January 12, 2005

The Coleman Grill

I'm thinking about just ripping through every Nick Coleman column that he writes, partly because it's just so strangely gratifying. Some would say I'm just being a meanie conservative, but I would counter with: whatever. Anyhoo. Shall we?

Wisconsin cheddar is the best cheese in the world, and I will swear to it until my dying day. Or until the Minnesota Dairy Research and Promotion Council pays me more to promote Minnesota cheddar than I get from the cheeseheads in Wisconsin.

Why does he have to do this? Every. Time. A nonsensical segue into a column that has virtually nothing to do with the opening paragraph. I'm thinking: a column about cheese? Cool. But no.

What am I offered?

In actual fact, I try to eat only Minnesota cheese and am not on the payroll of any nefarious Wisconsin cheddar cartels. These days, however, motivations are not always clear when some media types passionately push cheese curds or other hard-to-swallow products on the American public.

*sigh* It's cheese, cheese, cheese. . . and then, screech, we're talking about media types. Media types peddling cheese curds, no less. WTF?

Alarm bells have been set off by the news that Armstrong Williams, a syndicated columnist and conservative commentator, failed to disclose that he was paid $241,000 by the U.S. Department of Education to promote the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. Instead, he took the money and ran, calling NCLB "the best legislation that has been put forth in the last 20 years to raise the academic standards of inner-city and urban schools."

As I opined to Joshua, this Williams thing stinks. He was a moron for a.) taking what amounts to a bribe and b.) not disclosing it. It's pretty common sense. I'm more disgusted with the CBS "memogate" thing, to be sure, for largely professional reasons. Primarily, the CBS report positioned itself as hard, breaking news, news that, if true, which CBS claimed (and still claims) it was, probably would have reshaped the political landscape at the time the report aired.

And CBS has online000519.html">other problems, too.

Armstrong Williams, by comparison, is largely regarded, even by Coleman, to be a conservative commentator. If you're listening to him or reading him, chances are you know that you're getting a big blast of conservative air blown up your ass. The bribe was wrong, there no question about it. But, there's some pretty big and important distinctions that can be drawn between the CBS thing and the Williams thing. Does Coleman mention the CBS report at all though? Hmm. Nope. Instead, we get:

During last fall's election campaign, South Dakota Democrat Tom Daschle was regularly thumped by two Web sites whose operators -- it was revealed after the election --were paid by the campaign of Daschle's Republican opponent, John Thune. Neither of their blogs disclosed that they were being paid by Thune, who is Senator Thune now. And the episode should raise a huge red flag.

Keep in mind that Coleman touts himself to be a media representative who is politically neutral, and a servant of the public, when it comes to his columns, even though the last time he can remember endorsing or defending a Republican was back in 1990, and even that's a shaky claim. So, yup, we get the evidence of two South Dakota blogs being paid by Republicans, yet Coleman seems blissfully unaware that the likes of Atrios (a.k.a. Duncan Black) is partially funded by the likes of Media Matters, or that his royal screamness, Howard Dean, made an unbelievable amount of online money through what amounted to a blog.

And it's not as if the White House coordinating with the media is somehow a new development, specific to Republicans.

Some have suggested that Daschle's blog-flogging is a harbinger of things to come, warning that the unregulated "blogosphere" offers a ripe medium for abuse and surreptitious attack.

Forgetting, of course, that the blogosphere has also emerged as an extremely useful tool, acting as a watchdog counterweight of the mainstream media (MSM) (see also, CBS) and calling attention to stories that the MSM may have downplayed (see also, the fall of Trent Lott) and, perhaps most importantly, exposing a bi-sexual female IT geek as a male novelist IT geek. But, no, for Coleman, the blogosphere is simply a ripe medium for abuse and surreptitious attack, even though you'd be hard-pressed to find an example where a blog's abuse and surreptitious attacks actually had a big impact on anything.

Money always talks. But when it goes underground to finance hidden attacks, it also corrupts. Which is why any columnist or commentator who weighs in on politics and public policy should be required to promptly and fully disclose whether they are being paid to promulgate their views.

Finally, Coleman writes something that I can agree with. But then he goes and jumps the shark.

Most mainstream commentators know that taking money under the table will mean not getting paid by their employer much longer. But in our blog new world, not everybody discloses their hand, or their motivations. The Armstrong Williams case demonstrates that we have reached a point where transparency is required. Jeffrey Dubner, from the online site of the American Prospect, suggests commentators take an oath:

"I swear that I have never taken money -- whether directly or indirectly -- from any political campaign or government agency -- whether federal, state, or local -- in exchange for any service performed in my job as a journalist (or commentator, or blogger, or whatever you think I should be called)."

Good, as far as it goes. But the word "undisclosed" should be added, making the oath read: "I swear that I have never taken any undisclosed money..."

So, there you have it. Every blog that comments on anything, from the biggest political heavyweights, to the lowliest catblogger, should have to put up a disclaimer announcing they have never taken undisclosed money, directly or indirectly, from any political campaign or government agency.

In the spirit of Nick Coleman's grand disclosure plan, I have a confession to make. I made close to $9,000 in freelance writing projects last year, and I wrote all of those projects on my home computer. As such, when doing my taxes, I claim those freelance projects in the name of my own personal company, Rhodes Media Services. Therefore, I claim some of my computer expenses, such as a new keyboard and mouse and printer costs, as tax write-offs. Therefore, I indirectly have taken money, and will continue to take money, from the government agency known as the IRS. This blog deeply regrets if its readers have been misled in any way by my nefarious government-financed shenanigans. And I won't even get into the issue of blogads, which comb through your recent entries and post related ads.

And another sentence should be added to the effect: "If I accept any payment to promote or advance a political campaign or candidate, I will promptly and publicly reveal it."

Jeez, at this rate, all blogs will consist almost entirely of disclaimers.

If such an oath had been subscribed to in South Dakota, the bloggers who beat up Daschle would have had to reveal their paid relationship with Thune. Or later be revealed as liars.

Yeah, those dastardly SD bloggers really beat up on Daschle, what with their linking to news stories and stating their opinions. For Daschle's part, I think he briefly had a blog, too, called "Travels With Tom" or something like that (yes, really). As far as I know, it didn't have a disclaimer on it.

"I see no reason for anybody with a keyboard or a microphone to have a problem with taking this oath," Dubner says.

There isn't any.

I don't even have the mental energy to take on that idiotic assertion.

UPDATE: blogging.html">More commentary here. Not Coleman-related, but political-blogging-compensation-related.

Posted by Ryan at January 12, 2005 11:43 AM

his royal screamness, Howard Dean, made an unbelievable amount of online money through what amounted to a blog.

Reaching. It wasn't a blog that also raised money. It was a blog on a site that was pretty much dedicated to raising money. I don't think there was any confusion on that point.

Otherhow, I obviously disagree with the meat of what Coleman's saying. I think it actually springs from a problem that seems to be rampant among hometown columnists: they write formulaically about things that actually require original thinking. So you get one column after another that goes:

The other day I was walking down the street and I saw [something sort of everyday but a little bit weird] and it made me think of [something morally unambiguous; preferably something historical and morally unambiguous]. The lesson of [the morally unambiguous event] is [whatever] and it applies to [something topical] because [circuitous reasoning]. If only [the position I oppose] would acknowledge this morally unambiguous lesson, they would realize that they're, well, wrong.

Which can make for some pretty ridiculous prose.

The other day I was walking down the street and I saw an old homeless lady with a thick moustache begging for change and it made me think of Aaron Burr. Aaron Burr is, as I'm sure you know, the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Hamilton invented our banking system and might have gone on to do other important things if only Aaron Burr hadn't shot him. The lesson of Burr and Hamilton is that many people are cut down before their prime. Or during their prime. Or sometime shortly after their prime, when they still have things to offer. And it applies to welfare reform because this poor woman was clearly cut down before her prime by the deadly bullet of poverty. If only George W. Bush would acknowledge this morally unambiguous lesson, he would realize that he's, well, wrong.


Also, just as a sidebar: you're taking the time to fisk a left-wing commentator who's written a column attacking a conservative commentator for taking what amounts to a bribe. Given that both commentators are "journalism lite", their offenses are equally unimportant. But not only are you going after the left-wing guy and leaving the right-wing guy alone; you're actually giving the left-wing guy shit for his column attacking the right-wing guy—who you admit you believe was wrong.

So you find left-wing incompetence more offensive than right-wing malfeasance.

But you're not biased. Nope. Not at all.

Posted by: Joshua at January 12, 2005 12:54 PM

I've never read Coleman's columns in the past, but since you've been ripping him up and down, I've started to read some of this pieces. I have to agree with you that his stuff isn't very, umm, shall we say, good? Many of his articles set off little alarms in my brain that something is wrong, but I can't always place it... until I read your "observations" on his pieces. Hehehe, definitely keep this up as I enjoy it thoroughly.

Posted by: Rick at January 12, 2005 01:01 PM

So you find left-wing incompetence more offensive than right-wing malfeasance.

Look, dear boy, I know you enjoy cramming little wordies in my mouth and all, but that's just stupid.

Should I write a post explaining, in intricate detail, why Williams shouldn't have taken bribes for his opinions? Because, you know, I think I can get by by basically saying "That was wrong. Stupidly wrong. He probably should never be taken seriously ever again. His credibility is so minuscule, it's smaller than a quark." That just seems pretty obvious to me, and Williams is facing the music right now, with pretty solid severity. So, really, what would you expect me to do to further admonish him? Walk up to him and pee on his shoe? Would that adequately display my ire for his right-wing malfeasance?

As for Coleman's left-wing incompetence (and remember, Coleman maintains his columns are non-partisan and for the public good), it goes beyond that. What aggravates me about Coleman is his seemingly butt-puckering hatred of free Internet speech. I mean, seriously, he's basically calling for a "non-loyalty" oath of sorts for all bloggers. I don't care if you're on the right or the left, that kind of thing could get anyone riled.

The Star-Tribune has other columnists who I think are pretty leftist, but they're not so blindingly dumb as Coleman, so I pretty much leave them alone.

So, there is a local reason for me going after him. But, there's also a pride thing, because I'd really kind of like to have his job. I'm big enough to admit that.

Posted by: Ryan at January 12, 2005 01:15 PM

I think Joshua just created the best mad-lib ever.

Posted by: David Grenier at January 12, 2005 02:11 PM

Therefore, I claim some of my computer expenses, such as a new keyboard and mouse and printer costs, as tax write-offs. Therefore, I indirectly have taken money, and will continue to take money, from the government agency known as the IRS.

The proof is in the pudding. That right there is incontrovertible proof that Ryan is a leftie. Nobody else would say that having less money taken away is equivalent to taking money.

Now that this is settled, can we all just get along?

Posted by: Jim at January 12, 2005 02:24 PM

wisconsin cheddar is by far NOT the best cheese in the world by any standard. talk about completely droll cheese. even as cheddars go it's pretty low on the list, i would say, as compared to irish cheddars, for example. he lost any sort of credibility with me right there with that statement. i didn't care what he said after that.

Posted by: leblanc at January 12, 2005 03:25 PM

leblanc: yeah, I'd have to say that Oregon cheddar is much much better.

Ryan: I did a over at my blog.

Posted by: Joshua at January 12, 2005 03:28 PM

Joshua, I noticed the trackback to your site, but I can't get there right now. It keeps timing out. I'll try to get there later, but for now the Internet just won't let me. *sniffle*

Posted by: Ryan at January 12, 2005 03:31 PM

Yeah, Josh's website fall down go boom.

The Dward Lord thinks the redundant drive has gone tits-up. He also runs a tape backup, so the data should be safe. But it looks like all Noematic blogs will be down until at least tonight.

Kind of frustrating after the comments died over the weekend, but DL gives me a lot of disk space, bandwidth and tech support free of charge so I'm still feeling pretty good about things.

Posted by: Joshua at January 12, 2005 03:59 PM
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