opportunity to prevent vandalism and theft to lawn signs in his home Senate District. Vandalism is a crime and shouldn't be tolerated, but Brodkorb would rather complain after the fact than try to prevent it. Brodkorb is the chair of the SD 38 Republicans and turned down a bipartisan offer from his DFL counterpart to work on preventing lawn sign theft and vandalism.

Now we've learned that his own Republican Senate District 38 website (yes the SD that he is in charge of) is criticizing DFLers for reporting lawn sign violations. Brodkorb is for decrying illegal activity when he thinks he can score some partisan points. But when it comes to enforcing the law, his officially authorized Senate District site suggests it's a bad idea. And when it comes to preventing crime he won't even return emails or phone calls.

Unfortunately this is what much of the Republican Party leadership is about these days. Finding ways to make issues partisan so they can win elections instead of trying to solve the problems.

Republican paid writer turns vandalism into partisan issue

Recently, Republican-paid blogger Michael Brodkorb has been posting about vandalism to Republican candidate lawn signs in the Eagan/Apple Valley area. He's correct that this sort of vandalism shouldn't be tolerated, but he's also hypocritical in his stance.

Brodkorb is the chair of the Republican Party in Senate District 38 (Eagan/Burnsville area). Inside Minnesota Politics has learned that earlier this year he was approached by his counterpart in the DFL about promoting a bipartisan neighborhood watch to prevent lawn sign theft and vandalism. Brodkorb repeatedly did not return emails or phone calls.

The bipartisan effort could have PREVENTED the vandalism by asking people to report vandals and thefts. Instead Brodkorb decided to spend his time writing personal attacks on candidates and passively ignoring the lawn sign vandalism/theft problem until it was convenient to complain about it (when Republican signs were damaged).

Theft and vandalism is not a partisan issue. Both parties endure it. But instead of being pro-active and looking for a solution, Brodkorb abdicates responsibility and then looks for opportunities to use the resulting mess for partisan purposes.

This method of operation may sound familiar. The Republican party has been practicing this at the national level for about six years now.

Monday, October 23, 2006

John Kline-Schoolyard Bully

When someone trys to scare you, sometimes the best remedy is to laugh at them.
Here's the podcast video

And for those without itunes here is the flash version.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

John Kline's "Surprising" Policy

I was inspired to make this video after watching Rep. John Kline on Almanac attack Coleen Rowley on immigration and then reading that Kline really has no policy on immigration.

For those of you without iTunes, the flash version is here on the website:

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Hatch Leads Pawlenty by 9 points

A new Star Tribune poll finds Governor Pawlenty's lead over Mike Hatch has dwindled to a deficit. Here are the latest numbers:

Hatch 46%
Pawlenty 37%
Hutchinson 7%

The reasons for Pawlenty's drop and Hatch's gain are many. The Foley scandal is dragging down Minnesota Republicans in general (Michele Bachmann saw a similar drop and now lags behind Patty Wetterling in the polls). Those polled said Hatch was more sympathetic to the poor than Pawlenty. Hatch has picked up most of his new support among women and affluent voters.

Republicans are counting on a rebound before the election. But given that the Foley scandal hearings are going to drag on for weeks and little good news is coming out of Iraq, it's possible that the anti-Republican sentiment may spill over into even "safe" Republican seats such as the Second Congressional District where Rep. John Kline is facing a serious challenge from Coleen Rowley.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Michele Bachmann - Global warming not "a fact"

Perhaps if you wish real hard, it will go away. You have to see this to believe it. This is a debate involving Republican Congressional Candidate Michele Bachmann and Democrat Congressional Candidate Patty Wetterling. When Bachmann tries to tell the crowd that global warming isn't real, they start laughing. I don't think they're laughing with her.

As Al Gore pointed out in his movie "An Inconvenient Truth", this is what politicians, Republicans mostly, have been saying to cast doubt on global warming because it doesn't fit well with their political goals. A study of media reports found that nearly half of them said global warming was a "theory". A study of every scientific paper written on the topic finds that it is not a theory, but a fact.

I suspect more people have seen the movie than Michele Bachmann would like.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Congressional Quarterly: Klobuchar now favored in US Senate race

Congressional Quarterly this morning confirms what the polls have been telling us for weeks, Amy Klobuchar is leading in her race against Mark Kennedy for US Senate. This morning CQ officially changed its rating of the race from "No Clear Favorite" to "Democrat Favored".

CQ says Kennedy's perceived alignment with the Bush administration is dragging Kennedy down.

CQ interviewed Lawrence R. Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Government at the University of Minnesota, which released a poll a few weeks ago showing Klobuchar with 52% to 36% lead.
“Minnesotans, in thinking about the Senate race, are thinking about what’s going on nationally, and they’re really upset with the president and the direction the country’s heading, and it’s really just hammering Mark Kennedy,” Jacobs said. “He just cannot get out from this hail of anger and disappointment.”
Right now CQ says the balance of power in the Senate for 2007 looks like this:
Democrats 45
Republicans 49
No Clear Favorite 6
(CQ counts the Independents in Vermont as Democrats)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Tim Walz Talks Issues

Download podcast 41:12
Tim Walz was one of the first candidates interviewed on Inside Minnesota Politics about 18 months ago. Back then, very few people knew who he was and even fewer gave him any chance of unseating incumbent Gil Gutknecht in Minnesota's First Congressional District. Now by anybody polls, this is a close race with the most recent polls showing Walz ahead.

Tim was nice enough to take the time to stop by the Inside Minnesota Politics studios and catch us up on the events of the last 18 months. Listen as Tim talks about the stark differences between him and his opponent on the Iraq war and many other issues. A very inspiring discussion.