August 18th, 2009

Inherit The Wind, Part II: The Trial of the Century, In Which VDB Refutes Charges of Inappropriate Political Potty-Mouthing

by Philip Baruth

We have before us today a thorny and vexing question, friends, a question spanning the separate but constantly overlapping realms of campaign conduct, journalistic ethics, ideological fortitude, semantic definition and yes, everyday civility. It is a question that speaks to the heart of the matter, in so many ways. From the Free Press blog, Vermont Buzz, in the course of a roundup of current campaign websites:

“Speaking of candidate Web sites, Philip Baruth, a Chittenden County state Senate candidate, launched his last week, Baruth, of course, has another site at, where he blogs. He links the two by referring from one to the other. The blog tackles mostly national issues, but with a tone that can be quite different from what a candidates might choose. Last week in the blog, for example, he called former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum a name that is not printable here.”

First, thanks to Terri Hallenbeck — the first reporter in Vermont to take the political blogosphere seriously way back in 2005 — for linking to two of the Senate campaign’s three primary websites. That’s worth a great deal, and we’re honestly grateful.

But thanks aside, the question here is one of perfect accuracy: did VDB actually “call former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum a name that is not printable” in the pages of the Free Press? Had we done so, we might well argue that certain times and political types call for strong words.

However, scrupulous ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we will argue that we did not.

Let’s be coy no longer. The phrase to which Hallenbeck refers is this mock-definition of the proper noun Santorum: “Latin for asshole.”

Strong words, as we said.

Did we use this mock-definition in the course of titling our August 14th post on Santorum’s deeply unsettling new Presidential ambitions? We did. On that point there can be no question. We did it, and we can’t say with any certainty that we might not do it again.

But the true question lies deeper still. Did VDB “call” Rick Santorum, darling of the Christian Right, a name unprintable in the pages of the Free Press?

It depends, of course, on what the definition of “call” is.

Exacting readers will recall that our headline surrounded the offensive language in quotation marks, this because the language was borrowed from another and we wanted to intimate that credit was due elsewhere.

There lies the crux of the deepest question: who actually “called” Rick Santorum That Which Cannot Be Printed In The Pages Of The Free Press?

Good men and women of the jury, it was Bob Kerrey, former Senator of the Great State of Nebraska and current President of the New School. [Pandemonium erupts in the courtroom; judge gavels all to silence.]

And of course Theresa Heinz-Kerry, wife of John Kerry, who is unrelated to Bob Kerrey, “called” Rick Santorum “Forrest Gump with an attitude.” But that is neither here nor there.

To recap thus far: 1) yes, VDB did in point of fact use the now-common mock-definition of the proper noun Santorum, to wit, “Latin for asshole,” in titling an August 14th post expressing due horror at the thought of a Santorum Presidency; 2) yet no, VDB did not therefore “call” former Senator Santorum an “asshole”; because 3) former Senator Bob Kerrey was the man who actually already “called” former Senator Rick Santorum an “asshole” at a previous point in time.

All of this being so very demonstrably the case, do we think Terri Hallenbeck should be thrown in the docket for journalistic Crimes against Humanity?

Not at all.

For Terri Hallenbeck still has a good point: the tone of our August 14th blog post is, in fact, different from the tone of the Senate Campaign’s main website, Regardless of the origin of the phrase “Latin for Asshole,” that phrase contains the word “Asshole.”

Yes, it does. This there can be no denying, and no Senate candidate would splash such a word across a painstakingly designed campaign homepage.

And that speaks, finally, to the Senate campaign’s three-part electronic structure.

VDB can only be VDB. It has always bridged the sometimes raw discourse of the blogosphere and the less risky discourse of traditional media, both broadcast and print. And by continuing it through this campaign, we hope to preserve a place for very plain speaking, and a conduit for the energy and drive and raw will that powers the blogosphere.

The which takes a semi-regular content feed directly from VDB, allows us to edit that content slightly, and to take comments on it.

And the campaign’s main site,, situates itself more firmly in recognizable campaign discourse, but with a direct, unvarnished quality that we hope comes off as “outspoken” rather than ill-advised.

Hallenbeck, on this score, is absolutely right: three markedly different tones. But of course it takes different tones to achieve an ultimate harmony. And wherever we’re writing or campaigning, we’re all about the harmony.

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  1. Vermont Daily Briefing » In Which The Free Press Is Taken To Task In A Stern Bit of Tit For Tat, As It Were said,

    on February 11th, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    […] Longtime readers will remember that back in August, Free Press reporter Terri Hallenbeck took VDB to task for using an epithet for Rick Santorum that “could not be printed in the pages” of her newspaper. She was right: although the epithet was Bob Kerrey’s, we did quote it, and with gusto. Still, we would be remiss if we failed to point out that the front page of yesterday’s Free Press carried the phrase “midget porn,” a phrase you will never ever read here at the Vermont Daily Briefing. After today, we mean. Just saying. […]