Thursday, August 26, 2004

Conflation -- a St. Cloud Times tradition 

The local fishwrap runs a lead editorial today that demonstrates it will not be neutral in the Sixth District House race. As I reported earlier, the Democratic challenger Patty Wetterling bowed out of scheduled debates that she had previously agreed to due to an "emergency wedding" (thank, Hermit!) Sort of the "dog ate her lunch" kind of thing. The Republican incumbent Mark Kennedy had made time for the debates and had attended the functions anyway. Nowhere in the Times' description of that event did Kennedy say anything negative about Wetterling's failure to appear -- the actuals that KNSI, the local radio news station, broadcast indicated that he would do his best to reschedule the debates as long as they did not interfere with his work schedule. (The Times did go out of its way to describe one hostile questioner, devoting five of eleven grafs to that one question.)

This didn't seem to matter at all to the Times' editorial board. After chastising Wetterling's schedulers mildly while retyping Wetterling's letter bowing out -- practically free advertising -- they turn their attention not to Kennedy but other Republicans.

Four days later, Republicans responded publicly with the kind of partisan rhetoric that turns voters off.

"It's clear that given her inability to answer basic questions about agriculture at the Farmfest candidate forum, Patty Wetterling has apparently decided to drop out of three candidate debates," said Randy Wanke, Republican Party of Minnesota communications director. "Patty Wetterling either doesn't know the issues or doesn't want voters to know what her positions are on issues that matter."

This is a snippet from the Minnesota GOP's website and probably part of a press release (that is not indicated on the site, but I would guess that from how it's written.) A little tough, perhaps, but it may smart more because it's accurate. The same reporter who covered Kennedy's appearance, Larry Schumacher, pretty much said the same thing about her performance at Farmfest. MPR quotes her as responding to a question on WTO with this inspired insight:

Like any other trade issues we have to look at the detail, as you said. I would have to hire a really good person to answer this question.
The AP report said the same thing.

Kennedy, a two-term Republican, discussed farm issues down to the finest detail while Wetterling appealed for understanding as she gets up to speed on issues new to her.
Now, if you were Kennedy, would you really want to duck debates with this woman? If she was a boxer, she'd be a walkover. And the Times editorial goes on to quote his campaign director, Ryan Christian.

There's no question Congressman Kennedy looks forward to engaging in a frank and open discussion of the issues. We committed to four debates, three this week and Farmfest. We've had one, but the Wetterling campaign decided we shouldn't have
the others.
To this statement the Times says

Both [statements] are long on accusatory rhetoric, short on civility and, most importantly, lack any response to Wetterling's proposals for later meetings. Given all that and knowing how much district residents deserve to see Kennedy and Wetterling debate, we suggest the two candidates meet over coffee and set their debate schedule.

What did Christian say that was accusatory? That Wetterling decided not to have the other debates? Well, she did decide that. What is it that was uncivil? Nothing in either Republican statement says that they don't want to debate -- if the reports of Farmfest are accurate, I would think Kennedy is licking his chops at another opportunity to show Wetterling's inexperience with issues outside of child advocacy.

I have had colleagues trying to get Kennedy for activities in September and October, for everything from issues forums to a hunting trip. The answer is always the same -- if he has business in DC, that's where he'll be and he won't schedule anything else.

The Times is trying to conflate Wetterling's inexperience -- minimally, her inability to manage her schedule, and perhaps her inexperience in political debate -- with Kennedy's policy of letting nothing interfere with his work in DC. It does so by reaching for a GOP-MN press release and calling it an attack made by Kennedy, which is by no means clear. It then tries to tie that to a statement by Kennedy's political director which has not a smattering of vitriol. The Times does so because it cannot help itself in supporting any Democrat, especially one with a touching personal story like Patty Wetterling, even when it means supporting a candidate that is not ready for prime time.

Come to think of it, "not ready for prime time" also describes the Times' editorial board.