Sorry for the slow posting, but I've been working on the book. Anyway, apparently Senator Daschle gave/is giving is final goodbye on the Senate floor today, so watch for that. Also, I hope you have had a chance to read through the 26 factors that helped determine the final outcome of the Senate race (I'm looking for more, so keep sending in your thoughts). Number (16) relates to the Dakota blogs, which are featured in a lengthy story in today's National Journal (subscription only) entitled "Bloggers Targeted Daschle and the Press," which discusses how "an unprecedented assault" was "launched" on the Argus Leader. Here are some excerpts:
South Dakota Republicans opened a new and potentially powerful front in the war over public opinion during their successful bid to oust Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in the November 2 election. Not only did they orchestrate a highly effective, Internet-based campaign against Daschle, but they also targeted the state's largest newspaper and primary news source, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
The effort, which could test the limits of federal campaign finance regulation of Internet activities, played a crucial role in shaping the news coverage of the race. Commenting on the bloggers, Argus Leader Assistant Managing Editor Patrick Lalley said, "I don't think there's any way to say they didn't" affect the paper's coverage of the election.
Well, that's an interesting and brave concession from Lalley. The NJ doesn't review the blog criticism of Lalley, but oh well. He deserves credit for making a difficult admission. The first sentence, however, seems like some kind of veiled threat about the FEC shutting down political blogs, which is an absurd idea. But that would be another wonderful coda to this race--Daschle and his team of eve-of-election-lawsuit-filing lawyers riding in not to prevent any GOP poll watchers from watching the polls on election day, but trying, this time, to prevent websites from criticizing the Argus Leader that has been so kind to Daschle over the years. While the whole idea is laughable, it's an interesting glimpse into the totalitarian mind of someone--not sure who, exactly, because the article doesn't say--who thinks it's a good thing to try and shut down political websites. Here's more:
South Dakota Republicans have long chafed at the Argus Leader's political coverage, complaining among themselves that the paper has too liberal a slant for an outlet covering politics in a heavily conservative state. Their anger was magnified by the fact that the newspaper is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in South Dakota's media room; virtually all of the state's other, smaller newspapers and television outlets essentially follow the paper's lead.
Almost every election cycle in South Dakota over the past two and a half decades has spawned its own media-bias complaints, including charges during the 1990 Senate race that led to a spate of stories, including items in the The New York Times and Roll Call, questioning the Argus Leader's objectivity.
Yeah, you'd think the Argus would do something to address this chronic criticism. But Beck fiddles while a Gannett monopoly-market cash cow burns. If all the people who say they have cancelled their subscriptions actually have then that can't make Beck's Gannett overlords happy. Anyway, here comes--at long last--an important concession from Dave Kranz:
But then, this past spring, Van Beek unearthed a series of memos from the 1970s that, according to Van Beek and Gannon, showed that Kranz had consulted on press strategy with aides to former Rep. James Abourezk, D-S.D. In the memos, aides refer to Kranz as a "good Democrat" whom Abourezk's office should work with.
The publication of the memos, as well as growing attention to the Daschle-Thune race by national bloggers and conservative media outlets, prompted an angry response from Argus Leader Executive Editor Randell Beck. On a radio call-in show, Beck defended Kranz, called the memos "crap," and accused the bloggers of being part of an organized right-wing effort looking to damage the newspaper.
Kranz, who declined to talk during the race about the blogger attacks, acknowledged in an interview that he has known Daschle for many years. "I'm not going to sit here and say that some of the connects on me didn't have some truth to them," Kranz said of the blog postings. "But a lot of them didn't."
Kranz also said he was approached during the campaign by some state Republican officials who felt he was being attacked unfairly. He says he rejected an offer from these GOP officials to try to quiet down the bloggers. Although he refuted many of the accusations against him, Kranz said it would be inappropriate for a reporter to try to silence a critic. "That is what our job is all about -- protecting freedom of speech," Kranz said.
Um, well, Mr. Kranz, why, pray tell, DIDN'T YOU SAY SO?? If's there's "some truth" to the blog criticism, why wasn't that disclosed to all your readers?? "GOP officials," eh? Count me as skeptical. Let's just say that the emails roll into this site from GOP "officials" who love every bit of criticism of the Argus on the blog. Kranz and the Argus have burned a lot of people over the years and sometimes I get the feeling that they all read the blog. They want justice, after lo these many years. The article also says that Kranz "refuted many of the accusations against him." Oh really? When was that exactly? Let's hear the defense. And let's hear a response to actual criticisms made and the documents uncovered. Let's put this thing to rest. Why were Democratic operatives and staffer Tom Daschle saying in Abourezk office memos in the 1970s that Kranz is a "good Democrat" and will do some digging and reporting to help The Cause? Why would they say that, exactly? And what about the other memos? By the way, I thank my lucky stars that Kranz did not set out to "silence" me and fought for my "freedom of speech." Whew! While this whole maudlin and dramatic response will just keep on giving in the fresh material department, it does get better. The NJ was forced to rely on an "Argus Leader source," which I'd bet the farm is executive editor Randell Beck:
"What it came down to was a disinformation campaign waged by the Republican Party in concert with Dick Wadhams," charged an Argus Leader source, who asked not to be identified. "The strategy seemed to be to use the Internet to disseminate the message and manipulate public perception under the guise of some sort of public groundswell, and then affirm the message in debates and other public pronouncements."
Argus Leader reporters said the pressure from the blogs increased until a "siege mentality" took over at the paper, according to one source. Complaints flooded the paper's office, and anti-Argus Leader pieces became a regular feature of the letters-to-the-editor section.
How about answering the specific criticism? The blogs have asked for that all along. But what do we get? It was a "disinformation campaign." Well, that's helpful. What was WRONG in the criticism? What was misinformed? And why, when making such a sweeping charge, are you afraid to do so publicly? What's with the demand for anonymity? This, from a newspaper constantly preaching about "openness," "accountability," and the "public's need to know." It sounds like a statement from someone who has said one too many foolish things publicly and not liked the result. And it sounds like someone who refuses to admit it's possible for the Argus Leader to make any mistakes. It sounds like someone who might just make up something about what the Argus had "covered" and then refuse to issue a correction. It sounds like somone, like Randell Beck, who would say that criticism of the Argus was "crap" and driven by a "violent" internet "cabal" of "yahoos" and "jokers," who are full of "hatred" and "vitriol" and lacked "guts" because they hid "behind their computer screens" and wouldn't face him "man to man." But hey, I'm just guessing. By the way, Beck's line about people "hiding behind their computer screens" is all-of-sudden doubly amusing.
The story ends by noting that the Argus felt shamed into finally writing a story about Daschle's homestead exemptions because of the bloggers and notes the "key role" of the bloggers.
Then, when TalonNews ran stories on Sen. Daschle's decision to claim a special tax credit on his home in Washington, the Argus Leader decided it had to write its own story, too. Because the tax credit applies only to a primary residence, it fit perfectly with the "out-of-touch" theme that dominated bloggers' criticism of Daschle. Earlier Argus Leader stories had mentioned the issue [edit: they didn't mention the homestead exemptions certainly, so I'm sure what this sentence refers to--Roll Call and Talon and Bob Novak had reported it earlier, however]. Said an Argus Leader source, "I didn't think where he lived deserved its own headline, but I also don't think we ignored it." Still, the TalonNews piece "forced our hand. I can't deny that," the source said.
Although no one believes that the Argus Leader flap was the deciding factor in the race, the state's bloggers and media sources both said the campaign against the newspaper played a key role in the GOP's message-control effort to persuade voters to elect Thune over Daschle.
The piece also notes that some bloggers, including me, were Thune consultants. Fair enough. But that's not the point really. The point is the complete unwillingness to answer the specific criticism, which the Argus still hasn't done. It's worth noting that the editor's radio appearances soon stopped after the criticism and the Argus "blog" flopped in about a month. The editors were supposed to answer reader comments and criticisms about political coverage but they soon decided that actually trying to come up with a response to legitimate criticism was a difficult task. So they didn't respond at all. The reporters at the Rapid City Journal, on the other, hand are happy to answer criticisms and offer commentary and the RCJ blog. You know, "openness" and "transparency." The Argus hunkered down, however. And that speaks volumes about the legitimacy of the blogger criticism.
And note this from SDP--the NJ text is first, followed by SDP's comments in italics:
As the election entered the homestretch, Thune was clearly making inroads with the help of his campaign's relentless attacks on Daschle's ties to official Washington. The blogs and conservative pundits took Daschle to task over his wife's lobbying activities in the House, and they accused the Argus Leader of ignoring the story -- despite the fact that the newspaper's Washington reporter, Mike Madden, had written a lengthy front-page piece months earlier on Linda Daschle, a lobbyist in Washington with the firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. Still, the Argus Leader published a second story on Linda Daschle -- a story that, sources say, was a result of the bloggers' criticisms. [The chronology here is wrong. The blogs did not accuse the AL of ignoring all of Linda Daschle's lobbying activities after Madden's report in June of 2003. The blogs did consistently criticize the AL for consistently burying a report that Linda Daschle had lobbied on behalf of Schering-Plough, while Kranz falsely implied that John Thune lobbied for pharmaceutical companies in one of his columns. In a telling example of the AL's pro-Daschle bias, the AL published a Los Angeles Times report on relatives of lawmakers being lobbyists as a companion piece with Madden's report on Linda Daschle. The AL's editors actually changed the text of the LAT story to make it less damaging for Daschle. Furthermore, the AL needed no prompting to publish two front page stories about Thune being a lobbyist, and in the waning days of the campaign, Daschle relentlessly attacked Thune for "getting rich" from lobbying, and falsely implying that Thune lobbied for pharmaceutical companies.-ed]