A lot to share with you.
Many of you will recall that I decided to stop complaining about a media that is riddled with cancer and in all likelihood, is too broken to fix. Instead of joining the hoards of others that are better at media criticism than I am (Atrios, Glenn Greenwald, MediaMatters), I decided that since the bar is set so low - it really isn't that difficult to report on things better than, say, Cokie Roberts or John Harwood or Nedra Pickler - I'd just go do it. So, with a kick in the ass (and a few bucks) from Jane Hamsher, I picked up a flip-cam and set off for the Hill.
Things have gone so well, I've had to change my site's name. It is no longer "TheCrookedDope"; I now report for StarkReports.com. When I was reporting on the state of right-wing talk radio, "the crooked dope" (as opposed to the straight dope) made sense. Now, I've decided that I cannot bear to explain the name anymore.
Flip for my latest reports (John Kyl, anonymous Republican Senator, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers on medical marijuana enforcement, and a brief chat with Greta Van Susteren).
I'll begin with something I thought was kind of funny.
When Obama's DOJ announced that they'd stop federal enforcement of marijuana laws in jurisdictions where certain uses and distribution models had been legalized by state law, I thought for sure I'd hear some kind of hue and cry from the usual suspects. I thought that, at a minimum, we'd hear Glenn Beck or
Rush Limbaugh (stricken for obvious reasons) Sean Hannity screaming into their microphones, "Barack Obama, the first African-American president and admitted cocaine user, declines to enforce the nation's drug laws, opting instead to surrender to a bunch of pot-smoking hippies. Think of the children!" But we didn't.
So I thought I'd ask some Republicans what they thought of the new policy. The first two I asked, Marsha Blackburn and Doc Hastings, were downright banal - they hadn't heard of the new policy and wanted time to look into it.
But correct me if I'm wrong... Doesn't it seem as if Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rogers has a pretty severe case of the giggles?
My next encounter is worth clicking over for. Maybe. Maybe not. But to see the video, that's what you are going to have to do. Sorry for the link-whoring, but if I'm going to be able to keep reporting from the Hill, I need to get my traffic numbers up. So, after you are done clicking through, add me as a favorite too...
Anyway with that said, here is Greta Van Susteren dodging a really simple question, "Why should any Democrat go on Fox?" After she refuses to answer, I escalate a little bit, but not too much. Hint: I ponder aloud why any self-respecting journalist would work for Rupert Murdoch and that network. I posit a guess... Of course, I get no answer.
This actually sets up a decent segue to the next topic: the Republican boycott of StarkReports.com
Over and over again, I've come across people here and at other sites that suggest my brand of journalism is somehow suspect. I'm a "guerrilla" engaging in "ambush" tactics that are every bit as wrong when I do it as when Bill O'Reilly does it... even though I'm working on the Hill with politicians that chose an occupation in which public accountability through the Fourth Estate is a part of the job description.
The point came up Monday night when I spoke with a Republican Senator. He told me he didn't want to be filmed because he had heard reports of some guy running around with a camera, asking questions out of the blue and then, the next thing you know, the clips are up on YouTube.
OMG! You mean someone asked you a question before you had talking points prepared?! The horror!
The truth of the matter is that print reporters run around with their little pads all day long "ambushing" these House members and Senators. Of course, when they file their reports, there are no visuals and usually no audio recording. Politicians are free to say "that quote was taken out of context" or to deny making the statement at all. When it's caught on video, and posted without an editor leaving large swaths of material on the cutting room floor - when the reporter (moi) trusts his audience enough to let them make up their own minds about what they see... Well, it's a new style and something these folks just aren't used to. Asfar as I know, I'm the first reporter on the Hill to use this model on a daily basis.
And evidently some don't like it.
Instead of re-inventing the wheel, I'm just going to cut and paste the post I wrote for StarkReports last night. All of this occurred on Monday:
Well, this is what it’s come to on the Senate side. And I’ve got to say, it sure didn’t take long.
Last week, I filmed David Vitter as he disembarked from a subway and made his way into an elevator. I asked him if he had any comment regarding the judge in Louisiana that refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple. Vitter smiled at me, silent while his staffer refused to allow me on the elevator, saying it was for Senators only. (It is, but there is also an element of discretion. Plenty of Senators have allowed me to ride the elevator with them as we continued our discussions.) Vitter let the elevator doors close on me and went on his way.
To me (and evidently thousands of other people), Vitter’s silence was newsworthy. I mean, really, it was a softball question and an opportunity to wipe aside any of the doubts that had previously been raised. Why would he refuse comment?
So Greg Sargent and others looked into it further. Vitter’s communications shop put out a statement:
First, Sen. Vitter thinks that all judges should follow the law as written and not make it up as they go along. Second, it would be amazing for anyone to do a story based on this fringe, left-wing political hack’s blog — he’s been handcuffed and detained in the past over his guerrilla tactics.
At first, I decided to say nothing in response to this comment because, well, I’m a reporter, not a story. But... Events have unfolded such that now, I think I need to address this.
First of all, the event Vitter’s office is referring to was the culmination of a series of events that occurred during 2006 election season. In late August 2006, then-Senator George Allen was dealing with the "Macaca" incident. He had given a series of evolving excuses for his choice of words, but the media never really honed in on what I thought the key question was – especially given the Senator’s history. So I attended a campaign event and did pretty much what I’m trying to do today: I asked the question that the media wouldn’t ask, but was on everyone’s minds. I asked, "Have you ever used the word n*****?" When the Senator said, "No," I followed up, "Never in your life?" Allen repeated his answer and I followed up once more, "Can you explain the Confederate Flag and noose you kept in your office?" At that point, staff intervened and I was asked to leave the premises. I did.
Fast-forward two months. On Halloween, less than a week before the election, Allen returned to my neck of the woods for another campaign rally. Since his last visit, an arrest record of his had been discovered, and the blogosphere was abuzz with reports of Allen having abused his first wife. The divorce records were sealed, so, for all practical purposes, Allen was the only one capable of addressing the topic. At the end of Allen’s event, as a meet-and-greet line formed, I joined it. When he got close to me, I said, "Senator Allen, you can shut your Democratic critics up if you tell us why you were arrested back in the 1970’s." Before I could get the last words out, Allen’s staffers were all over me, trying to push me away. I held my ground, and continued, "Senator Allen, did you spit on or otherwise abuse your first wife?" Allen walked alongside me, smiling silently. He made his way to the press gaggle. More of his supporters turned on me, telling me I had to leave. Things got physical. Eventually I was being pushed away from the Senator, he retreated down a hallway, and I called out, "Senator Allen, did you spit on your first wife?" At that point I was tackled to the ground.
The video was played all over the news networks for the rest of the day and much of the next.
The election was a week later. The day before the election, Allen decided to make a barnstorm airport tour of the state. I had been hired as a stringer by Air America and decided to cover the event. I intended to ask the Senator why he didn’t intervene when he saw me being assaulted. Alas, when I made my way to the spot I thought I’d most likely get my chance, a young theater student, Alex Davis, ran from behind me, dove to the floor and let out a yelp that got security’s attention. Within seconds, I was handcuffed and led to a waiting police car. They were waiting for me; I had been set up.
Well, that’s high-stakes politics, I guess. In the end, after the event had concluded, I was released without being charged.
Look, I’m the last person that wants to relive this. But it looks like I don’t have much of a choice. The Republicans in the Senate have closed ranks, and they are doing everything they can to nip accountability in the bud before it can get started.
How do I know?
One Senator told me as much. I’m not going to name the Senator right now; all you need to know is that he is a Republican and what he told me. I had approached him to ask about the DOJ’s new marijuana policy – they won’t enforce federal law against medical marijuana users where such use had been legalized. I saw a conflict between the "war on drugs" hardline that many elected’s take and the conservative "state’s rights" argument. I thought it would be cool to probe a little bit.
This Senator told me that he’d stop and talk to me, but he didn’t want to be filmed. He’s been informed (and he was sure it wasn’t me) that there was some guy running around with a video camera, springing questions on Senators when they hadn’t had time to think, and then, the next thing you know, these videos are up on YouTube.
I told this Senator that I was almost certainly the person he had heard about, but sheesh... Isn’t that the purpose of the press? I mean really, is it our job to give y’all time to put together talking points?
Anyway, to this Senator’s credit, he told me to give his press office a call and now that he knew what the topic was, he’d set up a phone call. It will be interesting to see if the promise is kept.
Later that day (yesterday), I visited the Russell Rotunda, where the networks have their cameras set up. Usually, it’s a great place to piggy-back on CNN’s or Fox’s or MSNBC’s interviews. And at first, I thought I was lucky. Senator John Kyl was there for an appearance on MSNBC. There’s been a lot of chatter on right-wing talk radio about former Representative J.D. Hayworth entering a primary to challenge so-called RINO, John McCain. To me, this is an explosive story – the Republican’s last Presidential candidate may not even survive his next Senate election? Amazing! (The parallels to Joe Lieberman are pretty interesting too...)
So I waited for the Senator to finish, and watched his staff confer in whispers just a couple of feet from me. One staffer approached the Senator, said something while nodding in my direction, and then returned to chat with the other staffer. Senator Kyl finished his interview and then raced to the elevators. As I uttered my question, the staffers positioned themselves between me and the Senator and then pulled the David Vitter trick – "This elevator is for Senators only." Kyl ignored me the entire time (about 10 seconds).
Look... Nobody is entitled to an interview. Any Senator is entitled to say, "no comment," or just to walk away silently. They can do it en masse if they want.
But I’m not going to stop doing this work.
For far too long, I’ve sat aside bitching with millions of others that we don’t have a media willing to serve the people. Whatever you want to call it... "MSM", "institutional," "corporate"... The dominant media has, for years now, been derided for valuing access over substance, fetishizing authority, and, in general, eating too many cocktail weenies.
My purpose for being on the Hill is to give my readers a more complete picture of the people that we’ve elected to make our rules. I’m there to perform the accountability function of the storied "Fourth Estate". I may not be the best person to do the job, but hell... so far as I know, I’m the only one doing it in this direct and unfiltered style.
So, yeah... I expect that Republicans are going to make my job more difficult than it should be. They’ve grown used to a Fox News press that never asks the hard questions, gives them plenty of warning about what topics will be discussed and has forgotten how to ask the killer follow-up question. If I was an elected, I’d almost certainly prefer dealing with lapdogs rather than Rottweilers. But that doesn’t mean this Rottweiler needs to play dead.
Finally, one more irony... How many of these Republican lawmakers have criticized the Obama administration for cutting off the Fox News network? One thing I’ve never done is lie, distort or otherwise fabricate or spin my stories. What you get here is exactly what the byline says, "Unscripted, unvarnished and unedited" video reporting. Virtually by definition, nobody can accuse me of taking them "out of context" or otherwise misleading my audience. And honestly, I think that’s part of what they are afraid of – they just don’t like the idea of raw reporting. They need their prepared talking points.
Well, that's it for this week so far. My daughter has been sick and I've had to take the last two days off to stay at home with her. I'll be heading back up to the Hill in the morning; I'll catch you around these parts soon.