Reading national press coverage of former Gov. Howard Dean's presidential quest gives one the creepy feeling of having just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.
The thumbnail description the national media has given Ho-Ho as an "angry, left-wing liberal" is completely out of whack with his 20-year public record in Vermont. It's like calling Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders a shy, wishy-washy middle-of-the-roader. Doesn't reality count anymore in news reporting?
Why have we seen hundreds of news reports highlighting the sealed portion of Howard Dean's gubernatorial documents, and not one story on the fact that the public can't get their hands on any documents from Gov. George W. Bush's gubernatorial records?
The only explanation, folks, is that we've crossed over into the Twilight Zone. As producer/host Rod Serling used to say, "You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead -- your next stop, the Twilight Zone!"
Take the coverage of Sunday's candidates' debate in Iowa. As soon as it was over, TV pundits like Chris Matthews of "Hard-ball" deemed the most newsworthy occurrence to be the "attack" on Ho-Ho by Al Sharpton on the issue of race. Sharpton demanded to know how many blacks Dean hired to serve in his cabinet.
The fact is that in lily-white Vermont, Gov. Dean had the exact same difficulty that the private sector, including the Vermont media, had in attracting African-Americans to the frosty Green Mountains.
The Burlington Free Press, for example, has always had great difficulty attracting black journalists to its Vermont newsroom. It's long been a bone of contention with Gannett corporate headquarters. Ever notice that you don't see any black faces on Vermont TV news?
There are no black news reporters at Vermont Public Radio, either. No black hockey players at UVM. And there are no African-Americans on the masthead of the paper you are currently reading. Might as well surrender the state to the Ku Klux Klan. Shame on Vermont, right?
Boy, wouldn't Al Sharpton have fun with that?
But taking Al Sharpton as credible on race issues is a little like believing Pete Rose is an anti-gambling crusader. It's tough to keep a straight face, yet the national media did just that when it came to Sharpton's debate attack on Dean. For the last 48 hours the Dean Campaign has been in Twilight Zone damage-control mode over it.
Meanwhile, a former White House insider, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, former CEO of Alcoa Inc., goes public with the claim that President George W. Bush planned on invading Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein almost from the day he moved into the White House.
Compared to Monica Lewinsky's semen-stained blue dress, lying about the reasons for launching a war and killing hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of innocent civilians is of minor import in the professional news judgment of America's corporate media.
"I think in many ways this is the smoking gun," said Congressman Bernie Sanders Monday about the O'Neill revelation. "What many of us said from the beginning is that we had serious doubts as to whether the president was waging this war to fight terrorism. He said that it was a result of 9/11. That he was fighting terrorism by invading Iraq. Many of us said if you want to fight terrorism go after Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda."
But King George II did not. Because of his maniacal fixation on Saddam, Mr. Bush repeatedly lied to the American people about the threat he posed and the existence of weapons he possessed.
President Bill Clinton, you'll recall, lied to us about his pecker. For that he was impeached and American TV viewers got front-row seats for the eight-year run of Peckergate, starring Gennifer, Paula and Monica.
Recently a cable TV news producer visiting Vermont told us that when her crew covered the trial of the first World Trade Center bombers in 1993-94, they could never get any of their work on the airwaves because all CNN wanted was Clinton sex stories.
Terrorism just didn't sell back then. Not sexy enough. So Osama's boys had to come back and finish the job to get CNN's attention, eh?
But why, you ask, is lying about the threat Iraq posed and then launching a totally unnecessary, unilateral invasion not an impeachable offense?
"Given the practical politics," Mr. Sanders told Seven Days, "I think impeachment is a stupid idea. It would lead to the bringing forth of [Vice-President] Dick Cheney."
Meanwhile, on the presidential circus front, Gov. Dean apparently got tired from pulling the arrows out of his lily-white butt this week. Ho-Ho wisely tried to redirect the focus of the news coverage to the real world. Dean went on the offensive by holding the feet of the Commander-in-Deceit to the fire.
Ho-Ho issued a statement saying, "If Paul O'Neill as a member of the National Security Council didn't see evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, if he saw a President disengaged in the policy process, if Colin Powell saw no evidence of a smoking gun' tie between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein -- what exactly did the Democrats who supported the war see? Why didn't they ask the tough questions before the war, not six months later?"
Lacking a sex angle, the national press mostly ignored him. And The New York Times had a reporter parked all day Monday at the studios of Ch. 17, our local government-access cable channel, sifting through the hundreds of Gov. Howard Dean weekly press conference tapes. Surely the Times will find something to take out of context and splash across page one.
On the home front, folks at the Statehouse in Montpeculiar have a daily reminder in their midst of President Bush's big lie. State Rep. Doran Metzger (R-Milton) is a member of the Vermont National Guard and could be called up to active duty at any time.
Lt. Metzger recently completed training as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot. Doran-Doran's unit, the 86th Medical Co. is composed of six helicopter "air ambulances." They carry two pilots, a crew chief and a medic, and there's room, he said, for 11 passengers. Metzger's chopper also wears a Red Cross emblem and is unarmed, as required by the Geneva Convention.
Unfortunately, the red cross on the fuselage has not prevented Iraqi gunners from shooting them down over there in the Bush war zone. On Saturday the Boston Globe highlighted the danger in a story titled, "Attacks highlight growing danger for copter medics."
Mary Fanny Update --
It doesn't look like we've heard the last of Fletcher Allen Health Care's Renaissance Scandal. Though CEO Bill Boettcher and his team have departed and the hospital admitted wrongdoing and paid a fine, an inside source on Hospital Hill expresses apprehension this week about "several more shoes that are going to drop."
That's a reference to the ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the U.S. Attorney. We're told the federal grand jury is continuing to look into the Mary Fanny Scandal and "indictments are anticipated."
War on Fat Kids? --
No, no, says Gov. Jim Douglas. The Gov.'s "Fit and Healthy Kids Initiative" is not in any way, shape or form a "War on Fat Kids."
"I want to make it clear," said Douglas, "There's no War on Fat Kids. There's a War on Fatness."
But it doesn't appear Douglas is going to employ much in the way of weaponry in his fat war. You see, some lawmakers want legislation banning from school property the machines that sell fat food to kids. Sounds perfectly logical.
Not to Gov. Douglas, who in his younger years carried quite a bit more fat on his torso. Surpri-singly, at his recent weekly press conference our now-skinny governor refused to even tell reporters how much he weighs.
"To be perfectly honest," said Douglas, "an occasional soda is not going to result in childhood obesity. It's a matter of degree and education and exercising restraint and discretion. So I think an occasional unhealthy snack is OK. I have one myself once in a while.
Leading by example, eh?
War on Smokers? --
That looks like the next battle to be waged by the distinguished City Council in the People's Republic of Burlington. Smoking in restaurants is already banned, but the Council is moving ahead with a plan to make smoking in bars illegal, too.
It sure sounds like Big Brother, but, hey, that's the way the world is moving. The next logical step is a ban on alcoholic drinks in bars.
Fashion Statement? --
Imagine the picture -- Gov. Jim Douglas partying with a Nazi SS officer on New Year's Eve. Unbelievable, you say?
Well, Seven Days has learned that IDX whiz Rich Tarrant's New Year's Eve Party at the Clarion Hotel had a special twist this year. The theme was the movie classic Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. The film's setting was Nazi-occupied Morocco.
While most of the gentlemen in attendance simply wore tuxedos, a few guys really got into the movie theme and donned Nazi outfits. And the slickest of all, we're told, was the SS uniform donned by Angelo Pizzagalli of Pizzagalli Construction in South Burlington. Eyewitnesses say he even wore a swastika armband!
Mr. Pizzagalli could not be reached for comment this week. Angelo's secretary informed us he was vacationing in France. (Didn't know Vichy France still existed, eh?)
Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs confirmed his boss dropped by the Casablanca party. He said he hadn't heard a peep about the Nazis in attendance.
Tarrant for Senate? --
Richie Rich, like Angelo, is out of town this week and unavailable for comment. Probably taking a little honeymoon time in the sailboat following his New Year's Eve wedding.
So far, Mr. Tarrant's been pretty tight-lipped about his political plans. But he's been careful not to slam the door on a run against Leahy. So far, all the Republican Party has for a candidate to take on Patrick Leahy is Ol' Jack McMullen, the multimillionaire who Fred Tuttle knocked off in the 1998 GOP primary. Some GOP leaders are not real fond of McMuffin, er, McMullen. They have reason to hope.
Seven Days had learned the IDX gazillionaire was in the field with a political poll last week. And as luck would have it, one of the Vermonters called by Tarrant's polling outfit is a staff member of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy!
Hey, Vermont truly is a small state.
Longtime Leahy staffer John Goodrow was home recuperating from a November car accident when he got the phone call last week. The most interesting thing, said Goodrow, was that the pollster kept mispronouncing Rich Tarrant's name, putting the emphasis on the last syllable. Sounds to us like the pollster thought Richie Rich is a member of the "tarantula" family.
The 20-minute poll required those called to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 their approval of Tarrant, McMullen, Bernie Sanders, Peter Clavelle and Pat Leahy. Reading from a prepared script, the pollster also tried to splash a little mud on St. Patrick by asking questions such as, "Would you be more or less likely to vote for Leahy if you knew he was one of only 10 senators to vote against the president's No Child Left Behind' bill?"
Or " if you knew Leahy voted against the Iraq War Resolution and the elimination of the death tax?"
Or " if you knew Leahy supported civil unions?"
Playing the homophobia card, are we, Mr. Tarrant?
The Tarantula Poll also tried to pump up Richie Rich's resume, asking if those called would "be more or less likely" to support Tarrant if they "knew he was a successful businessman, a founder of IDX, a St. Michael's grad, and a supporter of local charities and the University of Vermont."
The poll also hinted at a Tarrant health-care scheme in the works. Those called were asked to help pick a name for it by choosing from a list that included: "Medical Single-payer System," "Universal Foundation Payer System," "Umbrella Payer System" and "Federal Insurance Reserve System Trust," among others.
Very cute. Can't wait to see the Big Tarantula's plan, eh?
Political pros will tell you that a push poll like this is designed to knock down the incumbent and build up the challenger. Given all the "bad" things St. Patrick has done, Tarrant's poll will likely show Leahy less popular than his 70-plus-percent approval rating. Expect Candidate Tarrant to spin the numbers to show Leahy is vulnerable.
Let the games begin!
Is Shummy Running? --
All through December the talk was, former State Sen. Peter Shumlin was not going to take on Peter Clavelle in a bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Then he shows up Sunday at the Vermont State Labor Council meeting in Barre and, we're told, gives a stemwinder of a speech that's got everyone thinking the opposite.
According to those who heard him, Shumlin took many a shot at Gov. Jim Douglas and told the audience that if he runs he will not trash Clavelle, but rather invite Mayor Moonie to a series of issue forums around the state.
Shumlin confirmed Tuesday, "The only way for Peter or Peter to win is if we join hands together to defeat Jim Douglas. If we do what some Democrats are doing to Howard Dean," he said, "Jim Douglas will be our next governor."
Shummy also told us he's planning on announcing his candidacy, or non-candidacy, at a Statehouse event in the first week of February. What will it be?
"You'll have to come to find out," he replied.