Apropos Not Much

One of the Twin Cities most utterly respected leftybloggers [1] had some questions about my traffic.  I said I got about 2,500 pageviews a day (I actually misspoke and said “visits”, but I meant page views, since visits are fairly meaningless – not that I don’t appreciate each and every one of them.

OK, actually it wasn’t “questions” – he claimed I was inflating my numbers.

So here’s a screenshot from this month’s logs:

I haven’t actually looked at my server logs in a year and a half, maybe two; I actually am doing about twice as well as I thought, with a recent swerve into much much better than I thought.

Not that it matters that much to me; I’d do the same blog if I got five visits a day.  Just saying.

Again, apropos not much.

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Gross Receipts

It’s been a couple of years since this blog has run a “bleg” – asking for donations to defray some of the (minimal) cost of running the blog, and grab a few bucks for the (not minimal) time spent writing what you read here.

Fact is, I don’t need it that much.  Business is, oddly, pretty good.  Maybe next year.

But I would like you to take a moment to think about popping a few bucks in Gary Gross’ tip jar.

Gary writes Let Freedom Ring, and does some of the top-notchiest reporting there is, anywhere.  He does for Central Minnesota what I wish blogging and talk radio paid well enough for me to do in the Metro; he is the backbone of Central Minnesota’s regional conservative alternative media.

Unlike most of the regular leftybloggers, he does a ton of work; one of very few bloggers in the state more prolific than I am.  Unlike virtually all of the more prolific leftybloggers, he doesn’t have George Soros or Alida Messinger paying his bills.

Now, Gary’s in a rough financial situation.  The details aren’t that important, and I don’t even know many of them to be honest, but we’re not talking malfeasance, here; Gary is no MIchael Lohan or Charlie Sheen.

But he’s having to stretch things pretty far to keep his blog in production.

So if you can possibly spare a few bucks, this’ll be my bleg for the year; drop ’em by Gary’s Paypal donation page.

Austin-tatiously Disingenuous

Years ago, my old friend Moonbeam Birkenstock – who is much farther left than I am to the right – announced, with great noise and fury, that he was through paying the portion of his taxes to the Feds that went to defense.

“I refuse to contribute to the US military, which exists only to murder children and bomb innocent people” bellowed Birkenstock as we talked at a party.

I grinned a smug grin, pulled a pocket-sized copy of the US Tax Code from my pocket, and announced “You are teh LIER!!!  Nowhere in the IRS Tax code can you find a single reference to rifles or bombers or bombs or any sort of military hardware at all!”.

Moonbeam pulled a can of mace and gave me a long, wet blast in the face.  And as I coughed and hacked and wiped tears from my eyes, I knew I deserved it.

———-

Eric Austin is a liberal blogger from somewhere in central Minnesota.  We’ve run into him before – in one case, admitting in an audio passage that he condoned the bullying of the child of a conservative legislator because, in his words (seriously – follow the link and listen to the audio, if you can stomach it – it may be one of the most vile, reprehensible things I’ve ever heard) her mother had voted against a bill making bullying gay kids extra special illegal.

But that was then.  This is now.  Perhaps Austin’s rhetoric has improved with time and maturity?

 

Local conservative layabout, Gary Gross, has been churning out quite a few posts since the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act is, in fact, Constitutional. Any one of those posts could be the subject of another episode of Gross Inaccuracies but who has the time to keep up with a single childless unemployed blogger who lives off the government he loathes.

OK, ixnay on the whole “improvement” and “maturity” thing,  I’d say I’m curious how Mr. Austin thinks this sort of ugly, personal name-calling advances his, or any, argument…

…but I’m not curious.  It’s easy.  The fact is, it’s incredibly easy for Minnesota liberals to grow to what passes for “adulthood” these days – through their feminized public schools, a university system that marginalizes and expunges conservative dissent from the dominant narrative, and a media that accepts liberalism as the baseline for good and, via its leading figure Jon Stewart, “snark” as its main rhetorical cudgel – without having the foggiest idea how to debate a conservative, or even what real civilized debate is.

Which is why most liberals’ “arguments” start with ad hominem and tu quoque (“Look! My opponent said or did something that is inconsistent with something else he says or does!  That invalidates his entire argument!”) and proceed through…

…well…

Today’s episode of Gross Inaccuracies concerns the most ludicrous of these most recent posts about how terribly awfully no good it is to now have Romneycare (oops, I mean Obamacare). Gross fawns over an exchange on Fox News between Sarah Palin and the token Democrat on the show about how there really are DEATH PANELS in the Affordable Care Act.

Here is the relevant part of the exchange from Palin:

There’s a faceless bureaucratic panel and the acronym is the IPAB and the I-P-A-B, what that will be is that is a board that will tell you, Bob, whether your level of productivity in society is worthy of receiving the rationed care that will be the result of Obamacare.

Now there is a board called the Independent Payment Advisory Board but its purpose isn’t anywhere close to what Palin suggests. The duty of the board is to find ways to keep Medicare spending from growing out of control. However, one of its provisions specifically states that it may not recommend “rationing” care.

Right.  So – like my friend Moonbeam Birkenstock in the example at the top of this post, Palin has completely botched the entire factual basis of the argument…

…well, no.  She has assigned a role to one piece of the bureaucracy that will be practiced by another piece of the bureaucracy.  It might be a government agency, or as Austin notes from the mandate tax law…

From the Affordable Care Act:

‘‘(ii) The proposal shall not include any recommendation to ration health care, raise revenues or Medicare beneficiary premiums under section 1818, 1818A, or 1839, increase Medicare beneficiary cost- sharing (including deductibles, coinsurance, and co- payments), or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria. [emphasis mine]

So what this means – if you accept it at face value – is that the law will not deal, in and of itself, with rationing.  That can is being kicked down the road.

Which brings us to a key fact of this debate, one that Obama and Obamacare’s supporters either don’t know or don’t want you to know.  It’s true that there will likely never be a room somewhere in northern Virginia with a brass plate on the door engraved with the title “Death Panel Conference Room”, and that nobody in whatever bureaucracy takes over Obamacare will have “Death Panelist” on their job description.

But in modern health care insurance parlance, the term you look for is “Case Management” (sometimes “Care Management”).  The term was spawned in the eighties, in the HMO industry, to cover the intersection of insurance, medicine and actuarial science.  And it’s the part of the health care insurance industry that goes through the utterly rational process of answering the question “if we have one transplantable liver, do we give it to the 43 year old guy with the curable degenerative enzyme disorder whose productive life expectancy will be increased by (on the average) ten years, or do we give it to the 70 year old chain-smoking diabetic alcoholic who has already run past her life expectancy given her current state of health”

To the 43 year old who gets the liver, it’s how the system works.  I suspect to the family of the 70 year old, the body that made that decision could be viewed as a “death panel”.

The facts, however, are…:

  • Neither the ACA nor Medicare nor Medicaid will need to “Create” any such “panels”, because Case Management has been a fact, and a key part, of health care insurance, for three decades now.
  • As Governor Palin notes, as the side-effects of the ACA drive more physicians from the industry and raise the cost (in terms of scarcity versus demand) of many of the more dramatic procedures, “Case Management” (a much drier and less dramatic term than “Death Panel”) will need to decide more and more who will get first crack at the limited supplies of medical miracles – livers, chemotherapy, hours on dialysis machines, whatever – and who will get “Palliative care” to make the slow degeneration to death (or disability, or whatever the end result of the condition being treated, liver disease, cancer, kidney failure or  actually is) more tolerable.
  • Lest you missed it, this is a fact of life in the health insurance business today.   The difference, of course, is that most people can find alternate paths to treatment today; there’s more than just the one, government, path to the treatment they need, if the insurance industry gives them flak.  When private insurance is inevitably priced out of the market – as it will be after a few years of Obamacare undercutting them with losses underwritten by taxpayers – then there’ll just be one avenue for getting care.  That’s it.
Austin:

While Palin continues to use a lie that has been repeatedly debunked by fact checking organizations and was even named the Lie of the Year by one,

Not by “one” – by “Politifact”, which has been pretty well shown (via the “Lie of the Year” canard and some even more egregious episodes) to be less a “fact checking” organization and more a Democrat propaganda mill.

Austin takes issue with Gross’ explanation of the various bureaucratic roles involved, and reaches some conclusion:

Let’s take a couple things here, Gary. First, the Independent Payment Advisory Board doesn’t look at any “individuals” but rather looks at the Medicare system as a whole and it explicitly states in its mission that it shall not recommend “rationing” health care. Second, the phrase “quality adjusted life years” is not used ANYWHERE in the Affordable Care Act.

This, Austin calls a “lie”.  At the most, of course, it’s an “error” – “Lying” requires some intent to deceive.

And, like my friend Moonbeam at the top of the story, the only immediate error (or, if you’re a liberal talking about a conservative, “lie”) is in mixing up different layers of administrators.

Sophistic niggling about different layers of the bureaucracy is the kind of thing that sends tingles up law students and bureaucracy-nerds’ legs.  But in terms of the actual effect of Obamacare on real people, they’re all distinctions without differences.  They are all parts of a system that will, inexorably, lead to increased shortage, hiked costs and diminished availability.

Which will be arbitrated by some body, somewhere.

And you can call it a “Case Management Process”, a “Death Panel”, or a “Happy Time Commission” for all anyone cares.  The result in terms that real people, real taxpayers, care about is always, and can only be, the same.

And with those immutable facts in place, I suppose responding to dissent with snark and ad-hominem is better, to some, than just admitting you’re wrong and addressing that whole “why do you promote the bullying of children?” thing.

Who Do Minnesota Liberals Hate, 2012 Edition: The Voting Continues!

Who do Minnesota Liberals hate?

Feel free to particpate in this vital sociological research through Monday night at 11:59PM!  Just leave your list of the top ten or so in the comment section (or email it to “feedbackinthedark@yahoo.com”), in order from most to least hated.

Results will start coming out on Tuesday.

Nominees so far are below the jump.

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Ten Years Of Power

I never actually knew the official anniversary – but I’m happy to send my congratulations to my good friends John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson at Power Line, who celebrated their megablog’s tenth anniversary over the weekend.

You may recall that my blog celebrated its tenth last February; of the Twin Cities’ huge mass of conservative political blogs, it’s Power Line, Ed Morrissey, Lileks, King Banaian of the late SCSU Scholars and the Fraters who’ve been in it since the very beginning.   And sometimes it’s hard to remember, in those pre-MOB days, what a solitary thing blogging was.

For those of you who notice how omnipresent blogs are today, it’s almost funny reading this piece from Brian Ward, back around election time in 2002, when all of us, Brian and Chad at the Fraters and Scott, John and Paul at Power Line were not only brand new, we hadn’t the faintest idea each other existed:

 A month ago I didn’t know of any quality blogs devoted to the local scene, which made me think that perhaps a niche existed that was crying out to be filled. But since then, I’ve become aware of both Power Line and Mitch Berg and they’re both outstanding in exactly this type of coverage (and they consistently link to local media nuggets before I do!) It makes me think that maybe I can dial back my own political coverage and commentary and concentrate more on my real interests. That would be college women’s volleyball scores, my continuing search for the perfect Hungarian Ghoulash recipe, and celebrating the poetry of Leonard Nimoy. Now that’s a niche that needs filling.

It’d be almost a year before I’d meet Brian and King face to face for a drink at Sweeney’s on Dale, and fourteen months before the fateful meeting that led eventually to the forming of the Northern Alliance Radio Network” – and all that’s happened since.   And in those ten years, John, Scott, Paul and company have built one of the most estimable presences in the conservative alt-media, topped with the rhetorical pelts of Dan Rather and not a few lesser lefty lights.

Anyway, happy anniversary, guys!

14,000-Odd Posts

2612 weekdays of waking up at 5:30AM and writing til 7-ish.

520 weeks of following the Minnesota news cycle.

Two Presidential, three Gubernatorial, three Senate and 32 Congressional contests, plus five complete legislative election cycles and 11 Legislative sessions.  One wrestler ushered out of office; one Senatorial plane crash and two electoral train wrecks covered.  The decline of two major cities chronicled (keep checking back, that story’s not done).  One complete conversion, from conservative public school supporter to implacable enemy and charter school zealot.

A national convention, three major state conventions.

A couple of dozen Instalanches, and heaven knows how many Hot Air-alanches.

Two desktop and three laptop computers gone through, along with three blogging platforms and counting.

Hundreds of Nick Coleman, Lori Sturdevant and Brian Lambert columns and “Alliance For A Better Minnesota” memes disposed of.

Dozens of leftyblogger attacks met, trashed, humiliated and, in more than a few cases, out-lived.  One Soros publication outlasted.

Decades?  One.  So far.  Working on number two.

This one kinda snuck up on me; Shot In The Dark turns ten years old today.  And when I say “snuck up on me”, I mean, yeah – I knew after last year’s “ninth anniversary” that there would likely (God willing) be a tenth.  But I woke up this morning and it kinda smacked me upside the head.

I’ve told the story a bunch of times – including every year on this anniversary; I started this blog in 2002, at a time when, after fifteen years out of talk radio, with two kids and working at a failing dotcom, I was keenly feeling the absence of an outlet for my inner pundit.  I read an article in Time about the “New Breed of Conservative Intellectuals”, featuring – ahem – Andrew Sullivan.  The piece mentioned Sullivan’s main outlet – his “blog”.  There was a little sidebar piece on “What Is A Blog”, which led me to “Blogger.com”.  At home from work that night, I started the original Shot In The Dark.  And other than a week off at the end of 2003, and a few odd days off here and there, I think I’ve had something up every weekday, and most weekends, since then.  At the time, I plugged it on a couple of E-Democracy forums, and held steady at about 10 hits a day for the first nine months or so.

My traffic has grown, and remained, really big by regional standards since then.  But as I’ve said for years, I have always done it for me, and would still do it if I were my only traffic.  The blog has brought an avalanche of blessings, the greatest of which has been a great group of friends – Brian, Atomizer, Sisyphus and Chad (an email from Brian was the first indication I found that there were other bloggers in the Twin Cities, back in mid-2002), Ed, John and Scott, Mr. D, King Banaian (whose blog is offline for the duration of his legislative career, which for Minnesota’s sake had best be long and successful), Brad Carlson, Michael Brodkorb and his various successors at MDE, James Lileks, Learned Foot, Derek and Nancy and Guy and the whole crew over at the DogsKatie, Gary, SheilaPianomomsicle,  Ringer, Roosh, Bogus, and the entire True North syndicate, and the whole MOB, really, which led to the radio show (which is itself headed for an anniversary next month).  Beyond that, it’s been a long train of personal and intellectual growth – or maybe “growth” – and a constant introduction to opportunities that I’d never dreamed of ten years ago.

So I’d still do it just for myself – but I’m glad I don’t have to!

Anyway – thanks to all your regular readers, and the new friends (and occasionally adversaries) that’ve popped up over the past (gulp) decade.  God willing and with a tailwind, we can do it again!

All About Paul

Every once in a while, someone asks me “why doesn’t True North write more nice things about Ron Paul?”

I wrote their answer over at True North.  Go check it out if you’ve a mind to, as all those people in the Appalachian hollers to whom I’m not at all related would say.

For my part?  I’m a libertarian-conservative, and a former Libertarian conservative.  But Paul has always bothered me, for a variety of reasons; I’ve wished, fervently, for Libertarianism to have a better spokesman that Rep. Paul.  Still, he’s the farthest they’ve gotten; if Paul had happened when I was in my four-year stint as a Libertarian, I’d have no doubt been an enthusiastic supporter.

To a point.

Anyway – check the whole thing out at True North.

 

It’s A Blog’s Life

It’s one of those weeks in the history of this blog I used to dream about around this time last year, when I was basically donating a couple of hours a day (usually 5-7AM and/or 9-11PM) to blogging for the Emmer campaign and the rest of the GOP slate, then racing to the day job, then feeding the kids, then the evening routine, and then – often as not – more blogging.  Back then, I was existing on caffeine and adrenaline and that buzz you get when you’ve got a feeling you’re really onto something.  The pace was frantic, and there was this amazing intensity to blogging…

…that burned me out hard.  After the election, it was probably February before I really got my mojo back.

If I’ve noticed one thing in almost (yeep) ten years of writing this blog, it’s that there’s a cycle to things; the “storms”, if you will, when you’re riding a rocket and on a constant adrenaline buzz are memorable, of course; the 2010 Gubernatorial Election, the 2008 race and the coverage of the Republican National Convention (and, mostly, the protests against it), the 2006 race and the naked media bias, and of course being one degree of separation from the explosion of Rathergate back in 2004, sitting in the studio at the Patriot as John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson were riding in on the curl that’d wash Dan Rather out to palookaville.

And after the storm, if you will, comes the hangover; the days, or weeks, when you can barely think about writing; when you’ve thrown everything you have into it, and don’t think you have any more.  It’s the kind of thing that’s ended more than a few blogs much better than mine.  Me?  I get through the hangover by getting through it; I love writing, even when I hate writing, so I make sure I, well, write.

Because when you weather the hangover, you get to days like today.  The calm before the next storm, if you will.

Oh, it’s really only calm on the surface.  There is a ton of stuff going on behind the scenes.  Stories that have been under the radar for months that are about to break back out into the open.  Projects that have been bubbling along for years that are about to re-erupt  (my “This Was The Year That Was” project, the thirtieth anniversaries of the great albums of the early eighties, is about to start ticking again – and of course, my “World War II: Fact And Myth” series is really just getting started, although a good chunk of it through 2014 is already written).

And of course, another big election.   Maybe the biggest one since 1980, really.

So that’s one thing I’ve learned – there’s a cycle.

The other thing I’ve learned?  The first rule of the “Calm Before The Storm” is “never talk about the calm before the storm” and ruminate that the next couple of months on this blog are going to be all pastoral and low-key.  It’s the best guarantee that something is going to blow up big-time in the next week.

No.  I know better than that.

Two-Edged iSword

I’m always amused by media types who smugly proclaim that they – the media – are what stands between the hoi-polloi and tyranny.

Part of it is the whole matter of “”The pen is mightier than the sword” can only have been written by someone who never had to bet his life on it” bit.  And part of it is that the media, like any institution, is no less liable to being co-opted and turned than any other.  Remember – Germany had a “Free Press” from 1918 through 1933.  Fat lotta good it did them.

Ditto the alternative media – and maybe worse.  The alt-media has wrapped itself in the cloak of righteousness…

…but as events in Syria show, it can be co-opted for tyranny just as easily as for freedom. Because while Syria’s government propaganda is the kind of thing that Baghdad Bob could have done, its population of pro-government nerds is drawing blood.

Literally:

They call themselves the Syrian Electronic Army, conducting the most intense cyberwarfare in the Arab world, says Jillian York, with the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“I’ve really never seen anything like this before, like the Syrian Electronic Army, which just seems to have so many members,” she says. “I think it’s really just their level of persistence and their level of activity that sets them apart.”

Are they a part of the regime? That is uncertain, says York, although Syrian President Bashar Assad saluted the youth of the Electronic Army in a June speech when they first emerged.

“So it may be that they are supported by the government; it may be that they are independent pro-government forces,” York says.

They’ve co-opted the “social media networks” that were so ballyhooed in the uprisings in Egypt and Bahrain,and hacked into pro-dissident sites in the West, and begun, perhaps, to turn the advantage of the social network into a liability.

Point/Counterpoint: Rumors Of Its Demise Are Exaggerated

There are those who say that political blogging is dead – replaced by Twitter.

To explore the issue, I present a Point/Counterpoint debate between myself and my evil twin brother Jed.

MITCH:  Is political blogging dead?  Who cares?  As long as I enjoy doing it, it’s alive!

JED: Solipsistic as always, Mitch.  The larger point is this; if all political communication is going to have to squeeze down to 140 characters (less links), then completing the de-evolution to Duckspeak is really just a formality.

The winner:  Both of us!

That is all.

Homes For Heroes

Just a reminder – the benefit for Homes for Heroes is Sanday, 3pm to 6pm, at the St. Cloud Holiday Inn, (Division Street & 37th Avenue).

Homes for Heroes builds and renovates homes to make them accessible for badly-injured veterans.

The benefit is a wine tasting, along with a Silent Auction. Hors d’oeuvres will be served!

Admission is $50 Per Ticket or $75 For Two – 50% Military Discount.

The party is loaded with guest speakers:

  • Andy Pujol – President, Building Homes for Heroes
  • Dan “Doc” Severson – US Senate Candidate
  • King Banaian – State Representative
  • Steve Gottwalt – State Representative

Tickets Available online here.

For more information or local sales, call (320) 281- 4523

Four Years Of Truth

Let’s take a trip back to early 2007.

While Minnesota’s conservative blog scene had been been dominating the local alternative media scene since the “Blog” became a household word, it was a series of scattershot phenomena – you had a bunch of huge megabloggers like Powerline and Ed Morrissey, and on the other hand a whoooole lot of people who tried blogging for a few weeks or months, maybe drew a little attention,and then got frustrated at the difficulty involved in actually getting read.

In the meantime, the Big Left blogs had two big advantages; a hive-like reader community that pretty much read what they were told to read, and liberals with deep pockets who were willing to pay bloggers to write the stuff.

We wondereed – what was the way forward?

It was in the summer of ’07 that Andy Aplikowski hatched the idea of a center-right conservative group blog, aggregating material from the full range of center-right bloggers in Minnesota.  He and Derek Brigham and Nancy LaRoche ran with the idea, along with Brian Mason, Matt Abe, Kevin Ecker, the Lady Logician and, eventually, me.

That idea became True North.

The idea?  Give regional center-right bloggers an outlet, and a soapbox, and if all went well, a megaphone – a way for they, their blogs, and especially their writing and reporting,to be seen by a wider audence than they could get all by themselves, an outlet that would be greater than the sum of all our individual parts.

And so it was four years ago today that True North launched.  Then as now, we were based on one simple set of principles – and the mission to get writers who supported those principles out and in front of the public.

Some leftybloggers didn’t know what to make of us. But we’ve had a blast.

Nobody’s ever made a dime from True North – I don’t think we’ve ever accepted advertising – but we’ve had an effect far beyond anything anyone could have expected.  Litlte birds tell me we’re daily reading at the Capitol, on both sides of the aisle.  Beyond that?  One of our former contribs is in the Legislature (King Banaian, 15B); another, Michele Bachmann, is a presidential candidate.

It’s been a great four years – and the best is yet to come!

So thanks, Andy and Derek and Nancy, and Brian, Cindy, Kevin and Matt, and especially everyone that’s written for True North over the past four years!

Dear Chris Cilizza: All Is Forgiven

To:  Chris Cilizza
From: Mitch Berg
Re: Durr.

Mr. Cilizza:

In the past, I have criticized your “best blogs” lists for being myopic assortments of blogs driven mostly by fanboy response.

Then I saw “CBS Minnesota”‘s – that’d be WCCO’s – assortment of blogs in their “Most Valuable Blogger” awards.

Now, I don’t much care about the Dining, Sports, Entertainment, Heath or “Everything Else” sections – because I don’t read any of those categories, ever – I gotta say the “Local Affairs” selection is…

…well,  you be the judge).

In a state full of heavyweight blogs that actually make a difference, WCCO provides this list of blogs ranging from the unknown to “Cantina Band” who have only their liberalism in common…

…ah, gotcha.

Anyway, Mr. Cilizza, all is forgiven.

That is all.

MBerg

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The Fix Is In

Chris Cilizza has released his annual list of “Best State-Based Political Blogs” for 2011.  It’s a list for all fifty states.  Cilizza hastens to note that…:

The best political blogs list is entirely driven by Fix readers and commenters. Many of the blogs below are partisan and may use language and/or images that neither The Fix nor the Washington Post condones. To be clear, we are not endorsing the view of the blogs on the list. Instead we intend to serve as a gateway for interested political junkies to pick and choose your favorites.

So here are the lists for…:

Minnesota

So True North got on the list, against the MPR, Strib and Humphrey Institute house blogs, a Soros joint, The Dump (hey, give ’em their due; they’ve always known how to get the media to pay disproportionate attention to them) and “Bluestem”, which gets points for being one of about three Minnesota leftyblogs that’s neither obviously clinically deranged, nor employed by the DFL/Soros/some “progressive” institution nor seemingly written by a press-release bot.

Hey, at least a conservative blog got on the list this year – in a state that’s spawned two of the most powerful blogs anywhere in the business, Powerline and Captain’s Quarters  (which got assimilated into Hot Air) and where the organic conservative blog scene True North digests every day is the biggest, most vibrant in the country.

Hm.  Makes sense now.

Anyway, congrats to all.

 

Debut

As if it the leftyblog-conservativeblog battle weren’t already horribly overmatched, the most long-awaited conservative blog in town – Laura Gatz’s “Princess Politics” – is finally up and going.

Stop by and say hi, and make Laura a stop on your daily blog browsing.   It’s gonna be a fun MOB party this summer.

Wait – did I say MOB party this summer?

Why, I do believe I did.

More coming soon.

Logic For Leftybloggers: Part I, The Tu Quoque Ad Hominem

File this under “casting pearls before swine”, but I’ve finally snapped.

The Twin Cities’ “alternative” media is where logic goes to die.

So today will be the first of a 2,000 part series trying to introduce bloggers (and I’ll say “of all stripes”, but we all know who I really mean) to some of the rudiments of carrying on a logical argument.

(And yes, a few conservative bloggers as well.  Illogic isn’t the exclusive province of “progressive” bloggers.  Not at all.

Today’s installment: the Tu Quoque Ad Hominem.

With the “Marriage Amendment” working its way through the Legislature, and likely to not only get through but win big in the fall of 2012, the usual framing is underway from the left.

In and among the usual (“bigot!”  “Hateful!” and so on) comes the question “I wonder how many of the people voting for this amendment are divorced?  Why should they be telling anyone about marriage?”

Leaving aside that that only makes sense if you presume that gay marriage is immune from divorce – and it is not – it’s an example of the Tu Quoque Ad Hominem – which presumes that if someone has ever said, done or believed anything different than what they are currently arguing, then the current argument is wrong.

Now it’s true that, all other things being equal, only one of the two positions can be right (if, indeed, they are black and white, right or wrong issues with no gray areas, which accounts for rather few things in real life) – but that has nothing to do with whether the current position is, in and of itself, wrong.

The fact that someone’s earlier positions, statements or actions disagree with a current position, statement or action could stem from lots of things; that the person has changed their position for good reason; that they’ve grown, either as a human being or “in office”; that that he or she is a hypocrite (meaning “holds other people to moral positions to which they don’t hold themselves”), that he or she merely hasn’t thought things through all that well, or that they’re just plain flip-flopping.  Or maybe more than one of them.  Whichever – it doesn’t, in and of itself, invalidate their current argument.

There may be other reasons the argument is invalid – reasonable people can disagree on, to go back to the original example, gay marriage; some may even change their positions over time.  But some prior inconsistency doesn’t even make, much less prove, the case.

Go forth and sin no more.

You’re welcome.

(It’s about this point that some joyless scold – I’m thinking “Tild” or “Spotty” or “Minnesota Observer”, will dig diligently through my blog and find some example of me using exactly this logical fallacy – in effect, saying “Mitch Berg shouldn’t be yapping about logic, since he has been illogical”.  And the circle turns).

Boundary Issues

I get the impression there’s  not much middle ground when it comes to John “Johnny Northside” Hoff.   I didn’t entirely know that when I first wrote about his defamation trial last week.  People either seem to support him for his crusading against mortgage fraudsters in North Minneapolis, or they detest him for being a showboating publicity whore who plays waaaay below the belt, publishing his targets’ phone numbers, home addresses and employers when he really wants to screw with ’em.

That, in fact, was my first encounter with Hoff; back in 2007, he vowed in the Minnesota Daily to stalk Republican National Convention delegates at their hotels.

One of his subjects, a Jerry Moore – a community organizer who went to work for the University of Minnesota – became the target of Hoff’s ire, after Moore’s involvement in a mortgage fraud scam (for which some people went to jail for long terms, but in which Moore was never convicted).  Not satisfied with the results of the legal system, Hoff turned the attention on the University, drawing enough attention to Moore that the U fired him.

Moore sued, for defamation and “Tortuous Interference” with his employment.  The proceedings dragged on for the better part of two years, before ending Friday with a jury awarding $60,000 to Moore; $35K for damages, $25K for emotional distress.

Not for defamation – libel, in this case – but for “Tortuous Interference” with Moore’s employment.   The ruling seems to have been that while Hoff’s postings didn’t meet the legal standard for libel, which in Minnesota means…:

  1. Party A (Hoff) says something about Party B (Moore) to Party C (Hoff’s readers, the public)…
  2. …which is untrue…
  3. …which has a reasonable chance of harming Party B’s livelihood or reputation…
  4. …and, if Party B is a public figure, he must prove Party A’s intent was malicious – and “public figure” can mean “even in a limited sense”, as in a community organizer or, for that matter, a blogger.

…they did interfere illegally with Moore’s employment.

Since the court classed Moore as a “limited public figure”, a defamation suit was all but impossible; to win, a blogger would basically have to write something utterly untrue, be told it was untrue, and respond via email “I don’t care, I’m going to get you not matter what!”.

That was a “hypothetical” example.  Scout’s honor.

Anyway – the defamation suit got tossed, but Hoff lost on “tortuous interference”, whose legal definition I’m not at all sure about; some commentators (David Brauer among them) immediately tweeted that the case was eminently appealable.

Abby Simons at the Strib covered the story – and it’s not quite so clear-cut:

Jane Kirtley, a U of M professor of media law and ethics, called the lawsuit an example of “trash torts,” in which someone unable to sue for libel, which by definition involves falsity, reaches for another legal claim. She predicted the verdict will be overturned.

“This is based on expression, and expression enjoys First Amendment protection,” Kirtley said. Just last week, she said, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protected the Westboro Baptist Church’s antigay protests at military funerals.

“I find it really hard to believe that there was a degree of emotional distress caused by this reporting that outstrips that suffered by [a Marine’s] family,” Kirtley said.

The verdict also surprised U of M law professor William McGeveran, but he wasn’t so certain that it will be easily overturned. Appeals courts tend to give a lot of credence to jury verdicts, he said.

Leaving appellate law issues aside, the lessons for bloggers seem fairly clear:

Learn what “Defamation” is, and don’t do it.  The short form?  Don’t present as facts things that can damage other people’s livelihood or reputation, if they are not true (things that are clearly presented as opinion are another matter). If you write something damaging, believing it to be true, and it turns out not to be the case, issue a correction; correcting an error is a pretty clear indicator you’re not acting out of malice.

Know when to stop. There are a few bloggers – mostly but not exclusively on the left – who can’t leave the story where the story ends.  They go to their subjects’ homes, or they publish where their subjects work.  They attack their subjects’ families.

It’s been my personal policy since the beginning to leave peoples’ jobs out of the story (unless it is a part of the story, legitimately.  And that means not creating a story out of someone’s job or family; there are a few regional bloggers who will write stories theorizing that other bloggers, for example, write on company time; I figure that’s between the blogger and their employer).   Families?  Always, always off-limits – including trying to find ways to make the families of people I disagree with into stories.

The point isn’t my own facility for horn-blowing; it’s that not only is going after peoples jobs, families and personal lives (that aren’t parts of the story) scuzzy; until the “Johnny Northside” case is resolved, it’s legally dicey as well.

As, I think, it should be.

Ed Kohler has a roundup of other coverage.

UPDATE:  Just so I’m clear on this: it’s a very, very good thing that Hoff was found not guilty of defamation.  It’s pretty clear that he stayed within the letter of the law.

David Brauer at MinnPost on the verdict:

The award left media lawyers flabbergasted because, as Faegre & Benson’s John Borger puts it, “If the statement was true, there should be no recovery. There is caselaw in Minnesota that the providing of truthful information is not a basis for tortious interference.”

Hoff’s lawyer, Paul Godfread, says “we will file any post-verdict motions that are appropriate.” Two common ones: filing for judgment based on a matter of law, and a motion for a new trial. The former wouldn’t challenge the jury’s fact-finding, instead arguing there is only one proper legal conclusion — no monetary damages.

The question “which prevails, the jury verdict or the case law?”, is one of those things that lawyers get rich hashing out.

But I have  question, especially for the media über alles types that have adopted Hoff as a cause celébre: let’s make this a hypothetical case, not directly related to Hoff vs. Moore.

Hypothetically, let’s say that a blogger wrote something incendiary and damaging, but true, about a nemesis’ activities – activities which happened in the past, at (let’s say) the nemesis’ last employer.

Nemesis has moved on since the activities about which Blogger was writing. The Blogger, in addition to pointing out his Nemesis’ past activies, carries a vendetta against the Nemesis into the present.  The Blogger starts a campaign against his Nemesis, intending to damage the Nemesis, to cost him his job, damage his reputation (above and beyond damage caused by the factual story from the past).  The vendetta is above and beyond, really separate from, the actual story about which the blogger reported.

Should the First Amendment protect not only legitimate free speech, but the malicious use of the reporter’s platform to harass the subjects of his/her reporting?  (I ask this stipulating that I’m not saying Hoff did this – although an ethical person might be forgiven for being concerned about some of the lengths he goes to to attack his targets).

OK, it’s not totally hypothetical; back in 2005, a major leftyblog (TBogg or Kos or one of the other big loony bins) published John Hinderaker’s home and office phone numbers; hundreds, maybe thousands called; being readers of major leftyblogs, they were a pretty depraved bunch.  They were trying to get Hinderaker fired.  Not because his day job – a lawyer for a major law firm – had anything to do with the story, or was even three degrees of separation away from it.  It was a  malicious attempt to attack Hinderaker’s non-blogging, non-activist livelihood.

Was Hoff’s attack on Moore’s post-mortgage-fraud proceedings career warranted?  Was it protected by the First Amendment, or was it tortuous interference?

UPDATE 2:  Well, there’s a possible answer; Eugene Volokh writing at the Volokh Conspiracy:

Even if Hoff was trying to get Moore fired, people are constitutionally entitled to speak the truth about others, even with such a goal. (The tort actually requires either knowledge that such a result is practically certain or a purpose of producing such a result, but I take it that here the allegation is that Hoff wanted Moore to get fired.) The First Amendment constrains the interference with business relations tort, just as it constrains the infliction of emotional distress and other torts. See NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. (1982); Blatty v. New York Times Co. (Cal. 1986) (speech constitutionally protected against a libel claim is also protected against an interference with business relations claim); Paradise Hills Assocs. (Cal. Ct. App. 1991) (same); Delloma v. Consolidated Coal Co. (7th Cir. 1993) (“permitting recovery for tortious interference based on truthful statements would seem to raise significant First Amendment problems”); Jefferson Cty. Sch. Dist. No. R-1 v. Moody’s Investor’s Services (10th Cir. 1999) (holding that interference with business relations and interference with contract claims can’t be based on expressions of opinion). The same should apply to the closely related interference with contract tort. See, e.g., Jefferson Cty. Sch. Dist.

Not positive that I think this is a good thing – but going back to my hypothetical, it also seems that the best answer to this is the proverbial “more good speech”

The Enemy Of My Enemy

In some ways, John “Northside Johnny” Hoff represents the upside of blogging.  He’s found a niche, and he covers it in a way that conventional news reporters just can’t.  Or won’t. In his case, the niche is the mortgage fraud that left a frightening share of North Minneapolis’ homes foreclosed:

I don’t know what fascinates me so much about mortgage fraud. I’m not a victim and I’ve never had a mortgage before. Initially, I was just looking for some houses that might be “damaged goods” because of the fraud, looking for a bargain, but then I got totally into the topic when I saw a role that could be filled digging up info. People give me some kudos for digging up info, but I don’t think it’s such a big deal. I’m just compulsive about it. Once I catch the scent, I just don’t quit, because I love the digging, the solving of a complicated mystery.

In some other ways, ironically, John Hoff may represent the worst of citizen journalism, as I noted back in 2007, when he wrote a piece in the U of M’s Minnesota Daily…:

Maybe it was all the wine my buddy salvaged from some trash containers after a high-class tasting party, and then served up at his own festive blow-out gathering of assorted radicals on Friday night, but I’m really starting to have hope.

Yes, I’m starting to believe certain vague, visionary plans to throw our Republican friends a street party in St. Paul in 2008 are really, truly going to happen.

Look away, you fun-loving Republicans, we’re planning a big surprise party for little ol’ you during your special convention in 2008…Will enough people come to the street demonstrations in 2008? Will it be a gas? Will demonstrators have enough sense to focus on a target of opportunity outside the main security perimeter, like a luxury hotel where delegates will be staying with their laptops and revealing documents, instead of going up against massive security surrounding the convention center? It would be good to apply the hard-earned lessons of Seattle in 1999.

…where he called for not only street violence, but the physical stalking of individual RNC delegates (which, to the best of my knowledge, never happened).

(Note – I‘m not positive that both stories involve the same John Hoff, although the writing styles in the blog and the Daily piece have most of the same written “Tells”.  If it is not the same John Hoff, I’ll promptly correct the story. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue, though UPDATE:  It’s  him).

There’s a little bit of both on display in the “landmark” lawsuit against Hoff, filed by a U of M employee, Jerry Moore.  MPR’s Laura Yuen wrote as complete a coverage of the suit as I’ve seen so far, and who has a pretty concise setup of the backstory:

But what landed him in court is a blog post he wrote in June 2009 after Hoff learned that a former community leader was hired by the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center. On his blog, Hoff accused that man, Jerry Moore, of being involved in a high-profile mortgage fraud case, even though Moore was never charged.

The university fired Moore the next day, according to the lawsuit.

Moore is suing Hoff for defamation.

Now, under Minnesota law, to prove defamation one has to prove four things:

  1. That party A said something about party B to one or more Party Cs…:   Where A=Hoff, B=Moore, and C=the public.  Since Hoff publishes on a blog, that’s pretty much a given.
  2. …that is untrue, and…
  3. …has a reasonable chance of damaging Party B’s livelihood or reputation in the community…:  like, by getting him fired from his job
  4. …and if Party B is a public figure, it can be proven that Party A acted with malice: As in “a jury will buy the idea that Party A lied about B, and knew he was lying, because his goal was to do damage to B”.  Minnesota recognizes two classes of “public figures”, by the way; regular “public figures” – elected officials like Mark Dayton, or people who are just plain prominent, like Denny Hecker or Don Shelby or Joe Mauer, and “limited public figures”, people who may not necessarily be famous, but are public within a profession, a community group, a neighborhood, or some other subset of the general population; whatever kind of public figure one is, the burden of proving “malice” is the same.

The real contentions are “did Hoff lie”, and – since the court held that Moore is some form of public figure, did he lie maliciously.

While the backstory to this case looks like a legal chinese fire drill according to Hoff’s own description, Yuen notes that, win or lose, this case might have big implications for bloggers:

Legal experts say the case against John Hoff will be tough to prove. Now that the judge has ruled that Jerry Moore is essentially a public figure, Moore himself bears the burden of proving Hoff acted maliciously. That means he must show Hoff knew his allegations were false, or had reckless disregard for the truth.Hoff says his defense is the truth, and he stands by his blogging.

“I don’t want to get sued,” Hoff said. “Whatever I’m writing, I’m thinking, ‘It better be true. Better be careful.'”

Which is a useful tip for any blogger.

But I strongly suspect (and be advised that I am no lawyer) that this suit is not the one that’s going to be the landmark case about community journalism and media freedom; Hoff merely needs to show that he told the truth – that Moore was involved in mortgage fraud – and not have done anything that jumps up and down and screams “I’m lying and I’m being malicious about it!” (like, say, having sent an email saying “I know I’ve got the wrong facts, and I don’t care, because I’m that angry at you!”, or something equally stupid [1]).

Now – if it turns out Jerry Moore was not involved in any sort of mortgage fraud, and Hoff was dumb enough to leave evidence of malice, there’s really no landmark suit; bloggers should no more be able to lie without consequences about their subjects than the mainstream media.

Jerry Moore’s attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story. In the suit, she argues that John Hoff is not protected by the First Amendment because he does not objectively report the news or have journalistic standards.

That argument perplexes some experts on free speech.

And if the first question isn’t “how did Moore hire such a delusional lawyer”, I’m a leftyblogger’s uncle.

Still, there is a nasty side to these sorts of suits, if not this specific suit: bigger, better-funded people than Moore can use such suits to stifle criticism:

A wide range of similar cases around the country is seeking to clarify free speech issues in a digital landscape…Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University who wrote a book on the Internet and the First Amendment, says he’s concerned about the case against the Minneapolis blogger for what he believes will be a chilling effect.

“Defamation suits are really expensive,” he said. “If we’re going to start seeing more of these suits brought against bloggers, we’re almost naturally are going to see a timidity from bloggers because they don’t want to pay the costs of having to defend the suits, even if they ultimately win the suit in the long run.”

“Johnny Northside”, naturally, is covered:

Blogger John Hoff, however, is not paying for legal representation. News of his defamation suit garnered the attention of a Harvard University group working to protect the rights of online media.

The moral, of course, is tell the truth, and try to leave your more obstreporous emotions – say, malice – out of your blogging.

UPDATE: Ed Kohler has links to a broad swathe of other reporting on the trial.

UPDATE 2:  For those who didn’t get it from my second example above, not everyone is thrilled with John Hoff’s blogging.  No, not at all. Let’s just say there are two sides, at least, to this story.  Also, the people of Grand Forks, about ten years ago, were un-thrilled with his term as a Green Party city councilman.

UPDATE 3: And, naturally, the other side has another side.  And so does that side.

Like I said – many sides to this story.  Bottom line:  keep it factual.

Continue reading

The Wond’rous Gift Of Satire!

I’ve been blogging for a long, long time.  And I’ve pretty much seen it all, by this point; angry bloggers, angrier bloggers, apoplectic bloggers, incontinently-angry bloggers and everything in between…

…but as much as I’ve seen, been and done, there are still few things that wrap a smile around my mug like really impeccable parody.

Parody is among the most difficult tools in the writer’s toolbox; the bad parodists merely ape their targets with facile caricature; the mediocre ones get the surface  cadence, patterns, accents, but miss the deeper rhythms and driving gestalts.

The truly great parodists – Benchley, Swinburne, Calverley, “Saint Paul”  Ward – “get” the very essence of that which they’re parodying.

And it’s a dying art.  Hardly anyone practices it well these days; it’s emblematic that Weird Al Yankovic may be the banner parodist of our time.

Or so I thought, until a little bird twigged me to the blog Mercury Rising – the deepest, most knowing, down-deep-in-the-pit-of-the-gut parody of a “feminist” blogger, awash in group cant and overheated groupthink and smug pseudo-intellectual entitlement masquerading as critique…

…and, wonder of wonders, is a local blog!

The question isn’t “is this brilliant parody”; reading this bit here – one of a  Wildean smorgasbord of bon mots twisted by such deftly rendered spoofs of “rage as if unto incontinence”, words nearly failed me.

One example among the parade of genius:

“This is exactly the sort of thing right-wingers love to do. See, for example, Mitch Berg and his buddies at “Protest Warrior”. So it’s no surprise that they’re trying the same old agent proschlockateur silliness.”

…”Phoenix Woman” executes the logical equivalent of a triple negative that actually makes perfect contextual sense; “she” is writing, putatively, about alleged conservatives supposedly planning (loudly and in public!) to carry out a violent false-flag at the union demonstrations in Madison; “she” invokes “Protest Warrior”, a group from the 2004 era that lampooned liberal protest memes – signs, chants and the like – with all the vein-bulging belligererence of Stephen Colbert…

…and yet “she”, Phoenix, knows that – and what’s more, “she” knows you know that, and “she” also knows you know they know that…

…and yet “she” carries it off so well that the question isn’t “is it great parody?”, but rather “what conservative writer has the parodic chops to carry it off?”

Joe “Learned Foot” Tucci?  I asked – it’s not him.

Ryan “Dirty Mushroom” Rhodes? He’s too busy.

Lileks?  No – even James isn’t good enough to subdue the tics in his own utterly-developed style enough to so totally not only inhabit a character, but twist it back on itself so brilliantly.

Mr. D?  Gary Miller?  Kouba?  Ringer?  Bogus?  Mall Diva or Tiger Lily (or both)?  I thought about each of them – and unless each has been sandbagging us all for all these years, I don’t think any of ’em has it in them.   Close, but…no.

Before you ask – It’ s not me. Sheesh – I wish.  I have a piece of the waterfront that I cover pretty well, but as parody goes, I bow at the feet of whatever master is behind this.

So the only question is – what conservative blogger is behind this savage, ingenious parody?

The literary world awaits.

Access, Part II

It was April 28, 2003.  I sat in the public gallery of the Minnesota State Senate, with a legal pad (this back when WiFi was kinda rare, much less Air Cards), scrawling madly on a legal pad, writing down the salient points of the debate going on below – the final debate on the (intial) passing of the Minnesota Personal Protection Act.

As I sat there, I knew three things as clearly as I could see Ellen Anderson theatrically donning a flak jacket:

  1. After 16 years of reading, study and activism, I knew more about this issue than most of the legislators on the floor, and any of the Capitol Press contingent – the Pat Kesslers and Laura McCollums and even Bill Salisburys – in the building.
  2. Had I been able to do what reporters were able to – go out on the floor after the close of debate, to interview the likes of Wes Skoglund and Ellen Anderson and Linda Berglin – I could have gone a long way toward presenting the public a much better, clearer, more complete accounting of the issue than they got from the mainstream media – which, to be fair, had come a long way, at least in terms of fairness, in the previous seven years.
  3. I would not get that chance – because I was not “the media”.  I was just a mere peasant with a blog.  And that just didn’t count, back then.

The media landscape has changed since 2003 – a lot.  And Minnesota has led the way; bloggers, especially conservatives, have blazed the trail for the rest of the alternative media, knocking down walls that had stood for generations between “media” and democracy.

But not in the Minnesota state capitol.

As of the beginning of this session, there were two ways to get media credentials to the Minnesota State Senate:

  • Be a reporter who worked for a short list of old-media outlets that were spelled out, word for word, in the Senate Rules; newspapers like the Strib and the PiPress; radio stations like WCCO and KSTP-AM, which hasn’t deployed a fulltime reporter to the Capitol since Cathy Wurzer worked there, back when I worked there, in 1986, and MPR.  The big TV stations.  And that was about it.
  • Get vouched in with the Sergeant at Arms by a Senator or caucus staffer.  These were usually “day passes” – short-term access to cover debates on hot-button issues.

It was both an anachronism – there is no mention of new media anywhere in the Senate rules – and a political football.  Things came to a head in the 2009-2010 session, as the DFL caucus gave credentials to “The Uptake” – a very liberal group videoblog – but denied them to Saint  Cloud conservative talk show host Dan Ochsner for being “partisan”.

The worm looked like it was turning this session; early on, the the Senate, now controlled by the MNGOP, denied credentials to all partisan news outlets, including the Uptake.

This was the road to madness – and, likely, litigation.

About this time a month ago, Senate GOP Caucus Communications director Michael Brodkorb – who is also the deputy chair of the MNGOP, a former blog star from his days running Minnesota Democrats Exposed, and incidentally my former “Northern Alliance Radio Network” colleague  – asked MinnPost’s David Brauer and I to participate in a working group to revamp the rules.  The goals were pretty simple; to…:

  • Remove the partisanship from the process of determining who was a “journalist” and, more germanely, which “journalists” got credentials.
  • Set up a fair, transparent, non-partisan process for apportioning these press credentials that both protected the interests of the legacy media (which have invested a lot of time and money in covering the Capitol over the years) with the imperative to legitimize and normalize access from the New Media.
  • Make the process fast, simple and inexpensive for the non-partisan Senate staffers – the Sergeant at Arms’ office, the Senate Information Office and the Department of Administration – to run, and to add no extra burden or, in these cost-conscious times, expense to the process of administering press credentials.

Brauer was there in his rather unique capacity as both a vet of the  mainstream media and a reporter for a site that is a little bit old and a little bit new-media.  Me?  Although I’ve worked in the MSM, I was there mostly to represent new and, I suspect, explicitly partisan media.

On both the left and the right.

Last week, the working group – Brodkorb, Brauer, Majority Caucus staffer Cullen Sheehan, minority-caucus staffer Beau Berentson, Sergeant-at-Arms Sven Lindquist and me – had its last meeting, and handed off our final recommendations.  The recommendations went through the (non-partisan) lawyers, past us for one more round of making sure the lawyers were saying what we thought we were saying, and, today, to the Senate Rules Committee where, if all goes according to plan, Brauer and I will be testifying later this afternoon.

Brauer on the results:

Here’s what would happen if Senators approve our recommendations:

The Sergeant-at-Arms — a nonpartisan staffer — would administer the credentialing process. Senators and partisan staff are expressly prohibited from intervening unless a journalist appeals his or her rejection. (More on that in a bit.)

Believe me, nobody — not the politicians, not the Capitol press corps — wants to define who is a journalist. However, because Senate space is limited, we decided on a fairly low bar: Applicants for a session-long credential must include three pieces in any format in the past year on “matters before the legislature.” That can include blog posts, video, etc.

The proposed rules state “any opinion in such pieces is immaterial” for credentialing. Does this mean more “ideological” journalists will get credentials? Almost certainly yes.

Count on it.  I’m going to make a note to file next year.

But the Minnesota and U.S. Constitutions don’t limit freedom of the press to perceived non-ideologues.

However, publications “owned or controlled” by lobbyists, political parties and party organizations “shall not be granted credentials.” Lobbyists are currently barred from the Senate floor.

The entire proposal, post-counsel, is here.

Credentialing, by the way, means…:

  • You can get in line for one of the six seats on the Senate floor (stage-left from the podium), or ten seats reserved for media in the Gallery. Four of the floor seats are reserved for the “mainstream” media that rents space in the Capitol basement; the other two are “first-come, first served” seats for any other credentialed media.  Four of the ten gallery seats are reserved for TV cameras from the lessees downstairs, if they show up.
  • You can get material – agendas, roll-call votes and so on – from the Senate Information Office.
  • After the final gavel, you can go on the floor to interview Senators – provided that you follow the decorum rules and the Senate’s unwritten dress code (.  This is one thing that media people can do that the general public can not.

The most important part of these changes?   There is no partisan input into who is a “journalist”, or who is granted credentials.  The entire process is run by non-partisan staff, working to standards that leave the process open to pretty much anyone who wants to cover the Senate and who can make a fairly minimal commitment – writing three articles, not being a lobbyist or a party employee, following the decorum rules – to just about the lowest-possible barrier of entry to the term “journalist”.  You’ll need to apply for your session pass thirty days before the session kicks off.

And unlike the current system, there is recourse if you’re denied.  Brauer notes:

The Sergeant’s office has 14 days to review an application. That means if you want to cover opening day, get your application in by mid-December. It also means you can’t just drop in on the Capitol and declare yourself a journalist. (There’s a separate provision for day passes.)

If the Sergeant’s office rejects an application, the reasons must be spelled out in writing. One legal advisor strongly suggested having an appeals process. Therefore, the matter would go to the Senate Rules committee, which must issue a decision within 14 days.

This does bring politicians into the mix. The concept is that the Senate is the final arbiter of its rules (short of the courts, where applicants can always turn). Could Senators bum-rush an applicant they didn’t like? It’s possible. But unlike the current process, the debate would occur in public and be governed by their rules, which again, forbid consideration of opinion.

The upshot:  bloggers, talk-radio hosts, videobloggers, and traditional news media will be considered journalists, for purposes of getting credentials, if the Rules Committee and then the Senate passes the proposal.  Partisanship will not be either a disqualifier or a factor in apportioning access.

Having a good alarm clock, however, will.

I think it’s a fair trade.

Pity The Musk Ox

The other day, Nancy LaRoche – of Freedom Dogs, True North and many a great Protest Warrior send-up – reported on a conversation she’d had with a state senator about Mark Daytons’ office, which the Governor has had moved into a closet:

One of the most remarkable comments the Senator made was how Governor Mark Dayton has transformed his office. He installed cubicles into his office space for staff, and moved his office into… a closet.

“Sally Jo Sorenson” of the leftyblog Bluestem Prairie responded with the usual tools of the leftyblogger’s trade: name-calling…:

Pity poor Nancy LaRoche, the latest victim of slow loris syndrome, both thinking it clever to engage in a pathetic fallacy,

…the ofay ad-hominem…:

while breathlessly reporting idle chatter from a senator in Michael Brodkorb’s caucus as breaking news.

…and, as a noxious little “bonus”, a gratuitous reference to Nancy’s employer.

Oh, and a smidgen of factoid – that Rachel Stassen-Berger had “reported” the story a month earlier in the Strib:

The new governor has taken the reins of state, but he’s letting go of the some of the trappings. When visitors come into the ornate, spacious corner office traditionally reserved for Minnesota’s head of state, they will find three staffers.

Now, Sally Jo Sorenson not by a long shot the most noxious leftyblogger out there – that would be worth a poll, but I’m not going to be the one to throw it.  Still, her post has the three things on which most – too much – Minnesota DFL-blogging relies:

  • Snark
  • Insult
  • A muted threat (to Nancy’s livelihood, in this case.  Seriously – what is the purpose of dragging someone’s day job into a stupid political discussion?  Is her goal to get her readers to call Nancy’s boss to try to get her fired, or what?  That’s so classy!

…and not a whole lot else.

Sheila Kihne, being a conservative blogger, goes the extra step – cutting to the real story:

With Mark Dayton and the Minnesota media establishment, where there’s smoke….there’s a fire extinguisher.

Now, let’s combine Nancy’s closet story with another conservative blogger’s find from the Strib. – Crystal Kelly asked “Is Mark Dayton Really Sober?” just a few days before the 2010 election. She wrote:

I ran across an article from the StarTribune, published July 4 2010, which lead me down a path that questions Mark Dayton’s sobriety. The article was titled, “Mark Dayton: a topsy-turvey ride.” In the second paragraph, something caught my eye. It said, “Sipping from a bottle of kombucha, a fermented tea that has become a campaign trail staple, this former U.S. senator is trying to revive an up-and-down political career at age 63.”

Crystal’s post provided research that recovering Alcoholics like Dayton SHOULD NOT be drinking Kombucha tea and the FDA is investigating the product labeling because of the alcohol content.. The Strib reported that the drink is a “campaign trail staple,” but never managed the same intellectual curiosity about the habits of a man who wanted to be our Governor. “Ha, ha! Can I try a sip?”

The media’s fabled curiosity shut down, of course – as it did with all things related to Dayton’s history – his “alternative teaching license” (a story Sheila led), his very dubious employment record with the New York Public Schools (ditto), his infamous bolt-and-run from DC while a Senator, the treatment history for his alcoholism, his mental health state and medications…

…as opposed to…:

What’s that you say? Tom Emmer’s son posted what on Facebook?

If I were a reporter and some liberal politician told me they worked in a closet, or I got a packet of information that seemed to indicate a past political payoff, or I noticed a recovered alcoholic drinking Kombucha tea all day long, or I found out that Dayton had lied about his resume……well, I might have some follow-up questions.

But of course, I’m not a reporter. I’m a partisan blogger…..and Mark Dayton’s a liberal. Herein lies the problem.

So there’s the relentless search for fact, and the exercise of the kind of courtesy to which the likes of our Capitol Press Corps practice (in re Republicans)…

…and then there’s snark, insult and threats.  Or as Bill Clinton’s staff called it, “Delay, Deny, Destroy”.

My point?  Oh, I dunno – Sheila Kihne is a better writer and blogger than Ms. Sorenson?   I can run with that.

So the remaining question is – what animal will Sally Jo Sorenson name Sheila Kihne?

I’m gonna bet it’ll be a real burn!

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Access

The ongoing squabble over access to the floor for media – partsian alternative media as well as the traditional kind – has been an ongoing battle at the State Capitol for a few years now.

The rhubarb flared up again as the session started earlier month, as left-leaning group-blog “The Uptake” was denied “floor credentials”.

Now, “floor credentials” aren’t the beginning and end of capitol journalism.  David Brauer notes:

While credentials aren’t needed for Capitol press conferences, floor passes are about access. Conversations are only permitted before or after a day’s session, but the immediacy of interviews before lawmakers scatter is as valuable, as is the candor that occasionally results before marching orders are received.

It’s not the be-all of reportage: Senate Sgt-at-Arms Sven Lindquist says press seats on the cramped floor are frequently unoccupied, except during big votes. Still, it’s a tool for the journalistic toolbox.

And it’s a tool that pretty much everyone wants – just in case.  Including The Uptake.

Now, the power to grant credentials, as Brauer notes, used to be a non-partisan activity:

Sgt-at-arms Lindquist says the power to review and grant credentials used to be handled by himself and Senate Secretary Patrick Flahaven. But in recent years, Lindquist says the power moved “elsewhere” — to the majority leader’s office, which is, by definition, partisan.

It’s obviously an issue needing some resolution.  Which is where this piece starts.

Earlier this month, a source close to the GOP’s caucus leadership told me that, while (as Brauer notes) the rules don’t bar “partisan” media, the decision was made to deny credentials to all partisan media, pending the development of a policy.

A few weeks ago, Michael Brodkorb – who handles communications for the majority GOP caucus in the Minnesota Senate, in addition to being the deputy chair of the Minnesota GOP – called me to ask if I’d be interested in working with a group of DFL and GOP staffers, as well as MinnPost writer David Brauer, on coming up with a more or less comprehensive policy on granting floor credentials.

Every state has a different solution to the issue – ranging from free access to the floor to credentialed media in Rhode Island and Montana (and credentials are pretty much given for the asking) to Illinois, which requires a vote of the applicable chamber to allow the  media to take pictures, much less get on the floor.

The goal – near as I can tell so far – is to come up with a transparent policy that’ll give fair access to the Senate floor to media organizations, while coming up with some sort of balance between the establishment media’s vocational need for access and the alt-media’s right to a place at the proverbial table.

I’m honored to have been asked.  My goal is to try to help this group come up with a policy that fairly and transparently gives all media a fair, clear means to cover our Senate, for the good of the entire electorate.

I’ll keep you all posted.  Because even if I didn’t, Brauer certainly would.