Out of town (and at times, out of commission) at Netroots Nation last week, a lot of posts slipped by unwritten, and my efforts to catch up on local events haven’t been helped much by the cowardly DDoS attack we’ve been forced to fend off in recent days. (I suppose this is what my critics on the right consider the “free marketplace of ideas”…? I’m free to blog on my ideas, and they’re free to hire Russian mobsters to knock my blog off line?)
But before I recap the week in Austin and get back to the pressing task of fisking current events, I just can’t help myself from belatedly commenting on Postman’s belated take on the Doug Sutherland sexual harassment story I broke last week:
As you likely know by now, the Times ran a story Wednesday about Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland and his admittedly inappropriate behavior toward a new female employee. If you read it, you’ll see that the paper had documents relating to the case for months, and interviewed Sutherland in April.
But the story wasn’t published until after horsesass.org posted details of the incident. So why did The Times publish now, but not when it had the story first? The shortest answer is that the horsesass post prompted the paper to reconsider its decision. And I’m glad that happened.
This is not a case of sliding standards, but rather the result of a wider discussion than what preceded the initial decision in the Times newsroom. And it is an instance where a blog can influence coverage in the old media.
Thanks Dave, I appreciate the compliment, and I hope it doesn’t offend you to know that this was exactly the kind of responsible response I expected from you. Though speaking of wider discussions, it wasn’t just the Times that sat on this story before I forced their hand; the P-I and at least two other WA dailies had the same documents weeks before they came my way, so I hope this incident sparked a healthy conversation in newsrooms statewide. If Sutherland’s actions were newsworthy enough to report after I broke the story, surely they were newsworthy enough to report before I broke it. How and why I got the scoop seems a worthy topic for J-school class.
But that said, I do have to take issue with the thesis that dominates the latter half of Postman’s comments:
There’s no doubt the Sutherland story deserved a place in the newspaper. But the Democrats have established a double standard for this behavior that rises above run of the mill campaign hypocrisy.
To back up his thesis Postman cites the case of former Gov. Mike Lowry, who declined to seek a second term of office in 1996 after a widely publicized sexual harassment scandal. Lowry attempted a political comeback four years later, challenging Sutherland for the then open Office of the Commissioner of Public Lands, and Postman is right that Lowry drew support from the Democratic Party and some of the same environmentalists who continue to oppose Sutherland today. But if this is hypocrisy, I’d argue that contrary to Postman’s assertion, it is indeed the “run of the mill” variety inherent in most political campaigns, and that Sutherland’s supporters are at least as guilty as those of Democrat Peter Goldmark.
The fact is, Lowry’s sexual harassment scandal was a huge issue in the 2000 campaign, aggressively pushed by the Sutherland camp, and widely reported in the media, costing Lowry the votes of many otherwise Democratic leaning, pro-environment women, and likely handing a close election to Sutherland. I can’t blame Republicans for pushing the well documented Lowry sexual harassment story. That’s what I would have done. That’s politics.
And while it is true that the Party and environmentalists backed Lowry in 2000 against a timber industry lackey like Sutherland, it is also true that it was Party leaders and other Democratic constituent groups that pressured then Gov. Lowry to forgo a second term in the immediate wake of the scandal. So in criticizing “Democrats” as being hypocritical when it comes to issues of sexual harassment, which Democrats is Postman referring to? Those running the Party in 1996? 2000? 2008? Because the folks issuing press releases now are entirely different than those at the helm twelve or even eight years ago.
But my main problem with Postman’s hypocrisy thesis is that hypocrisy really has nothing to do with the larger issue at hand. Postman writes that “There’s no doubt the Sutherland story deserved a place in the newspaper…” and Goldmark’s backers did what they had to do to get it there, hypocritical or not. Voters have the same right to know about Sutherland’s indiscretions as they did about Lowry’s, and to deny them that right due to some pecksniffian sense of political propriety, would not only have been a disservice, but just plain dumb politics.
Still, Postman hits the nail on the head near the end of his post:
It doesn’t serve Sutherland well that his defense echoes that of Lowry. Democrats are right that any veteran politician should know what’s appropriate. Lowry should have known that, too. There’s no excuse for a politician to think its OK to rub body parts of a subordinates, make lewd or suggestive comments and then claim they were just trying to be friendly and deliver “atta-boy” pats.
And that, after all, is what the Sutherland story is really about.