Bubblehead The (Politicial) Journalist
Fresh on the heels of my widely-praised first foray into citizen-journalism (when I covered the opening of the Locust Grove overpass over I-84 last year), I decided to expand my horizons and join the monolithic and impersonal MSM in covering a local political event. Here's a timeline of what happened next:
- 2300, 15 October: I noticed a post over at submariner Dale's blog that said that the Veterans for Sali (who I blogged about last week) would be having a press conference in Garden City at 1000 the next day. I checked out the link to the videos the Sali campaign had posted about the group, and found a questionable statement about 40 seconds into one of them:
For those who didn't watch it, 14-year Army veteran Mark says that he "served eight years of the time under Bill Clinton without one pay raise...". Since I distinctly remember getting annual raises during the Clinton years, along with fogeys (longevity pay increases) every two years, my keen journalistic insights convinced me that this statement was demonstrably untrue. I also knew that the Sali camp loves joking around with people from the opposing campaign, so I knew they wouldn't mind a little good-natured ribbing by me of some of their supporters. So as to be well-rested for my new role as a Political Journalist, I went to bed about midnight.
- 0900, 16 October: "Hey, are you going to sleep the whole day?" I hear from my wife. Oops! (In my defense, I'm just coming off of night shift where I sleep only 3-4 hours a day during the work week, and I needed an equalizer.) A quick shower and a review of directions to the press conference, and I'm out the door. Forgot to bring any paper to write stuff down on, but I have a keyboard on my phone, so I'm covered.
- 1000, 16 October: I arrived at the site of the press conference -- Pastry Perfection on Glenwood Street. Undistracted by the really good smell, I looked around for my fellow journalists; Unfortunately, I was the first one there, so I had no idea what to do. Some of the members of the Veterans for Sali group came up to check me out; I was in my "Retired Navy" hat, so they thought I might be one of them. No, I told them, I'm a Citizen-Journalist in the Noble Traditions of the Pamphleteers of the American Revolution. (It sounds a lot better than "blogger".) They seemed confused, but welcomed me anyway. I stood around until the rest of the press arrived: Ysabel Bilbao from Channel 7, and Lincoln Graves from Channel 6 were to be my peers today! (Actually, they were both way more professional and personable than me, in addition to being a lot more attractive. Neither looks like they've ever had a pimple in their life; I, on the other hand, look like some sort of toad. Not that I was intimidated -- I can Speak Truth to Power since I wasn't a pawn of the Corporate Media like they were!)
The camera got set up, and the co-chair of Veterans for Sali, retired Major General Ben Doty, made some remarks, followed by Ada County Republican Chair Marcel Bujarkski. Everyone sat down and the TV reporter went to talk to some of the members, but the Press wasn't done yet! I raised my hand, and began my hard-hitting journalism. I told General Doty about the video mentioned above (he is in it, and was there during the filming), and asked him if it's true that the military got no raises during the Clinton Administration. He admitted that this isn't the case; another Veteran says that it was only the Republican Congress that made Clinton give out raises. I mentioned that we always got a raise of at least 2.2% during the 90s, even before the Republicans took over Congress in 1994. I then asked about all the Veterans listed on the website who were said to be "Retired", when clearly many of them weren't. General Doty once again admitted that there were several who weren't technically "retired".
As a Citizen Journalist, I know that "attack journalism" is an important part of the game, so I asked General Doty if he personally was going to vote for Bill Sali. (By the Investigative Journalistic technique of typing his name plus "boise, idaho" into Google, I figured out that he lived a couple of blocks outside of the 1st Congressional District; the district line essentially divides the Boise/Meridian metroplex in half.) Here's a transcript of what I remember happened next:
BH: "General Doty, will you personally vote for Bill Sali?"
GD: "I've already voted."
BH: "But did you vote for Bill Sali?"
GD: (voice rising, understandably, since I'm being a jerk) "I don't have to say who I voted for!"
BH: "Fair enough, since I know you live in the 2nd District. Show of hands, please -- how many people here actually live in the 1st District?"
(Several hands went up; one person says, "I used to live in the First District.")
As this is going on, one of the reporters was trying to get a mic back onto someone so they could pick up the exchange, but it ended before they were successful. After that, I sat down and talked to some of the Veterans while the camera crews got some crowd shots. Some said that what we got in the Clinton years weren't really "pay raises" since they were already required by law. Others said that anyone who had finished up their enlistment should be considered "retired".
The Sali campaign had a representative there, Noah Wall. He handled the unexpected intrusion of a Citizen Journalist well, and even gave me a copy of the press release. Afterwards, he made an official statement to the effect of: "The statements made by Veterans in the video in question were unscripted, and are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the Sali campaign. Also, any errors on the website (with respect to the "Retired" status of the members of Veterans for Sali) will be corrected as soon as possible."
Since I know that journalists traditionally print portions of press releases to get them up to their required word count, here's part of what the Veterans for Sali press release says:
A far-left group called “Patriot Majority West,” has launched misleading and dishonest attack-ad against Idaho Congressman Bill Sali. Patriot Majority West is attempting to deceive Idaho’s veterans and their families by blaming Sali for voting against flawed legislation.The rest of the press release can be found here. Interestingly, the Minnick campaign put out a press release today where they point out that Salisbury was correct in questioning Sali's failure to vote for funding into research for traumatic brain injuries for servicepeople and veterans, so I guess Sali didn't always "make the right votes".
“Bill Sali would never vote against our veterans – he voted against flawed legislation which would have in fact caused great harm to our troops,” said Major General Ben Doty (ret.).
Doty added, “this group calls itself the Patriot Majority but is criticizing Sali, a man who has always sided with us. They are trying to discredit an effective ally of those who have served our country.”
Matt Salisbury, Sali’s opponent in the primary is a member of Veterans for Sali. When asked about the attack-ad he responded in saying, “Bill Sali has been a firm supporter of our veterans. In Congress he has made the right votes and always made sure America’s heroes have received the help they need.”
- 1045, 16 October: The intrepid Citizen Journalist leaves the press conference and drives south, following the Congressional District dividing line. He needs to pick up bananas and milk at Costco.
Update 2043 16 October: I just realized that I have a typo on "Political" in the title of this post; I guess that's why I'm only an amateur journalist. Some people have already linked to this post, however, so I can't change it without breaking their links. Feel free to give me crap in the comments.