Chanting Points Memo: Coulda Woulda Shoulda

I could make Scarlett Johannson the happiest woman in the world.

Let’s see if Tom Scheck and Erick Black start staking out Ms. Johannson’s house.

It might be easier than answering the questions about their coverage of the Emmer campaign.


Tom Emmer launched “Emmertruth” – a site dedicated to countering the media’s context-mangling DFL-agenda-m0ngering – yesterday.  And right in the nick of time.

This past April, Emmer appeared on Gary Eichten’s mid-day show on MPR.  Eichten asked Emmer a hypothetical question about how he’d hypothetically handle Minnesota’s budget.

Now, as someone who talks on the air live for two hours a week with no more “editing” than a dump button in case Ed starts cursing again, I’ll tell you – every so often you say something on the first try that isn’t quite right.  So you take another pass at it.   This happens even if you’re very good at speaking off the cuff – which, by the way, Tom Emmer is.

Most print news people – like Erik Black, formerly of the Strib and currently of the MinnPost – have a hard time with this; they can go their entire career without a “rough draft” going out to the public.  And MPR’s Tom Scheck perhaps is the wrong person to ask about it, since MPR is about as  spontaneous and unedited as the Catholic Mass.

Anyway – according to Emmertruth, this is what happened, with emphasis added by me:

Emmer did initially say the overall budget should be around $40 billion, down from the current level of $60 billion. But seconds later he clarified with the definitive statement that we “can reduce government easily by 20% in the next four years.” When Scheck chose to use the $20 billion figure instead of the more definitive final word on the question, he made a critical and material journalistic mistake.

Here – in Tom Scheck’s piece on the subject, which extensively quotes state bureaucrats on why Tom Emmer should not cut state bureaucracy – is the quote in question:

In late April, he suggested he could eliminate a third of overall state spending, roughly $20 billion.

You be the judge – but from where I sit, Scheck is wrong, or misleading, when he uses the $20 billion number. Emmer said – in the definitive take on the hypothetical question – he’s cut 20% over 4 years. Not that he’d immediately slash $60 to $40 billion.

It’s not rocket surgery to expect that the local mainstream media will circle its wagons to defend the rest of the media.  And some of the regional  media, including Erik Black’s former bosses in the Strib editorial board, are pretty transparently working to see a DFLer gets elected governor this fall, as usual.  And while I’m the last person in the world to impugn the integrity of MPR News – whose standards I’ve repeatedly praised in the past – their coverage of Emmer bears watching, since Emmer has spoken of cutting the state’s subsidy of MPR.

Black continues:

he has launched a feature called “EmmerTruth,” in which he will set the record straight about distortions of his record, position and statements.The first couple of entries, though, are pretty weak. In one, he complains that MPR reporter Tom Scheck said that Emmer would cut $20 billion in state spending. But Emmer says he never said he would cut $20 billion, only that he could.

And then…what?

He went on to clarify the whole thing!

So why did Scheck choose to go with the initial – and, via Emmertruth, admittedly bobbled – take on the hypothetical, when the clarification is, with a nod to Regis Philbin, “the final answer?”

And why did Black ignore this?   Do the facts matter, or is it all about playing “gotcha” with off-the-cuff answers to hypothetical questions?

Black concludes:

I’ve about convinced myself that Emmer owes Scheck an apology.

I’m dying to figure out why.

And he owes the voters of Minnesota some straighter talk, not about what he could do, but what he would do to balance the budget. (Not to say that all the other guv candidates have been clear abut how they would do it. They haven’t.)

Let me get this straight:  the DFL candidates have been “unclear”, but Emmer “owes” everyone an explanation now – so the DFL and its friends in the media can bag on it at their leisure until the DFL picks a candidate?

Why does the MinnPost hold Republicans to a different standard than the DFL?

DISCLOSURE:  I recently signed on to have occasional posts from this blog re-posted on MinnPost.  We’ll see how that works out now, won’t we?

UPDATE:  Gary Gross at Let Freedom Ring and True North covers this as well.

CORRECTIONS:  In the original take on this story, I’d forgotten that there is, technically, a GOP primary.  That’s right, Leslie Davis and Ole Savior get their moment in the electoral sun.  Als0,  I had the wrong date for the original broadcast on the Eichten show that spawned this “controversy”.

19 thoughts on “Chanting Points Memo: Coulda Woulda Shoulda

  1. Why does the MinnPost hold Republicans to a different standard than the DFL?

    Them wingnuts is dangerous.

    Assume you’re signed up for the “Minnesota Blog Cabin” at MinnPost. I’m on there, too — they’ve published one piece of mine. They run the post verbatim with a link back to your site. The editor seems like a good dude.

  2. “DISCLOSURE: I recently signed on to have occasional posts from this blog re-posted on MinnPost.”

    Maybe Erik Black should be updating his resume again.

  3. I recently signed on to have occasional posts from this blog re-posted on MinnPost.

    No defication? I’m impressed! The scary smart, reality based readers of MinnPost will absolutely bust a vein…HA!

    That being said, I hope you last longer than the last token conservative they engaged…Mr. Bonafeld [sp] didn’t last a month.

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  5. Well, to be accurate, I’m not “engaged”: they may start selectively carrying some of my posts. I’d suspect it might be 1-2x a year.

  6. it looks like she’s serious about this Reynolds character

    Yeah, maybe it’s time to just let go.

  7. I think it’s worth looking at how much State spending has grown in the last 50 years in looking at Tom Emmer’s suggestion. You can see the latest figures on State spending here:

    A couple of things worth nothing – if we reduced State spending by $20 billion (what MPR is reporting) from the current level ($62,359,744,000) that would put us a little bit below the 2002-2003 budget level ($42,682,098,000) when Governor Ventura left office.

    If we reduced it by 20% from the current level (which is apparently what Tom Emmer meant), then that would be put us right above the 2006-2007 spending levels ($49,663,779,000) at the end of Governor Pawlenty’s first term.

    If those numbers represent a huge cut in State spending, it’s because they also represented a huge increase in State spending in nearly as short of a time.

  8. Righton, Thorleywinston. All local spending, across the country, has gone up at a much higher rate than inflation. This is not sustainable.
    Yet most local media just parrot what the tax-eaters in government tell them, that any cuts will result in the streets being filled with starving women and children, where they will be mugged because the police have all been laid off.
    Twenty years ago the county I live in had a population of 100,000 and an annual budget of $100 million. This year it has a population of about 140,000 and a budget of over $400 million, and we are in the midst of a budget crisis; county employees are being furloughed, county services (like running landfills) are being cut, and new taxes and fees are being passed by the county council, mayor, and county departments.
    I have yet to see any locally produced news reporting on the crisis note that two decades ago we had lower taxes and more county services.

  9. I think if you put Emmer’s full statement in front 100 voters, not many would find it definitive or conclusive or clarified.

    And since you do provide links to material you quote, maybe you can convince Emmertruth to try it before they lecture on journalistic practice.

  10. Charlie,

    I inadvertently left out the link to Black’s piece. The other two are are in there and always were.

    I think if you put Emmer’s full statement in front 100 voters, not many would find it definitive or conclusive or clarified.

    That’s what the media will keep saying anyway. Over and over and over.

  11. And to be fair, I did miss one link that I thought I’d included. My intention was always to put them all in the piece.

    As to how 100 random users would perceive Emmer’s statement – as a Usability Analyst in real life, I don’t disagree; presentation counts. Talking off the cuff is difficult.

    But is it the media’s job to relate the actual facts, or to reinforce confusion?

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