James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Saving Kerry's campaign -- maybe

There now seems to be reason to believe that John Kerry has a real chance to win the presidential popular vote – at least where the voting is conducted honestly. He might even overcome the expected frauds in Florida, Texas, Ohio and perhaps a few other places and gain the presidency.

If Kerry becomes president, it will be because of organizations such as MoveOn.org, ACT and other liberal groups outside the Democratic Party. If he loses, I, for one, will tolerate no whining from party regulars about votes lost to Ralph Nader or any other such excuses.

Left to its own devices, the Democratic Party would make Kerry look like a hippo in the Kentucky Derby.

The Democratic failureship and the dim bulbs who controlled the Kerry campaign until a couple of weeks ago would have gone on responding weakly to GOP attacks, keeping Kerry from hitting hard while continuing to kiss up to the very people who are hugely funding the Bush election effort. The 527s and their millions of members have forced, belatedly, a standup campaign and, in fact, have been far more effective than the party at fund raising and campaigning.

Let me offer one small and one large example of the Democrats’ prat-falling ineptitude and their utter inability to grasp the realities of electioneering out here in Notwashington.

The small one is the extreme shortage of lawn signs in our neck of the woods.

On second thought, it is not all that small an issue. In places, including the swing states of Wisconsin and Minnesota, where a few thousand or even a few hundred votes might make the difference, the lack of Kerry lawn signs could be enough to give a state to Bush.

About three weeks ago I went in search of lawn signs for a neighbor and myself. I was informed by Kerry headquarters in Minnesota that there were no signs to be had. I bought a couple of privately printed ones – printed on only one side, unfortunately. Those were stolen a couple of days after we installed them.

By then, the Kerry headquarters had some signs, so I drove over to St. Paul. They were still in very short supply and I was allowed to take two only because I told campaign workers the story of the theft.

My neighbor then talked to several more folks on our block who wanted signs but didn’t have the time to go get them. I volunteered, but was allowed only two more – and I had to argue for those. We were still several short – and are to this day. Our plan to line our block with Kerry/Edwards signs has been thwarted because the campaign has failed repeatedly to get enough of them printed to meet the demand.

About a week ago, the local daily reported on campaigning in the smaller towns and rural areas of Wisconsin. The story told of the frustration of active Democrats in and near a small town on the banks of the Mississippi River; they couldn’t get anywhere near the number of yard signs they needed from the Kerry campaign. It was an important and foolish error, one of the Wisconsin Democrats noted, because in the country, people pay attention to what their neighbors think; if Farmer A posts a big sign for Kerry, Farmer B and Farmer C will know that A has thought the matter through – and B and C may decide that if A can back the Democrat this time, they can, too.

And it isn’t all that different where I live, which is why my neighbor and I wanted to flood our part of town with Kerry/Edwards signs.

We live in an economically upper middle class neighborhood that is leaning more and more to upscale as home prices climb. (The Bush economy may haul it down again, but not yet for awhile.) Two major thoroughfares run through the neighborhood, one from north to south, one east to west. Both of those streets are traveled daily by folks from equal and much more expensive neighborhoods and from pricey suburbs.

Like the folks in rural Wisconsin, we thought the overwhelming support for Kerry in our neighborhood, made visible with yard signs, might give some of our peers and those who are wealthier psychological permission to join us in backing the Democratic candidates. Might help, but we may never know. The Kerry campaign is turning away sign seekers every day.

The other, probably bigger, failure of the Democratic Party is on voter registration. Fortunately, the 527s, community groups and organizations such as the NAACP are saving the party’s bacon and may just win the election for Kerry. Several reports in recent days show that new registrations are up more than in any previous election cycle. In fact, election officials in many states are working people almost around the clock, pulling in employees from other jobs and still falling behind in their attempts to record all of the new voters.

A high percentage of the new registrations are in urban areas, and especially those in swing states, which bodes well for the Democratic ticket.

The reports generally say that Democratic-leaning organizations are running the most successful registration campaigns, followed by the Republican Party. The Democratic Party is a distant third when it comes to signing up new voters, several reports have said. The party's efforts are weak and late getting started.

It’s too late to change the picture substantially this time around. But it is important to realize and think about the failures of the Democrats now, because whichever way next month’s election goes, very little will change on most of the problems confronting this country unless the leadership of the Democratic Party on state and national levels is swept out and replaced with intelligent, energetic liberals.

This week’s Time magazine carries a column suggesting that the Democrats would have done better after all in this year’s election if they had run Howard Dean rather than John Kerry. Too late for that, but the piece does demonstrate why some of us believe that a house cleaning is absolutely necessary.

A nasty fact and a rude speculation

Given the flap over Dan Rather and the fake documents regarding Bush’s non-service in the Air National Guard, liberals need to raise hell about the latest television "news" revelation.

(The press generally failed to note that although the documents Rather used may have been forged, the fact that George skipped out on his military service and got away with it is a demonstrable fact. The press seems so far to be ignoring the latest offense.)

The new one, reported by MoveOn.org, is that the Republican Spin Channel – that is, Fox News – recently and knowingly ran a totally false report on John Kerry by one of its right-wing alleged news people. The liar in question is Carl Cameron.

Cameron made up post-debate quotes and attributed them to Kerry. They were presented with straight face as being real. The phony statements were:

"Didn’t my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!"

"Women should like me! I do manicures."

"‘I’m metrosexual – he’s a cowboy,’ the Democratic candidate said of himself and his opponent. A ‘metrosexual’ is defined as an urbane male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle."

When confronted with the falsity of the report, Fox insisted, and continues to claim, that the story was a good-humored error committed because of "fatigue." MoveOn reports that a Fox staff memo called the "error" a "dismissable offense," but Cameron, whose blatant bias is an obvious part of his every report, has not been disciplined, apparently.

MoveOn suggests we, the public, telephone Fox news boss Roger Ailes and demand the firing of Cameron, just as many rightists have done with Rather, whose error really was a mistake, not than a deliberate falsification such as the Fox story. The Ailes phone number is (212) 301-3000.

It occurred to me driving through my home area of Minneapolis earlier today that "Bush/Cheney" lawn signs say more than meets the eye.

Such a sign on the lawn of a $1 million home says: "I’m selfish, self-centered and greedy and I don’t give a damn for the rest of humanity."

A Bush sign on the lawn of a home in a middle class or low-income neighborhood says: "I’m a great prospect for anyone selling cheap siding, replacement windows I don’t need, over-priced and badly made cars and leaky-roofed time share apartments 12 blocks from the beach in Acapulco."

Monday, October 04, 2004

You CAN influence the press

You can influence the way newspapers cover some stories, and make them back away from careless and biased approaches. I’ve said that before, but here’s a bit of evidence:

Over a period of several months, into September, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis routinely referred to MoveOn.org, America Coming Together and other liberal-leaning 527 groups as "leftist organizations." The phrase was used in every article in which those organizations figured.

In August, I wrote letters to the newspaper’s "reader representative" – a feeble imitation of an ombudsman – and high-ranking editors, protesting the description and demanding they define the term and offer proof that it was accurate, or ban the use of the unfair and politically loaded phrase. I also sent e-mails to a couple of reporters.

Soon after, I heard about other people who had made similar protests. Two or three letters to the editor carrying the same message were printed on the paper’s editorial pages.

Today, Oct. 4, the newspaper had a story on the front page of its local news section about a Bruce Springsteen concert set for tomorrow, to be played as a fund raiser for MoveOn and America Coming Together. The story, fairly, tells of various fan reactions to Springsteen’s openly choosing sides in the current campaign.

The two liberal beneficiary groups are described as "progressive organizations," not "leftist."

If you see something you recognize as unfair and/or biased, write your newspaper. Write letters to the editor, but also address notes directly to the publisher, editor, managing editor, to the editor in charge of political coverage, and to the reporters.

The names of upper level editors are found in the newspaper’s masthead, a list of the publication’s top officers and editors which is printed every day (or week). Usually, their e-mail address are included. You also can simply call the publication, ask for the city desk and request the names so that you may write the people in question.

Do it, please. It makes a difference.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Covering spin, avoiding substance

Saturday, Oct. 2, 2004, my local, once excellent newspaper ran as its second lead – the story that gets second best play on page one – a piece headlined "Spin cycle fast and furious from start."

The story, written by a reporter who used to stand in high regard with peers, but who now seems given to "whatever the boss wants," was a longish waste of space about who thinks Kerry came out best in the so-called debate two days earlier, and who thought Bush was best. It quoted a bunch of columnists, talking heads, campaign people, politicians and blogs and added absolutely nothing to the public store of knowledge.

On the inside page to which the front page piece jumped, a New York Times piece told about what Bush and Kerry said in campaign appearances the day after the debate. Headlined "Kerry, Bush sharpen their words," the Times story also failed to give the reader any substantive information upon which to base an opinion or a decision about anything.

A couple other stories related to the presidential campaign – one on Rudy Giuliani campaigning for Bush in Minnesota, another on Nielsen ratings indicating a substantial number of people watched the debate – were equally as useless, but probably worth about four paragraphs apiece, just for the record.

And the Star Tribune’s performance is among the best among the newspapers I check in on. Even the New York Times and Los Angeles Times fall considerably short of doing a good job on covering the issues of the campaign.

The only really useful political story in the Oct. 2 Star Tribune was one on Page 4, about the fact that Tom DeLay, the House majority leader and a great favorite of the ruling right wing nuts, is in rather deep do-do on – gasp! – questions of ethics.

He’s the guy, you may remember, who led the gerrymandering of Texas to the point that blacks and Hispanics and the great majority of liberals of all colors have essentially been disenfranchised in that state.

Anyway, three of his top aides in Texas have been indicted – in Texas! – for various illegalities having to do with their boss’s political activities. DeLay was rebuked last week by the House Ethics Committee for the way he has put pressure on other House members and there’s apparently more to come.

Wherever you live, ask around and see if anyone you know has heard or read one word of DeLay’s recent troubles. It’s place and size in the Star Tribune indicated to readers that it isn’t a very important story. Television has largely ignored the events, and most other newspapers, where they have run anything, have presented it as trivial.

But back to debate coverage versus substance:

The reporting this year is even worse than it was four years ago, and that was worse than it was four years earlier. The reporters and editors know the truth on every issue that arises in the campaign. There are no secrets this time around about who has done what – or said what – on Iraq, Afghanistan, education, the environment, the economy, or any other subjects of concern to the country and the world. But our entire dysfunctional news system is covering nothing but the horse race, and following the long discredited "He said, she said" pattern of coverage.

If one guy lies baldly on a serious subject, the press reports what he says, but usually fails to point out that what he says is a lie, even though they have incontrovertible proof of that fact. And to compound that failure, the corporate news outlets give no more weight to the opponent's truths (if there are any) than to the first guy’s lies. The public often has no way of knowing from news coverage that one candidate is lying through his teeth and the other is not.

Further, if one guy lies hugely and the other performs a minor stretching of the truth, both sides get equal treatment. The press has come to believe that "balanced coverage" means treating lies and truth with equal respect and never pointing out which is which.

So my question right now for the editors of the Star Tribune and all the other news editors around the country is this: Is your apology for failure to cover the substance of this election written yet? Do you have it already in the can, ready to pull out and publish sometime between January and April, about the same time you ran your mea culpas four years ago, and eight years ago and, in some cases, 12 years ago?

What a disgusting, gutless, rich-owner-pleasing performance!