Last week's out-of-the-blue firing of Christopher Graff, Vermont's longtime Associated Press bureau chief, certainly sent out some mighty big shock waves. The New York Times got in on the act. On the Web, Matt Drudge did, too.
Thursday morning at 7:15 sharp, yours truly got a call from a regular reader. He informed us the Drudge Report had just posted a link to our column titled "Why the AP Fired Christopher Graff."
Drudge gets more than 10 million hits per day. It took just 10 minutes for the Seven Days website to crash! We were down for four hours, until Drudge finally removed the link. Yours truly's been told the "problem" has been fixed.
There's also been a "cordial" exchange of rather pointed letters between the Vermont Big Four -- Gov. Jim Douglas and the congressional delegation of Sens. Patrick Leahy, Jim Jeffords and Rep. Bernie Sanders -- and Tom Curley, the head of AP.
Their March 24 letter to Curley noted they were all "stunned, outraged and saddened by the summary dismissal" of Chris Graff. They also noted, "There have been many reports suggesting the reasons for Mr. Graff's abrupt termination. Although we choose not to fuel speculation, we believe that if any of these reports were founded, it would represent a serious breach of trust by AP with its loyal Vermont readership."
That didn't sit well with Curley. In the AP boss' response, which made the AP wire before any of the Big Four received a copy, Curley sarcastically thanked them for their letter, and their "sincere concern about Chris Graff, your deep understanding of the role of The Associated Press, and your steadfast support for the free flow of information."
Curley then proceeded to lecture the Vermont Big Four on the law and the many great journalistic achievements of the AP, writing, "You further suggested that AP might be bowing to political pressure. That's just nuts. The issue is purely one of internal policy." In a nutshell, the AP boss told the Vermont delegation to butt out.
On Monday, Newshounds -- http://www.newshounds.us -- a website that "watches Fox so you don't have to," posted a very interesting piece: "Vermont AP Reporter Who Opposed O'Reilly Has Been Fired."
Reporter Marie Therese recounted Fox "News" Bully Boy Bill O'Reilly's on-air attacks on Mr. Graff during his three-week January crusade to crucify District Court Judge Ed Cashman and all who defended him.
She also posted a 2004 AP press release confirming a business relationship between Fox "News" and Curley's AP. Maybe being on Bully Boy's hit list counted for more than anyone imagined?
Also this week, Emerson Lynn, publisher/editor of the St. Albans Messenger, mailed and published a stinging letter to the AP's Curley. Here's a taste:
I respectfully request you to forward me information as to the process required to cancel The St. Albans Messenger's membership with the Associated Press.
Mr. Graff is an institution in Vermont. For almost 30 years he has been one of the guiding forces of high-quality journalism in our state. His integrity is above reproach . . . He is the primary reason you have a business in Vermont -- a business we pay for as a cooperative.
We are asking that you restore our trust in the Associated Press. We are asking for a full and satisfactory explanation as to what prompted Mr. Graff's dismissal. Failing that, please forward us the information regarding our need to cancel our AP memberships.
Yours truly has also heard of more interest from media watchdog groups, so stay tuned. Also stay tuned to "Vermont This Week" on Vermont Public Television, where Chris continues to occupy the anchor/editor seat. He was there last Friday night as usual and told viewers that he and his family "have been overwhelmed and deeply touched by all the people who have responded with support and who have had such nice things to say about my work over the years."
As for AP, the wire service posted its new Montpelier job opening Tuesday, noting "Chris Graff has left the company."
In addition to the usual job qualifications such as "demonstrated excellence as a reporter," AP also wants someone who:
Should be comfortable with the Internet environment and eager to help the AP evolve in meeting new media concerns. Supervisory experience strongly preferred. Should have three years of full-time experience at an AP bureau, daily newspaper or broadcast station.
Yep, AP standards are so high, they'd trade 27 years experience for three in the blink of an eye.
Everyone expects that, once this simmers down, AP will tap veteran Statehouse/political reporter Ross Sneyd as Graff's replacement. Mr. Sneyd is highly respected and his work reflects the same high standard Graff set. Which is why the "new" AP will probably fool the "experts," show Vermont who's boss, and bring in someone new from out of state.
Breaking News -- "Inside Track" has learned that the wheels are once again spinning behind the scenes to fill the long-vacant post of Vermont's U.S. Attorney. The U.S. Attorney is the top federal law enforcement officer in Vermont. It's a mighty powerful position and, given the secrecy-prone regime in power in Washington, politics inevitably plays a role.
The post has been open since former U.S. Attorney Peter Hall left in 2004 to become a judge. Veteran Assistant U.S. Attorney David Kirby has been filling in as "acting" boss.
Republican Gov. Douglas and Democratic Sen. Leahy teamed up to nominate Burlington Attorney Richie Berger for the post. But the Bush White House reportedly had some unspecified problem with Mr. Berger, and last September he withdrew his nomination.
"Inside Track" has learned from sources who asked not to be identified that Thomas Anderson, an assistant U.S. attorney on the Burlington staff, has emerged as the next candidate for the post. AUSA Anderson heads up the local Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
Anderson did not respond to the voicemail Tuesday morning requesting an interview. The offices of both Gov. Douglas and Sen. Leahy issued quick "we have no comment" responses to our inquiry as well.
Mr. Anderson, we've also learned, is a fan of the controversial Patriot Act, a law that makes most real patriots we know cringe. Anderson wrote an August 3, 2004, op-ed in the Freeps. He noted it had been written, "in my own personal capacity and not as an assistant United States attorney."
In it, Anderson went after Patriot Act critics, in particular Independent U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders. In fact, John Ashcroft, AG at the time, couldn't have written it better. A sample:
Recently there has been extensive press coverage of Rep. Bernard San- ders' opposition to the USA Patriot Act. Much of this coverage has been inaccurate, unbalanced and unnecessarily frightening to the public. It is time to set the record straight . . .
One provision that opponents particularly criticize is the business records provision (Section 215), which opponents, including Sanders, claim gives law enforcement carte-blanche to examine our reading habits at libraries or bookstores. This claim is misleading and intended to frighten law-abiding citizens . . .
Are these critics of the Patriot Act advocating shielding from law enforcement scrutiny the library records of terrorists who obtain books or other materials on bomb building or anthrax cultivation?
What do you think?
Based on his writing, Mr. Anderson sure sounds like a guy in sync with the Bush Justice Department.
Good luck, Tom.
What Governor's Race? -- All the early money is on Republican Gov. Jim Douglas winning his third consecutive gubernatorial race in November. Most consider his Democratic challenger, Scudder Parker, a long shot. So far, the Vermont press has been paying more attention to the races for U.S. Senate and U.S. House.
So a few Vermont political junkies did a double take Sunday morning when they read the editorial page of the Rutland Herald. "Candidate Offers New Paradigm."
What the hell's a "paradigm"? Sounds like something that goes into a car's engine.
"Scudder Parker, the Democratic candidate for governor," wrote the Herald, "has quietly been laying the groundwork for his campaign, articulating in his quiet way a serious critique of the way the Douglas administration has approached the crucial issues of the day."
The editorial page that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 noted Parker is not well known, while Gov. Scissorhands is "a popular Republican incumbent who has won the confidence of many Vermonters as a careful steward of the state's finances."
But then the paper pointed out that Ol' Scuddah "brings to the challenge a vision of government that moves beyond the usual dichotomy between liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat. Whether he wins or loses, he is in a position to articulate a new way of thinking about complex issues that could be an enormous contribution."
A "new way of thinking," eh?
"Parker's work (at the Public Service Department in the 1990s) led to the creation of an entity separate from the utilities that was financed with money from the utilities. Efficiency Vermont has a mandate to help business and residents invest in energy-efficient technologies and ways of operating that reduce the consumption of electricity. It has been a huge success."
The Herald editorial wondered: Couldn't the "paradigm" or "quasi-government" model Parker created with Efficiency Vermont to advance the public interest in energy conservation be applied elsewhere, such as in tackling out-of-control health-care costs?
Ol' Scuddah, wrote the Herald, "criticizes Douglas as trapped by old modes of thinking, and he faults Douglas for lack of leadership in health care, energy and other areas. The new kind of thinking advocated by Parker may be part of a new wave taking shape nationwide."
We bumped into the "new kind of thinking" candidate in downtown Burlington on Monday. Needless to say, he was delighted by Sunday's editorial.
Parker said he'd had "a very straightforward and substantive discussion" with the paper's editorial board. "This is what came out of it, and I was very pleased and proud of what it says."
Shifting gears, we asked Candidate Parker if he had anything to say about Gov. Douglas' recent Pentagon-sponsored trip to visit Vermont troops in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq.
"What I'd like to see," said Ol' Scuddah, "is Jim Douglas make a clear and unequivocal statement about the war. What does he think? What is his position on it?"
Parker told us he was "stunned" to hear "how supportive the governor sounded of the war effort and how optimistic he was about it -- based on what evidence?
At his presser last week, Gov. Jimbo was questioned on that very subject. The strong opposition to the Bush war policy by a solid majority of Vermonters, as well as the state's entire congressional delegation, was noted by a questioner. So was the growing grassroots movement to get the Vermont legislature to pass, and forward to the U.S. House, the so-called Rutland Resolution -- now adopted by 10 Democratic county committees -- calling for the impeachment of our out-of-control president.
"I'm focused on what is happening in our state on the agenda of affordability that I've talked about," replied Douglas. "I'm not involved in federal issues, and you can talk to those who are. But I think it's important to focus on what's important here on the home front and try to make Vermont a better place to live."
Smooth, isn't he?
But we just couldn't let the Guv dodge the war question that easily. We pointed out he had just personally visited the front lines. Surely he had something to say about the policy behind it all?
"My motivation in visiting the combat zone last week," Douglas responded, "was to visit with and support the Vermonters, the men and women who are serving in uniform there and doing an outstanding job. As commander-in-chief of our National Guard, I feel a responsibility to keep in touch with them, show how much we support hem, how much we appreciate their service, and that was the purpose of my trip."
He's good, isn't he? If Jim Douglas has mastered one skill above all others in more than 30 years on the political stage, it's how to effectively duck, dodge and avoid the questions one chooses to.
Asked if his longtime support for Bush's Iraq war has wavered, he deftly replied with a personal jab.
"I've said on a number of occasions that we can look backward, as you often want to do, or we can look forward," said Douglas. "I'm certainly for the latter, and look forward to the day when we can welcome all of our sons and daughters home. I hope that that will be sooner rather than later."
Asked if that response was a "yes" or "no" to the question about his support for war changing, Gov. Douglas dropped the hammer.
"I think that I've answered it the way I choose to," said Douglas.
Yes, he certainly had. Credit where credit's due. No Vermont politician alive today is more of a master of the "non-answer answer."
P.S. The latest Survey USA gubernatorial tracking poll for Vermont may show Jimbo's favorability dropping and his unfavorability rising. However, the numbers don't indicate anything to sweat about . . . yet.
Survey USA's March tracking poll shows Douglas' approval rating dropping to 60 percent. By comparison, President Bush's approval rating is hovering in the mid-30s. A 60 percent approval rating is something most politicians would die for.
However, Gov. Douglas' number in January was at 69 percent. And his unfavorable rating, which was at 25 percent in January, has slowly but steadily climbed to 33 percent this month.
It'll take a damn good political paradigm to close that gap.