December 27, 2005

The Nick Coleman Experience

I'm rather convinced now that Nick Coleman exists purely to further discredit any shred of legitimacy professional journalism may still cling to. I think the Strib keeps him on solely for the amusement of watching people like me tear him a new one. So, let's begin:

Wonder what's behind the sudden debate over "illegal" immigrants? Listen to a retired accountant from Lake Crystal, Minn., named Pat Peoples. It turns out the demagoguery is not so sudden. It has been in the works for months.

Do I wonder what's behind the sudden debate over illegal immigrants? Well, no, not really. BUT I HAVE A HUNCH! Note to Nick, putting quotation marks around the word "illegal" does not make the word moot, just as if I were to walk out of Best Buy with a video game tucked under my armpit doesn't mean I'll get away with it if I tell the security guy I wasn't "shoplifting" while miming quotation marks with my index and middle fingers. The debate is over illegal immigrants but, as we'll see, Nick deftly (for him) tries to shift the debate to immigration in general.

Last February, after answering a random phone survey, Peoples was invited to take part in a focus group discussion of political issues in Mankato. The group was made up of a cross-section of voters from southern Minnesota. taxes, gambling and sports stadiums -- all being debated at the time in St. Paul -- were discussed.

Point of order here: I have a tough time remembering what I did three weeks ago, let alone last February which, according to my calculations, was almost a year ago. Apparently, according to the Nick Colemans of the world, old news is SO EXCITING! So, we have Pat Peoples, retired accountant, recollecting his experience from a year ago. A good, solid, reliable source. The kind of source you wrap an entire column around.

But there was more on the agenda at this mystery meeting, which was sponsored by a group that gave each participant a lunch and $20, but which would not identify itself.

According to Pat Peoples.

The woman moderator, who said she was from Maryland, wanted very much to talk about immigrants.

Here's what I don't understand: if Pat Peoples remembers so much about the focus group he attended a year ago, how come he can't remember the woman's name? Surely she told them. At least a first name? I'm not saying the focus group didn't happen, I'm just curious about the selective memory of Pat Peoples, and Nick's unwavering support of it. Not that Nick's ever been guilty of unwavering belief in something that was severely questionable or anything.

The participants already had discussed any issues they were concerned about, except the war in Iraq. There would be no talk about Iraq, the woman said.

Gee, a focus group with a focus of discussion of political issues in Mankato didn't want to delve into the topic of Iraq. I'm shocked, I tell you, SHOCKED! They had the audacity to want to stay on topics of local politics. Those BASTARDS!

But up to that point, no one had mentioned immigration, much to the annoyance of the moderator. So she prodded the group to complain about immigrants.

Much to the annoyance of the moderator? According to who? Does Peoples have a finely-tuned annoyance detector? Was she fluttering her eyelids in disgust? Waving her arms impatiently? What were her annoyance indicators?

"I haven't heard anybody talk about immigration," Peoples, an independent, recalls her saying. "Anybody have a problem with the illegal aliens coming in?"

Ah, he's an independent! Because he says so! And that, apparently, gives weight to his credibility. By the way, class, is illegal immigration an issue unique to 2005? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? No, it is not. Illegal immigration has been an issue for years now and, if you'll remember, it came under more of a microscope after certain events transpired in September of 2001. That it's actually being discussed and questioned in focus groups means Americans are finally growing a pair rather than letting it continue unchecked.

The group's response to the question was "a deafening silence," Peoples says.

It's so quiet! I'm going deaf! I'm an Independent! Take my word for it!

But the woman pushed harder, listing some of the complaints she said she had heard in other states where she had conducted focus groups. Still, no one obliged her.

So she started shaking them vigorously, and beating them with her high-heeled shoes, until their bloodied faces began dripping and pooling on the tables. Still, the stoic focus group remained steadfast in their resolve, until a valiant Peoples. . .

Instead, Peoples mentioned the immigrant workers in a nearby town, praising them for how hard they seem to work.

And that nearby town would be? But never mind that. Let's look at the important segue that just took place. According to Peoples, the woman asked: Anybody have a problem with the illegal aliens coming in?

To which Peoples responded about immigrant workers in a nearby town, praising them for how hard they seem to work.

So, the debate now, with People's and Coleman's sleight of hand, is about immigrants in general, rather than illegal immigrants. Talk about fabricating outrage and demagoguery! Way to practice the very thing that has you mad, Nick.

Not the correct answer. Someone was paying money for this. They wanted problems.

Oh, please. This from the man who complains about problems ranging from chewing gum under tables to socks missing out of the dryer. Nick can create outrage to problems like MacGyver can make a bomb out of a pencil and thread.

"She shut me off," Peoples recalls. "Then she said, 'Aren't you having problems here?' "

A fair repeat question, particularly if the woman encountered people with concerns in other demographics. Additionally, it being Mankato, I don't imagine the focus group attendees were very forthcoming about much of anything, so a prodding moderator hardly surprises me. She was probably exasperated by all the Minnesota Nice on display.

The state Republican and DFL parties each deny having sponsored the mystery focus group, as does the Republican congressman for the area, Gil Gutknecht, and his DFL challenger, Tim Walz.

All of whom are deeply suspect, whereas the word of Pat Peoples is freakin' Gospel.

Also in denial mode was the office of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who recently poured gasoline on the immigrant issue with the release of a crudely overstated report designed to inflame opinion and make immigration into a wedge issue.

Uh huh. Right. He poured and poured and poured that gas. And then Coleman jumped into the fire with his own accusation that John Ashcroft's maternal grandfather was an illegal alien which, again, was pretty much debunked by a blogger. When it comes to attempting to inflame opinion, Nick Coleman's the Inflamer-In-Chief, and he apparently doesn't even realize it, which is kinda sad.

That last bit was opinion.

No shit.

But this is fact: Anti-immigration forces are working hard to raise resentment and to exploit immigration for political gain, cozying up to politicians who will help them fence the borders.

Notice how the "illegal" has been dropped here? It's MAGIC! Abracadabra! It's no longer ILLEGAL immigration that's the issue! No, it's an anti-immigration debate in general. All thanks to the tireless journalistic ineptitude of Nick Coleman. Way to go, Nick. Maybe next week you could explain to all of us how there's a vigorous ongoing debate against French silk pie.

It shouldn't happen here.

What? You writing for the largest newspaper in Minnesota? No, it shouldn't.

"There was no reason for this to be brought up," Peoples says. "I think someone was trying to find an issue that will antagonize people and get them riled up so they come out and vote, without offering a solution."

So says Peoples, so shall it be. And the Word of Peoples should be accepted without question, for He is an Independent, and Coleman shall conjure a column from the Word of the Peoples, and it shall be printed without question.

Peoples has perfectly described how demagoguery works: Exaggerate a problem; exploit the manufactured resentment at the polls; offer no solutions to address a problem without creating an even larger one.

See also: almost every Nick Coleman column ever penned. That the irony is almost certainly lost to Nick is priceless.

Who sponsored the Mankato focus group is still a mystery. But there is no mystery why politicians try to capitalize on a destructive strategy. And it will be a tragedy if they succeed.

Almost as big a tragedy as if people were to allow columnists like Coleman to shift the debate from illegal immigration to immigration in general.

Posted by Ryan at December 27, 2005 11:49 PM | TrackBack
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