December 29, 2004

Lazy, Cowardly, Trite

Nick Coleman's latest column - his poison-pen congratualation to Powerline for appearing in Time Magazine - tells you everything you need to know about the man who is coming to be regarded as the worst major-market columnist in America today.

It shows what a lazy, trite excuse for a "journalist" that he is. It shows the spiteful, ugly streak that renders unable to obey Will Rogers' classic dictum ("Best to be quiet and have people think you a fool than to speak and remove all doubt"). It shows the extent to which is claims to be a "journalist" show the depths to which the mainstream media, and especially the Star/Tribune, have fallen.

And it displays the endless, crushing intellectual vapidity that has afflicted area bloggers with the "Coleman fatigue" that overcomes us when we see, week in, week out, more of Coleman's lazy, trite, vapid, cowardly output.

Powerline - the ostensible target of Coleman's ostensible writing - probably responds best:

Beyond that, it's hard to say what Coleman's point is, other than the fact that he doesn't like us, or, I guess, any other conservatives, which is hardly news. This is one of his more coherent sentences: "[L]ike talk radio, they are dominated by the right and are only interested in being a megaphone without oversight, disclosure of conflicts of interest, or professional standards." I have no idea what Coleman means by "conflicts of interest," and he never provides a hint. As to "professional standards," he never cites a single instance in which we have misrepresented a source, tried to pass fake documents off as genuine, or, for that matter, even made a mistake. So, again, it's hard to make much of a substantive response.

Coleman seems to be obsessed with our site, even though we rarely mention him. He went so far as to count the number of times we "shilled for votes" in the Wizbang Best Blog contest. (I'd explain the relevance of this to his tirade, only I don't understand it.) It's remarkable that even though he has obviously spent a lot of time poring over our site, he cannot identify a single substantive error that we have made.

Let's go through the column.

WARNING: Substantial portions of a Nick Coleman column follow. Please turn off any heavy machinery.

But as you read it, ask yourself a simple question: What is he talking about? What's his point?

That blogs are dangerous? That Powerline has misrepresented him, the mainstream media...anything? That Powerline's national attention isn't warranted? What?

Coleman begins:

The end of the year is a time to bury the hatchet, so congratulations to Powerline, the Twin Cities blog that last week was named Time magazine's "Blog of the Year!"

Now let me get a new hatchet.

One of my new years resolutions is to start letting some of these straight lines go past. Not all of them - just the ones that are too easy.
These guys pretend to be family watchdogs but they are Rottweilers in sheep's clothing.
Now, unlike Coleman, I actually know Scott, John and Paul. I can't say that I'd like to be sitting across a courtroom from them - or be a target of Powerline's reportorial wrath - but I can think of many species of dog that I'd use before "Rottweiler", none of which I'll mention now since I'd hear about it on Saturday.
They attack the Mainstream Media for not being fair while pursuing a right-wing agenda cooked up in conservative think tanks funded by millionaire power brokers.

They should call themselves "Powertool." They don't speak truth to power. They just speak for power.

What is Coleman talking about here?

That Powerline is, as they say themselves, loosely affiliated with the Claremont Institute?

Or is this a return to the old lefty chestnut, that all of us conservative bloggers take our orders from Karl Rove?

We don't know - and Coleman isn't a skillful enough writer to say (by writing something that makes a point, for example).

The lads behind Powerline are a bank vice president named Scott Johnson and a lawyer named John Hinderaker. If you read Powerline, you know them better by their fantasy names, Big Trunk (that's Johnson) and Hind Rocket (Hinderaker). I will leave it to the appropriate professionals to determine what they are compensating for [...although an actual journalist would have actually contacted one of those professionals. --Ed], but they have received enormous attention from the despised Mainstream Media and deserve more.

I wish I didn't have to do it, because I already get ripped a lot on the site, which thankfully also has had some nice photos of bikini-clad candidates for Miss Universe to keep me company. But I accept Powerline's contempt; I am only a Mainstream Media man, while Big Trunk and Hind Rocket are way cool. They blog.

I work for a dopey old newspaper committed to covering the news fairly...

Let's stop right here.

Does the Strib cover the news fairly? Frequently, yes. Individual reporters, and the newsroom in general, usually do cover the nuts and bolts of the political conventions, car crashes, stamp shows, tsunamis and all the other events, large and small, that they choose to call "news" every day.

But Nick Coleman, Lori Sturdevant, the Strib's editorial board don't "report". They opine.

They have a big, unopposed platform - the Strib's editorial pages and A-section - on which to present their opinions. They have a few editors to perform, one suspects, some basic fact-checking on their opinions (although it's often not enough), and then, poof, it gets published. After it's published, the public can respond; they can write a letter to the editor (which, if it's a conservative, will probably only get published if it makes conservatives sound stupid), or send an email or phone call to the columnist (which will earn you one of their snarling email retorts or a rambling, incoherent voice-mail response and not much more).

In short, Nick Coleman is a blogger.

Read his collected output (assuming you can find it anywhere). Nick Coleman's column is a print blog, combining everything a fair-to-poor blogger brings to the table - caustic, ranting, cursorily fact-checked opinion - with feedback mechanisms so rudimentary they'd embarass even a lousy blogger.

The difference? If Coleman were a blogger with a circulation of 300,000 daily visitors who wrote something like this...:

If Extreme bloggers, who know nothing that happened before last Tuesday, had the same commitment to serving the public, I wouldn't have a problem. But like talk radio, they are dominated by the right and are only interested in being a megaphone without oversight, disclosure of conflicts of interest, or professional standards.
...there would be an avalanche of people pointing out that:
  • The Powerguys' names and think-tank affiliations are clearly stated on the site, unlike Coleman's.
  • Their political affiliation is not a matter of coy guesswork, unlike (in theory) Coleman's; the reader knows it up-front and can gauge her reactions to their writing accordingly.
Back to Coleman:
Time magazine's "Blog of the Year" is not run by Boy Scouts. It is the spear of a campaign aimed at making Minnesota into a state most of us won't recognize. Unless you came from Alabama with a keyboard on your knee.
A real journalist, at this point, would show evidence that there is a "campaign" to deface Minnesota. We've already caught Coleman slandering Alabama, although since Coleman's blog appears in a newspaper, not many Strib readers heard about it.

So yes; Coleman is a blogger in all but physical medium. Not a good one...:

But enough. It's time for auld acquaintance to be forgot. So as a gift to Powerline, let me try my hand at some blogger-style "fact-checking."

1) "It's totally unexpected," Johnson, the banker, told the newspaper after Powerline won "Blog of the Year."

But the Aw Shucks Act doesn't fly. Powerline campaigned shamelessly for awards, winning an online "Best Blog of 2004" a week before the Time honor. That online award was a bloggers' poll, and Powerline linked its readers to the award site 10 times during the balloting, shilling for votes.

Actual fact-checking would have shown that not only was the Wizbang Awards a pretty tongue-in-cheek honor, for which everyone shilled their readers for votes, but that - this is important - it was unconnected with the Time award.
2) "We keep it very much separate from our day jobs," said Hinderaker, meaning the boys don't blog at work.

But they do. Johnson recently had time at his bank job to post a despicable item sliming Sen. Mark Dayton. If I had the money they think I do, I'd put it all in TCF. Then I'd pull it out.

Were Coleman in any way accountable to fact, he'd have it pointed out to him that:
  • Hinderaker was referring to the actual conduct of their professional lives, not the hours that Coleman thinks the Powerguys are punched in down at the office
  • A rudimentary blogger (to say nothing of a competent journalist) would know that Hinderaker, as a successful lawyer, and Johnson, a bank vice president, probably earn their keep with their employers. And since Coleman himself is enough of a reporter to note that Johnson works for former GOP poobah Bill Cooper, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that Johnson's blogging is probably pretty safe.
Back to Coleman.
3) Powerline sells thousands of dollars in ads, including one for T-shirts that say, "Hung Like a Republican."

But does Powerline or its mighty righty allies take money from political parties, campaigns or well-heeled benefactors who hope to affect Minnesota's politics from behind the scenes? We don't know, and they don't have to say.

But a real journalist would find out before leaving the allegation hanging out there.

John Hindreaker notes:

It's been a long time since I went to law school, but I think there is a technical term for journalists who make charges that they know to be untrue.
John's right.

The term is "really bad blogger".

Posted by Mitch at December 29, 2004 08:48 AM | TrackBack

I think this is hilarious. Coleman writes a very funny and on-target column skewering Powerline and everyone on the rightwing bursts into tears.

Why can the wingnuts dish it out but not take it? If I were to employ just one of the dishonest tactics of the rightwing, I could call you girlymen. But I won't. I am too busy laughing at your hysteria.

Posted by: Bill Trippe at December 29, 2004 10:40 AM

Tears, Bill?

Well, not here, at least. I was too busy laughing. (At Nick, not with him, if that's not clear.) I'm guessing that being told that you fail to adhere to Coleman standards of journalism is something less than devastating. This is the guy who tells us that spending $11,000+ on each kid each year constitutes "failing our children". Wish someone would fail me so well. Hell, I wish someone would fail my west suburban kids so well.

Coleman's become a buffoon. Any hysteria produced today, on my part at least, most closely resembles my reaction the first time I saw The Holy Grail. Nick's the armless, legless knight, hopping around on his stumps and crying "c'mon, I'll take you!" Good times, good times.

Posted by: bobby D at December 29, 2004 10:56 AM


I'm not sure what about your comment puzzles me more; the notion that I'm in tears or hysterics, the notion that we "can't take it" (take WHAT?), or that you found Coleman's column "funny and on-target".

What was funny? What was "on-target"?

What actually was the point, Bill? Feel free to post a comment explaining the actual point, theme or thesis of Coleman's column. You have my permission to post your take in my comment section, at any length you desire.

Please. I beg of you.

Posted by: mitch at December 29, 2004 10:59 AM

Bill -

Exactly how is the column "on target?" Are you just ignoring the precise ways it's been shown to be substance-free, and in the case of the taking-money charge, possibly slanderous?

Poeple like you don't make me mad. They make me very, very sad and tired.

Posted by: a guy at December 29, 2004 11:02 AM

Bill Trippe is going around cutting and pasting the same comments in just about every blog that slams Coleman. He did it in mine, and he did it in Captain Ed's. The man can't even come up with an original thought.

There is a word for such a person. That word is "troll." Don't feed him.

Posted by: Pejman Yousefzadeh at December 29, 2004 11:11 AM

Bill Trippe is going around cutting and pasting the same comments in just about every blog that slams Coleman. He did it in mine, and he did it in Captain Ed's. The man can't even come up with an original thought. He just tries to pepper the Blogosphere with the same inane commentary regardless of the analysis.

There is a word for such a person. That word is "troll." Don't feed him.

Posted by: Pejman Yousefzadeh at December 29, 2004 11:12 AM

Sorry for the double-post. The page showed that the connection timed out. Feel free to delete the first one if you wish, Mitch.

Posted by: Pejman Yousefzadeh at December 29, 2004 11:13 AM

Every time you think the MSM probably has some sort of staying power, someone like Nick Coleman goes and does something like this.

Journalists of his sort are like the coal miners were in the UK - ready to fight furiously to retain their paycheck, even as their competitiveness went down from lousy to absurd. In the end it turned out that's all their 'cause' was about, and they collapsed like the old Soviet Union.

Nick looks like he's another twentieth century relic headed for "the dustbin of history". Even he is clearly starting to recognize this, but he's determined to rant away until someone gently takes his keyboard away from him.

Posted by: ZF at December 29, 2004 11:42 AM

> the man who is coming to be regarded as the worst major-market columnist in America today.

What? Did I miss something? Have Dowd & Krugman retired?

Posted by: mf at December 29, 2004 11:59 AM

My personal favorite from Coleman's column was this:

"I keep wishing the Ivy League boys had told me I was rich before I took my first job cleaning bathrooms in a factory at night, or my next job driving a school bus, or my first newspaper job at the old Tribune for $147 a week.

But Extreme bloggers don't tell truths. They tell talking points."

Near as I can figure, he's criticizing them because the Powerline boys DIDN'T get something wrong. And how is NOT saying something a talking point? Is this a Zen sort of thing, with not-talking points? By not talking about the fact taht Coleman wasn't a Soviet Commissar, are the Powerline boys also crossing the line?

Posted by: Ernst Blofeld at December 29, 2004 12:25 PM

::Bill Trippe is going around cutting and pasting the same comments in just about every blog that slams Coleman....

There is a word for such a person. That word is "troll." Don't feed him.:::

Maybe a better word for Trippe might be 'Coleman?'

OTOH, I can't believe you twits can't tell what Coleman's substantive point and thesis was. What's he talking about? What's his point? It's quite clear.

His whole article could be summed up in one sentence, "I hate Powerline."

Posted by: Wendi Sue at December 29, 2004 01:16 PM

What's Bill Trippe doing posting the same comment here as over at the Captain's quarters?

Wait, I think I have an answer---Trolling so that people to go look at his blog, which from the lack of comments, appears to have few readers.

Posted by: Eric Blair at December 29, 2004 01:29 PM

On target commentary except for your response to the statement from the Powerline post:

"...there is a technical term for journalists who make charges that they know to be untrue."

Not "really bad blogger"; "bankrupt, jobless _former_ mass media podperson..."


Posted by: David at December 29, 2004 02:44 PM


I liked your comments about coleman's article. I thought it was well articulated, to the point, and entertaining.

However, I think you were inacurate in one area. (bear with me here) You described his column as a print blog and he, himself, as a blogger. Since, as we know, blog stand for web log, then what he writes would be a print log.

Using the same format, that would make him a tlogger. But that doesn't sound good.

How about News Paper log? That would make him a rlogger.

No, that's horrible.

Let's see. The opinion pages of the paper are written by the editorial staff. So I guess that makes it a staff log.

So, if we derive blogger from web log. Then someone who writes on the staff log would be a "flogger".

Yeah, I like that. :-)

Posted by: Richard K at December 29, 2004 02:56 PM

"These guys pretend to be family watchdogs but they are Rottweilers in sheep's clothing."

Did I miss something or did Coleman say that his home is protected by sheep? Given his role at the Strib, that may not veer too far from the truth. However, if it were me, I wouldn't be shouting about it.

Posted by: MGS at December 29, 2004 03:00 PM

I know five year old kids that could build more cohesive arguments than Nick Coleman...and the anger....boy oh boy. It's nice. These guys just keep helping us out.

Posted by: Texkabob at December 29, 2004 03:21 PM

It would seem that Coleman never met a metaphor he couldn't mix. Besides the watchsheep, there was his "megaphone without oversight" comment.

Beyond the fact that the comment makes no sense on its face, the underlying sentiment, that all loud voices need to be controlled by people who, shall we say, "know stuff", is profoundly antithetical to the values of a society in which free speech is supposed to be celebrated.

Of course, the basic theme of Nick Coleman's recent diatribes seems to be "free speech for me but not for thee", so I'm not really surprised.

All of that said, the real blame for this implosion must be laid at the feet of Coleman's editor. The job of an editor is to keep the writer from looking like a fool and to keep the publisher from being sued. He has clearly failed in the first task, and it is only by the grace and good nature of the PowerLine guys that he has not (yet) failed in the last. It's not easy to succeed in a libel suit a newspaper as a public figure, but this column seems pretty clearly either "knowingly false or [published] with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity".

Posted by: Doug Sundseth at December 29, 2004 03:27 PM

With the passing of Susan Sontag, there is real competition for the title "the real Chauncey Gardiner of our time".

Posted by: Neo at December 29, 2004 03:54 PM

First, my apologies for posting the same comment here and there. I was just laughing so damn hard that I couldn't think straight any more.

I pinky promise to never, ever do that again.

As to how Coleman's column was "on-target," it's very simple. He stated the obvious. The guys at Powerline are hopelessly partisan. Is this a surprise to anyone? Jeepers, I hope not. What else are they?

What was especially funny about Coleman's column was the reference to the Powerline-affiliated "institute" giving Rush Limbaugh its "Winston Churchill" award. Now _that_ is funny. The only thing Churchill and Limbaugh have in common is a struggle with obesity.

Allow me to state the obvious here, briefly. Winston Churchill was arguably the greatest statesman who ever lived; Rush Limbaugh is a professional clown with an elephant-sized drug addiction to Hillbilly Heroin.

(Oh, and just so you don't think I am hopelessly partisan, I think just about everyone on radio and television is a professional clown. He just happens to be the one with the drug problem.)

Finally, the really precious part is the over-the-top reaction. Really, you folks are terribly thin-skinned. Coleman's article was funny!

And you guys think the left doesn't have a sense of humor.

Posted by: Bill Trippe at December 29, 2004 04:01 PM

Trippe the Troll says, "And you guys think the left doesn't have a sense of humor." He offers the fact that he found funny the giving of an award named after Winston Churchill to Rush Limbaugh by an institute the PowerLine guys are loosely affiliatedas evidence.

I submit that the ability to say "Ha, ha!" in a Nelson Muntz voice isn't a sign of a sense of humor. The difference between that and an actual sense of humor, I fear, will always be opaque to the Bill Trippes of the world.

Still, the evidence that he is trying to understand this arcane subject might be seen as promising -- if, that is, I believed that he were actually trying to understand.

Well, keep trying, old boy. Maybe the horse will learn to sing.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth at December 29, 2004 04:23 PM

Hi Doug,

Is saying "Trippe the Troll" something you learned in fourth grade? Should I say "Doug the Dope"?

No, of course, I shouldn't, because I am an adult.

Now, the rest of your post actually makes a decent point. I am guilty of overstating just how damn funny Rush Limbaugh being a junkie really is. And that a supposed "institute" gives someone like him a "statesmanship" award. It would be as if, I don't know, we learned Bill Bennett were a degenerate gambler, or Bill O'Reilly were a perverted phone sex freak.

Now, if you can make a point without a fourth-grade taunt, go for it. If not, well, good luck old man.


Posted by: Bill Trippe at December 29, 2004 04:40 PM

Let me give you a phrase to commit to memory:

"What goes around, comes around."

Still, the counter is probably, "Don't mud-wrestle with a pig", so please accept my oh-so-heartfelt apology*. Unfortunate, too, since, beyond being apt, the phrase fell so, shall we say, trippingly off the tongue.

More substantively, the available evidence indicates that you are a troll, and I've not heard you deny that your name is Trippe. As to whether I'm a dope -- well, I'll let the evidence speak to that as well.


*In the interest of your continuing education in humor, that would be sarcasm. As to just how humorous it was, well, I'm afraid that I'll just have to leave that decision to others. Bad form to critique your own jokes, don't you know.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth at December 29, 2004 05:10 PM

O Bill, how nice of you to point out that PowerLine is a "partisan" blog. Gosh, please drop by more often to dispense of your apparent wisdom. PowerLine openly admits to such partisanship, but without the likes of you, I never would have believed them!

And please don't be offended when people respond to you with "fourth-grade taunts". When you say things like "pinky swear" and call Rush Limbaugh "a professional clown with an elephant-sized drug addiction to Hillbilly Heroin", we just assumed that you were in the fourth grade, and thus moderated our replies to fit your intellectual capacity.

Posted by: Trippin at December 29, 2004 05:21 PM

Following on Mr. Trippe's example, I thought I'd share in this forum the note that I sent to the Powerline gentlemen this morning.

DISCLAIMER -- This is a re-print of my earlier thoughts sent (not posted) to another site. I'm just a working stiff and have no blog to hype either.


This whole Nick Coleman saga is really preposterous. I'm curious to know how old he is, his educational background and how long he's been a deified scribbler. Your collective cv data is readily available at your site and since I'm from Southern California, I could care less about the Strib, so I don't know if he publishes any of this data but I highly doubt it. Like a typical liberal, he cannot understand how or why anyone should be concerned with those pesky facts that you very bright, legally trained guys always seem to call him on. He, after all, is a deified "journalist" with a -- cough -- respectable big-city newspaper; how could anyone have the temerity to question any edict that He has issued from high atop the ivory tower of "journalistic integrity" --man, that hurt. I simply can't believe that the editorial board of a major newspaper feels that it is so important to air the idiotic rantings of an obviously aging and grasping for a life preserver "journalist" about the First Amendment protected opinions and fact-driven analysis of three lawyers who happen to be far more widely read and recognizable than he could ever hope to be? I'm simply amazed at this. I go to the newspaper for local news, information about the local sports teams and local business happenings--oh yeah, and the grocery coupons. When I need fact-driven analysis with real-time links to source data, I go first to Hugh, then to you guys, Fox and that's about all that it takes. Nick, grow-up and accept the reality that (to quote Steve Martin from one of my favorite movies Planes, Trains and Automobiles) "you're messing with the wrong guy[s]". You're outclassed, outwitted and vastly overmatched intellectually.

Posted by: Quad Dad at December 29, 2004 05:34 PM

Good heavens! Could this be the "sliming" that Coleman was threatening awhile back?

Oh well, he *is* at least as funny as Molly Ivins and Maureen Dowd.

Posted by: Brian Jones at December 29, 2004 05:39 PM

From Coleman's article:

"'We keep it very much separate from our day jobs,' said Hinderaker, meaning the boys don't blog at work.

"But they do. Johnson recently had time at his bank job to post a despicable item sliming Sen. Mark Dayton."

Isn't a bit hypocritical of Coleman to complain about these extra-business activities on the part of Scott Johnson when Coleman wrote this article while being paid to be a journalist?

Just asking.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth at December 29, 2004 06:43 PM

Bill Trippe wrote: "Now, if you can make a point without a fourth-grade taunt, go for it."

If we removed the fourth-grade taunts from Coleman's piece, all that'd be left is a big blank space.

Posted by: Jim C. at December 29, 2004 08:07 PM

"post a despicable item sliming Sen. Mark Dayton."

Would that be the Mark Dayton who, alone among 535 legislators, felt that his DC office was "unsafe" and closed it until the election?

Yeah, a real hero that Mark Dayton is. Never one to give in to publicity stunts or partisan hackery. I'm sure Dayton was 100% sincere in his declaration...

...which simply makes him stupid.

Posted by: Sulla at December 29, 2004 09:36 PM

My best Coleman-like witicism, in lieu of fact:

If you do the math carefully (and I have) adding the two columnists Nick Coleman and his bride Laura Billings would equal exactly one/half of a competent journalist.

Posted by: The Kernel at December 29, 2004 09:48 PM
Iowahawk demonstrates once again the while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, mockery is the sincerest form of mockery.
His send-up of Coleman's column is hysterical -- although not in the same sense of the word that Coleman's column is hysterical. I mean that Hawk's is actually funny!

Posted by: chriss at December 30, 2004 02:02 AM

>> If you read Powerline, you know them better by their fantasy names, Big Trunk (that's Johnson) and Hind Rocket (Hinderaker). I will leave it to the appropriate professionals to determine what they are compensating for

Sir, I won't comment on Johnson and Hinderaker's humorous avatars (a type of pseudonym, for internet dilettantes such as yourself), but as a physician, I can certainly diagnose your article "Blog of the Year Goes to Extremes" as exhibiting:

1) marked fear of competition from the new media;
2) jealousy of those with markedly superior critical thinking, analytical, and writing skills (i.e., Powerline's authors and other excellent bloggers);
3) paranoia; and
4) petty vindictiveness.


Dr. Scott

Posted by: Scott at December 30, 2004 09:17 AM

Doug: I don't know, the "megaphone without oversight" metaphor struck a chord with me. Who among us hasn't stood on a street corner with an electronic sound amplifying device, worried about what might happen if the personal ombudsman we brought along to monitor our speech were to take a coffee break?

Posted by: The Raving Atheist at December 30, 2004 10:22 AM

"He just happens to be the one with the drug problem." - B. Trippe

Are you stating that in the universe that is the media Rush is the only person that has had a drug problem? Would that also include the luminaries of the Hollywood left?

Posted by: azul93gt at December 30, 2004 09:47 PM

azul, the difference between Rush and the "luminaries of the Hollywood left" is that the latter group isn't leading a double life. Rush is. Likewise for Rush's compatriots O'Reilly and Bennett, as well as numerous other Republican leaders such as McGreevey, Dreier and Ryan. "Do as I say, not as I do" seems to be a way of life in this group.

Earlier Mitch said "feel free to post a comment explaining the actual point." I did, here:

Posted by: jukeboxgrad at December 31, 2004 11:12 AM