Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Double Addendum

Last Friday, I wrote about Howard Dean and his erstwhile race for the White House. And while I hope I sufficiently emphasized that several factors did him in, including his own fatal mistakes and perhaps those of his advisors, you couldn't have missed that I was also leveling much of the blame on the major media. They no doubt rightfully understood that much of Dean's thundering, righteous critique about anti-democratic insider elites applied just as much to them as to anyone on Capitol Hill, in the White House or along Washington's K Street lobbyist corridor. And so they stuck it to him every chance they got. But don't take my word for it. The Nation Magazine's increasingly timely website has just posted a splendid piece by the incomparable William Greider, in which he begins with a provocative observation: "In forty years of observing presidential contests, I cannot remember another major candidate brutalized so intensely by the media, with the possible exception of George Wallace." Please read it all when you get a moment. I've raved about Greider before. He's been a hero of mine at least since his eye-opening book on the secretive Federal Reserve, Secrets of the Temple, which did for the Fed what The Brethren did for another famously closed culture, the Supreme Court. Only the latter book took two authors to crack the code, Scott Armstrong and Bob Woodward. The Nation, like most of the other serious, high-minded political magazines of its type, has long hovered around 100,000 circulation. But with its enemies in control of the government, the century-plus-old journal has seen those number steadily rise, with a 25-percent jump (to a total circ of about 160K) late last year alone. And Greider is easily the best the mag has to offer...

Roldo Remembers. Institutional memory is easily overlooked but indispensible to journalism. And we have far too little of it in this town. I remember the PD's Brent Larkin once recounting at a holiday party how, when an editor began planning a 20-year anniversary piece on Cleveland's default, he looked around the newsroom at 1801 Superior and silently made a note of who had been around at the time in order to write about it today. Larkin was it, and so he got the nod. Larkin's longtime foil, independent muckraker Roldo Bartimole, has a similarly broad horizon when it comes to all things Cleveland, even though he happened to grow up in Connecticut. And he uses it to brilliant effect, reflexively putting each new development into a larger context. Last year, in the same week that the Jayson Blair-NYT plagiarism story broke, I happened to bump into Roldo at Ruthie & Mo's. When the subject of a reporter making up stories came up, he immediately thought of a similar incident that took place about 30 years ago at the PD, involving a young hotshot reporter who liked to invent his own facts. After getting bounced from the paper in a celebrated case, that writer later went on to a long career as Hollywood's most infamous screenwriter, where he could make more appropriate use of his gift for fiction. And now Joe Esterhasz has a new book out, Hollywood Animal. I don't think his fellow Cleveland ethnic, Senator George Voinovich, will enjoy curling up with this book, since it recounts how his beloved daughter was once one of the many young women who offered her sexual services to the Hollywood Animal...

Anyway, let me get back to my point here. Like any good writer, journalist or historian (and he qualifies as all three), Roldo supplements his long and useful memory with a trove of documents and recordings, just in case he'll need them later. After I wrote recently about Tim Hagan, who's running for his old seat on the Cuyahoga County Commission, Bartimole sent me a brief transcript outake of one especially interesting recording that he made at a Gateway meeting about a decade ago. I think it speaks volumes about Hagan's electability, specifically his arrogant lack of interest (at least in this case) in citizen input on an important issue. Would he conduct himself similarly in the future when we revisit the Convention Center plans? The following is a slightly edited version (pay special attention to the meaningless distinction of whether this fellow represents an organization, or merely represents himself as a citizen entitled to a straight answer on a question involving a major public expenditure):

The meeting was a public session, and Roy Kaufman, a long-time lawyer-activist, was having an exchange with Commissioner Hagan on the issue of government bonds for Gund Arena. Kaufman said that he was disturbed that Hagan had already made up his mind "before all the facts were in."
Kaufman to Mary Boyle, chairing the meeting: "You just said Miss Boyle that you have to digest, you have to go through the lease, you have to get your attorneys to go over it. But here we have Mr. Hagan already saying, this is a done deal as far as he's concerned."
Hagan to Kaufman: "Thank you for your views. I went through 100 hours and I have some knowledge of it (Cavs lease). I think generally it is the (best) for this community. My colleagues and I will review this in light of the fact we have hired counsel (Squire-Sanders) to give us the best judgment legally, and you as a lawyer understand that, and the financial review independent of Gateway. When we do that we'll make our judgment. I've said from the very beginning that I think it's good for the community. Period. and I don't equivocate on that issue.
"And I don't see why you or anyone else thinks that because you speak as an individual in the public (it's) the public that you think you represent. But you're only representing yourself. (You) have this outrage. I fail to understand it. I'm expressing my view as an elected official."
Kaufman: I'm sorry you think I represent myself. I'm here for an organization, a watchdog for the people.
Hagan: Fine. Thank you very much for your self appointed watchdog of the people. Every four years the people appoint, eh, elect people in a democracy to represent their views. If you would like to be involved in being more than that, then run for political office. But when you come in and say you represent people and you are, you're self-
appointed, I respectfully will tell you that you're one of the individuals in this room as a public citizen. I'll listen to you....(but I'm) not exercised about it."


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