Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Nick Coleman: "Professional" Journalist

I see that Nick Coleman wrote another poison pen column (free registration required)about the gents at Powerline in today's Star Tribune. There has been a reaction of sorts in the blogosphere, and the Insta One has a good roundup. My reaction? Complete unsurprise. In the years I've lived in the Twin Cities and been exposed to his writings it didn't take long to realize that Mr. Coleman does not need any help to make a fool of himself. This latest column voluminous support of that idea. Rather than take the advice I gave him here some time ago, he's once again picked a fight with people who have more readers than he does. This column is probably not worth fisking (and other people doubtless will say it better - see the Instapundit link), but I do want to comment on a few bits of it.

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

Now let me get a new hatchet.

Here's a nice bit of hypocrisy disguised as a lame attempt at humor. Yep, first an insincere congratulations on being honored by time, followed by a "let's grind my axe now" line. How nice. Then we get to Coleman's thumbnail sketch of Powerline:

These guys pretend to be family watchdogs but they are Rottweilers in sheep's clothing. They attack the Mainstream Media for not being fair while pursuing a right-wing agenda cooked up in conservative think tanks funded by millionaire power brokers.

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

Earth to Nick: the gents at Powerline have never pretended to be non-partisan. Amazingly enough, they are quite proud of being conservatives (unlike our media, which seems to be full of liberals, but is in denial of its effects). They don't pretend that they are presenting anything but their own views on the subjects of the day, and that view is a conservative one. They are stating the truth as they see it and making reasoned arguments in support of their opinions. You ought to try it some time.

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

Nothing like a little personal insult. Right, Nick? More proof (as if we needed it) that you might be a hack. There is one correct statement in that paragraph - Powerline (and other blogs) deserve a bit more Mainstream Media attention. Especially after causing parts of said media considerable embarassment (CBS, anyone?). Oh, and learn how to spell Hindrocket - you are supposed to be a journalist, after all.

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

I work for a dopey old newspaper committed to covering the news fairly while Powerline doesn't make boring commitments. They are not Mainstream Media. They are Extreme Media. Call them reliable partisan hacks.

That's what they call me: A reliable partisan hack, even though they sometimes like columns I write about dumb things Democrats do. I have criticized many dumb Democrats, but Democrats don't matter these days. All the power is in the hands of Republicans, and Powerline's job is to make life easier for them. Mine isn't.

A story: In 1990, I reported that this newspaper's endorsement of DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich was decided by then-publisher and Perpich crony Roger Parkinson. He had quashed the decision of the newspaper's editorial board, which had voted in favor of the Republican challenger, Arne Carlson.

The truth got out, the Republican won and the public was served. If Extreme bloggers, who know nothing that happened before last Tuesday, had the same commitment to serving the public, I wouldn't have a problem. But like talk radio, they are dominated by the right and are only interested in being a megaphone without oversight, disclosure of conflicts of interest, or professional standards.

Let's see. Coleman is upset at being called a partisan hack, then cites an incident from almost 15 years ago to prove that he's not partisan. One that involved criticizing the paper he didn't work for at the time (I think he worked for the Pioneer Press at the time). Couldn't find anything more recent, Mr. Coleman? As for the partisan thing, when's the last time that a conservative or a Republican (the two are often not the same) viewpoint got a fair hearing in your column? By the way, who/what are Extreme bloggers? He doesn't really say, except to accuse them of being ignorant and having short attention spans. By that description, the Powerline gang doesn't qualify for Extremeness. It makes more sense to refer to Nick Coleman as an Extreme columnist.

Powerline is run by Ivy League lawyers, one of whom (Johnson) is a vice president at TCF Bank in Minneapolis and works for Bill Cooper, an ex-state Republican Party chairman. Johnson and Hinderaker are fellows at the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank that seems to be obsessed with gays and guns and wants to return us to the principles of our founders, although I can't determine if that includes Ben Franklin's skirt chasing.

Mainstream or Extreme? We report, you decide: Last month, Claremont gave its Winston Churchill Award to that visionary statesman and recovering drug addict, Rush Limbaugh!

Time magazine's "Blog of the Year" is not run by Boy Scouts. It is the spear of a campaign aimed at making Minnesota into a state most of us won't recognize. Unless you came from Alabama with a keyboard on your knee.

I guess he meant Powerline, after all. By the way, is there actually something wrong with the principles of the Founders, Mr. Coleman? Which ones would you like to get rid of? Next is a cheap joke on the Claremont Institute, using Rush Limbaugh's drug problem. Would Coleman use John F. Kennedy in the same fashion? I expect not. He then accuses the Powerliners of wanting to turn Minnesota into a vision of Alabama that only Coleman seems to understand. I think this an attempt to insult both Powerline and Alabama. Try harder next time, Mr. Coleman.

Next, Coleman spouts some stuff about the Ivy League and his early work history that really doesn't bear on anything, unless he's trying to convince his readers that he has downtrodden credentials. Then comes this:

But Extreme bloggers don't tell truths. They tell talking points. Powerline is the biggest link in a daisy chain of right-wing blogs that is assaulting the Mainstream Media while they toot their horns in the service of ... what? The downtrodden? No, that was yesterday's idea of the purpose of journalism. Extreme bloggers are so hip and cool they can make fun of the poor and the disadvantaged while working out of paneled bank offices.

I guess this is the paragraph where he explains what an Extreme blogger is. Apparently it's all a function of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. I guess that means that Kos and Eschaton are models of objectivity and moderation. These sentences stick out the most: Powerline is the biggest link in a daisy chain of right-wing blogs that is assaulting the Mainstream Media while they toot their horns in the service of ... what? The downtrodden? No, that was yesterday's idea of the purpose of journalism. Mr. Coleman, here I naively thought the purpose of journalism was to report the news accurately and without favoritism, and it's up to the citizens to handle the advocacy part. Silly me.

Nick Coleman, fact-checker:

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

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

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

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

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

3) Powerline sells thousands of dollars in ads, including one for T-shirts that say, "Hung Like a

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

I'll only examine item number 1, since I don't have any useful knowledge about the work habits of the folks at Powerline or the finances of their blog. Check their responses for what they think about Nick Coleman's command of the facts. The first item seems to be an attempt to connect Time's "Blog of the Year" award with the 2004 Weblog Awards poll conducted at Kevin Aylward's Wizbang blog. I'm unaware the editors of Time consulted with Mr. Aylward on their selection but if so, congratulations to Kevin Aylward on becoming Someone of Influence. It ought to be obvious (except to Nick Coleman) the two subjects have nothing to do with each other. Yet he attempts to use them to characterize the guys at Powerline as liars.

This column was written by a professional journalist? Please, please tell me it's not true.

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