On November 11, just before the enlightening Democratic Debate sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters, Dan DeWalt and Jimmy Leas put together a press conference to build awareness of their Town Meeting Day push on the various Vermont Yankee issues before the Legislature. It was a group of very clear-spoken activists: Former Governor Phil Hoff, Ben and Jerry, Anthony Pollina, David Zuckerman, James Moore, Jarred Cobb, and myself. If you thought that opposing Yankee’s continued operation was a fringe position, or anti-business, you might just want to give this a look. Or three.
Last week was an astounding media phenomenon, nationally and locally. The biggest story in the country was Sarah Palin, a woman who begged the voters of Alaska to trust her with their state’s highest powers and responsibilities, only to quit halfway through her first term, either out of boredom or pique. But there she was, the relentless media focus. In Vermont, of course, it was State Auditor Tom Salmon, Jr.
Salmon has had a bad few weeks of it, and decided he’d seize the state’s various media outlets to boldly combine the isolated bad stories into one uplifting narrative of redemption and personal responsibility.
And the media readily complied.
Salmon’s most recent dust-up involves a DUI, although not an egregious case of public drunkenness: he blew a .086, just a shade over the legal limit.
And yet, for reasons of his own, Salmon decided that rather than downplay the sin, he’d amplify it. And in that way, he presented the media with an implicit bargain: Salmon was willing to publicly shame himself, if only the media would allow him wall-to-wall coverage that he might shape to his own ends.
If they would let him quote Dickens, and Aristotle, as well as speculate on the number and sort of drinks he’d downed on that fateful night. That sort of thing.
In short, Salmon not only discussed the story throughout the week with reporters, on the record, he scheduled a Friday press conference to more properly examine the tragic flaws in his own character.
And the Free Press not only covered that odd press conference, but duly ran a story beforehand, announcing that Salmon would in fact hold such a press conference (”Salmon To Address Personal Responsibility,” November 20). Which is unearned media at its very best: not only wall-to-wall coverage of your message, but an article alerting the public when they might expect your message.
How complete was the coverage? You can read Salmon’s entire autobiographical narrative, going back decades and moving up slowly through each distinct epoch of his life, on several of the state’s most prestigious news outlets. And my guess is that you’ll be able to do so for the better part of the coming year.
And if anyone had any doubt that Salmon’s campaign viewed the press conference and the footage it produced as anything less than solid gold, Salmon himself put all doubts to rest. Not only did his campaign film the press conference, Salmon freely admitted that he was crazy like a fox.
“It may have future value,” Salmon said of preserving his remarks for posterity. “We’re moving into an arena where we’re going to be able to put video pieces on the Web site.”
That’s right: the DUI has future value, if properly staged and spun.
It was tough for me to watch, in a way. I always liked Tom Salmon, and I’ve done a lot of work with the media, all forms of media, in the state. And for that matter, Sarah Palin seems like a decent sort, at one level.
But last week it was hard to deny that everybody seemed to be playing the same desperate game: the media latching on to Those Behaving Badly, and the Bad Boys and Girls hamming it up for all they were worth.
In one sad sense, it seemed all about traffic, plain and simple. Traffic and an absolutely ruthless economy.
But it was tough for me in another way.
About a month ago, my State Senate campaign held a full-on service event, out in Essex. We’d been working with the Executive Director of the Teen Center there, and we’d put together a massive volunteer project: refinishing the Center’s dance floor. It was Halloween morning, and the idea was an “Alternative Halloween.” Instead of smashing eggs and pumpkins, we’d get together with some area teens and do something productive.
We had about 20 volunteers show up, and we got it done.
And we sent out a small, discrete press release and a few emails to journalists, saying so.
No response. Nothing, from anyone. Not a squib. As far as the area’s media was concerned, the event never happened.
And there are all sorts of perfectly valid reasons why that might be so: maybe they were understaffed, maybe Halloween has too many events to cover, maybe they felt it was too early in the cycle to cover a campaign event. Or maybe service politics itself seemed somehow too overt a bid for campaign coverage, who can say.
And of course I’m a small fish, while Tom is a Salmon.
Still, it was hard to avoid the message last week, when all was said and done. Salmon was the undisputed media King, and Palin was the nation’s Queen, and last I checked neither one of them had done all that much for anyone, lately.
Okay, sorry about the off-color punchline on the t-shirt. But it was Necessary to Make a Point: networking for the 21st century campaign doesn’t just include you, the person who reads VDB on a semi-regular basis. No. It includes your network, including your Mom and her posse, and their networks. All of them, inside Chittenden County or not.
If you’ve managed to miss it thus far, we’ve been growing the into a very energetic networking spot, one that includes all the cheek of VDB as well as comments, for those who like to chime in every once in a while. But we need you and your crew there too. So you want to help make our day? Sign up as a supporter, and put out the word to your FB homepage. We’re talking about moving your index finger, several times. That’s it.
Seriously. That’s it.
And that tiny act honestly has the potential to change this race. See you in Facebook land.
It’s Sarah Palin Week in America, and not for the last time, friends. This woman will trouble our dreams for years, until the Crack Up, which is inevitable for an undisciplined ex-politician with a hunger for the lens. And so we thought we’d pass on the latest Palinological scholarly research: linguists have traced Sarah’s Fargo lingo back to — you guessed it — the Minnesota/Wisconsin area. How in heck’s name, you ask? An out-migration of folks from Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin to Wasilla, Alaska, in the 1930’s. Why? That there’s between them and the preacher, son.
Chances are good that whatever you’re doing right now feels pretty private to you and really isn’t anywhere close. We live in a world of sheer blind willful denial, though, when it comes to privacy: every year super-ambitious politicians who have seen countless other super-ambitious politicians ruined by incriminating email are themselves ruined by incriminating email. How to live in a world like this?
Dramatically increase your Lane content.
That would be Fred Lane, privacy expert and non-fiction author par excellence, who will be giving a talk on just this subject Wednesday the 18th, 4:30 pm, in Billings North Lounge, UVM campus.
Lane’s American Privacy: The 400-Year History of Our Most Contested Right will be officially released by Beacon Press on November 23, 2009 and was recently selected as the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression’s book of the month. Which is to say that if you have a question, Fred has the answer.
In fact, if you have a question, Fred already knows what it is without you telling him. That’s his main point. Your privacy is gone, baby, gone.
There are many wonderful things about this State Senate campaign, so far, but very near the top? Watching young creative types produce state-of-the-art work, for no other reasons than that they believe in the campaign and that they love what they do. Case in point: Matt Goudey, the campaign videographer. Matt took a high-def camera into the September kick-off, and came out with a minor masterpiece. And that’s “minor” only because we made him keep it to 4 minutes. Really lovely work, and an event I’ll remember fondly. Thanks again to all those who made it happen.
Not sure what you have on the agenda for the weekend, but there’s this wicked cool gathering on Saturday: the 2009 Environmental Action Conference at Vermont Technical College in Randolph. It runs from 8:30 to 5:30, will include a keynote speech by Jonathan Isham, and you’ll be able to grill most all of the major Democratic candidates for Governor. Not quite enough you say? Fine, we’ll throw in an 11:30 am workshop by VDB and GMD’s John Odum on bringing the Internets to bear on a modern political campaign. Peace out, environmental brothers and sisters.
Enquiring Minds Want To Know: Who Is This “Matt Breuer” And Why Is He Suddenly Central To Every Campaign In Vermont?
Both VDB readers and Green Mountain Daily types know Matt Breuer: over at GMD, he’s a stalwart blogger, and on our own State Senate campaign Matt has been one of the key Essex operatives going back to early June. Just this past Halloween he was there for the first service politics event at the Essex Teen Center, helping to sand and refinish the dance floor and in general wielding a very mean broom.
Cut to the video of Matt Dunne’s gubernatorial campaign announcement of a few days ago. As with most things Dunne, it’s very sharply done and worth the look. But what struck us most here at VDB is the way Dunne leads it off: by reading an email from an eighteen-year-old from Essex named — wait for it — Matt Breuer.