September 30, 2004

Bad Form

Remember The Caine Mutiny? When Jose Ferrer is interrogating Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart)? He wins the case when Queeg's injured pride flies into a tantrum on the stand.

Today we saw a Queeg moment in the Strib.

I've met Nick Coleman, in person and electronically. In person, he's an aloof, charmless man who gives one the impression he's looking at his watch even when he's looking at you.


Two years ago, I wrote a piece about Coleman which, oddly, was perhaps the most backhandedly complimentary thing I or any member of the Northern Alliance has ever written about him.

He wrote an email. There was an assumption of privacy, so I won't reprint it - but the gist of it was "I know you are, but what am I?"

Not especially graceful.

Perhaps you've heard - Nick uncorked on bloggers in the Strib today. It showcases what a dinosaur Nick Coleman has become.

Coleman writes:

This just in: I am a very wealthy man, born into privilege and power, and a stooge of the Democratic Party.

Oh. That reminds me, Smithers: Bring me the heads of some Republicans, would you? Also, set out the good silver. Fritz is coming over to give me my marching orders.

Dad-ums would be so proud, wouldn't he, Muffy?

Nothing in the opening paragraph is true, but bloggers and talk-show barracudas have said so, tossing stuff against the wall to see what sticks.

It's this thing called "Humour". All the proles are doing it these days, old boy.

NicK! It's not all about you!

It's what you represent!

I happen to enjoy the idea of me as to the manor born, so I have taken to wearing an ascot to my corner pizza parlor.

But this is not about me. It is about the war against the media. A lot of it, we deserve. But a lot of the attack against the mainstream media is coming from bloggers, which is like astronomers being assaulted by people who swear that aliens force them to have sex with Martians.

Get that? The media are the astronomers - high priests of empirical knowledge against a mob of drooling philistines.
Why don't you admit we are being invaded by Venusians?

I say: If you think Dan Rather is kooky, read some blogs and you, too, will be found in a daze, muttering, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?"

But put on haz-mat gloves before you touch the mouse.

Words fail.

This is the best the Strib can come up with? "War against the Media?"

He's talking, of course, about my Northern Alliance colleagues - Scott Johnson, John Hinderaker, Captain Ed, and the guys behind the "Lord Nick" stuff, the Fraters. All of them people with better social skills, reporting skills, personalities and senses of humor than Coleman. Coleman follows in editor Jim Boyd's footsteps, defaming bloggers generally and (without having the guts to name names) specifically.

Yes, yes. The traditional media have faltered badly, from the run-up to Iraq to the Rather-CBS fiasco over forged memos. The media are being ripped by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Vice President Dick Cheney, which covers a lot of ground. We are rattled, and in danger of losing our way. Even David Broder, the Washington Post's dean of media, is worried. He says, "News organizations on which people should be able to depend have been diverted into chasing sham events."
So far so good.
Yes, David. But one of the shams we're chasing is the supposed threat of the blogs, who are to journalism what ticks are to elephants. Ticks may make the elephants nuts, but that doesn't mean they will replace them. You can't ride a tick.
Coleman is delirious.

Listen and learn, Nick Coleman: We're not interested in being "elephants". We just write. And we fact-check you. We - all of us - have been fact-checking you with particular glee for the past few years, in our blogs and on our little radio show. And in this past month - on Kerry's Kambodian Adventure, and Jim Boyd's little slander, and now Memogate - we've been right, and have not only beaten you to the story, but basically humiliated the mainstream media in every case.

I am a professional journalist. Oh, the shame. How I show my face in public is a mystery.

But that's my defense: I show my face in public. I have been a reporter longer than most bloggers have been alive, which makes me, at 54, ready for the ash heap. But here's what really makes bloggers mad: I know stuff.

I covered Minneapolis City Hall, back when Republicans controlled the City Council. I have reported from almost every county in the state, I have covered murders, floods, tornadoes, World Series and six governors.

In other words, I didn't just blog this stuff up at midnight.

Nick Coleman; get over yourself. We all "show our faces" in public. A little fact-checking on your part would have shown you that (you DO know how to Google, don't you?)

More importantly, we all "know stuff". We all bring life experiences and backgrounds at least as rich as yours; we're lawyers, computer geeks, marketeers, engineers - and that's just the Northern Alliance. We raise kids, have hobbies, meet people - live life.

When it came to Rathergate, for example,

And in doing that, we learn a lot of things - and once in a while, that means we'll know something that you, Mr. Coleman and the rest of you reporters, don't. Two of us worked in typography, and have vastly deeper backgrounds in the area than any normal reporter. Two of us are working lawyers, with research skills that'd shame all but the most elite investigative reporters. You brag about having covered city council meetings - but that's just the stock in your trade. We all have trades (yes, we get out of our mothers' basements); lawyers, programmers, designers, engineers, marketeers, columnists, professors - and each of us is at least (ahem) as proficient in our trades and professions as you are in your craft.

And as for being a political stooge, unlike the bloggies, I don't give money to politicians, [just free publicity - ed] I don't put campaign signs on my lawn, I don't attend political events as anything other than a reporter, I don't drink with pols and I have an ear trained to detect baloney. [Which you've made your stock in trade - ed.]

Do bloggers have the credentials of real journalists? No. Bloggers are hobby hacks, the Internet version of the sad loners who used to listen to police radios in their bachelor apartments and think they were involved in the world.

Bloggers don't know about anything that happened before they sat down to share their every thought with the moon. Like graffiti artists, they tag the public square -- without editors, correction policies or community standards. And so their tripe is often as vicious as it is vacuous.

After this column in particular, Coleman protests too much.

On the one hand, Mr. Coleman, we DO have editors; our audiences let us know instantly when we've screwed up. And if we truly do come across as the drooling cretins Coleman portrays, we lose our readership - or at least the serious readers (see: Kos).

On the other - well, let's just say that sources at the Pioneer Press tell me that you gave your editors kind of a workout.

"Hobby hacks?" Well, it's a hobby. If I were a hack, I doubt I'd get 2,000 readers a day.

That's the job of journalism -- to scrutinize the actions of those in power.

If you think bankers will do it, your brain is blog mush.

We are scrutinizing those in power - whether it's Dan Rather or John Kerry or Nick Coleman or Jim Boyd or, dare I say it, any biased hack who uses his position of "trust" to mislead the public.
So, how is it that nakedly partisan bloggers who make things up left and right are gaining street cred while the mainstream media, which spend a lot of time criticizing themselves, are under attack?
So many questions.

Am I partisan? Absolutely. I'm absolutely up-front about it. I'm a conservative Republican. And on of the reasons I blog is because, after all of your prate and gabble about your non-partisanship, you are still one of the most nakedly partisan "journalists" in the Twin Cities. You slather a coating of feel-good journalist dogma over it, but it's true. And you're not as honest about it as any good blogger.

Does Coleman think partisanship and truth are mutually exclusive? Especially on purely empirical matters like memogate?

And do me a favor - show us what time the media, especially the Star/Tribune and most especially Nick Coleman himself, spent criticizing themselves, and what actual effect that's had on their coverage?

Criticizing yourself is easy. Taking criticism from others - that's another thing. It's hard. It's also an opportunity for growth.

So I've offered Nick Coleman the opportunity to join us on the Northern Alliance Radio Network on a Saturday of his choosing, for a full hour. No editing, no constraints, just discussion. A man of his erudition and experience should have no trouble rhetorically clobbering a bunch of drooling bloggers. Right?

We'll keep you posted.

UPDATE 9/30 - No response from Coleman yet on the invitation to be on the show. I'll sweeten the deal; Coleman can appear with us live at Downtown Jaguar this weekend. That way, he'll be among the public that loves him so. Or if he'd prefer, he can appear on any other Saturday, in person or via telephone (in case he's worried about getting frothed on).

C'mon, Nick - we don't bite.

Posted by Mitch at September 30, 2004 03:55 AM | TrackBack

Mitch one need not subject one's self to a face to face meeting with Nicky to know that he is a prime example of a "contemptious liberal".

Anyone who ever subjected themselves to one of his short-lived KSTP shows is forever haunted by that whiny, condescending, nasel-drone.

Therefore I beg, yes beg, you to reconsider your offer to once again inflict him on a Twin Cities radio audience.

Think of the Children!!

Posted by: swiftee at September 29, 2004 05:50 PM

I suspect that Nick meant "astrologer" or "alchemist".

Posted by: htom at September 29, 2004 07:23 PM

Great piece, Mitch.

Reading Coleman's piece was like listening to a stand-up comic bomb. It was embarrassing.

David Broder had a piece in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Tuesday that was just as wrong, but a little more reasonable. He doesnít think bloggers are journalists either. He laments that ďthe way to top journalism is . . . make a reputation as a clever wordsmith, a feisty advocate, a belligerent or beguiling political personality and then market yourself to the media.Ē

Well, thatís the way I got my gig at the Pioneer Press. I may not be a journalist by trade, but Iím flattered by his description.

Posted by: Craig Westover at September 29, 2004 07:53 PM

Personally, I think he just lifted this from the anti-talk radio rants the left was making 10 years ago. Nothing's changed: the hare looks down its nose at the tortise, and the tortise wins the race because the hare was so smug.

Still, its another reason why the editorial pages are as funny as the comic pages in the Strib.

Posted by: Jerry Leigh at September 29, 2004 08:04 PM