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Posts published in “Day: September 9, 2007”

How the Spokesman caught hell

Harry Truman out west

Harry Truman riding west

Political historians - this is directed toward those of us - will get a kick out of a piece in the Spokesman-Review, about the history of a remark: The comment by President Harry Truman that that newspaper was, along with the Chicago Tribune, one of the "two worst" newspapers in the United States.

It sounds like an apocryphal comment, something drummed up in the regional lore - maybe dreamed up.

But the Spokesman piece by Jim Kershner has the details, describing exactly how that comment came to happen, and how it almost backfired badly on a then-new Washington senator named Warren Magnuson. And how it was a banner the paper wore proudly for years, and how other regional papers rose to defend it - with at least one notable exception . . .

“The Democracy Papers”

We're a few shades short of clear about what, exactly, the Seattle Times has in mind with its newly-announced project, "The Democracy Papers."

As described so far, though, it has a meritorious ring to it. The idea seems to be a months-long, broad discussion about communications and news media and their role in a free society - anchored by the legal and economic changes we've seen in recent years, from technology and regulation change to media consolidation. An attached editorial spins through some of the points under consideration:

The government's penchant for bigness is obvious. Radio has been consolidated to minuscule numbers of owners who favor generic play lists. Adding to the corrosion of American creativity is the loss of radio news — too expensive for the big companies. The gutting of local radio has also blocked minorities and women from the most accessible entry point to media ownership.

Television news has devolved into a cliché. Weather, crime and car accidents fill airspace that was once the domain of substantive reports from city hall and the capitol. The trends have not been much kinder to newspapers. The majority of readers need a score card to keep track of which corporation owns their newspaper.

The press is going through a radical transformation. The old way of doing business is dead. Press opponents know this, and are spending a lot of money in Washington to transform the news into a commodity every bit as purchasable, and salable, as toilet paper.

The federal government has largely failed to protect an independent press. Instead, policies have been tailored for big corporations that are blindly beholden to the market, and increased quarterly profits.

Promising stuff. We'll be watching to see where they take it from here.

A Treasurer quietude

Had looked like a race of considerable interest between two candidates of opposing parties but not so far apart otherwise, and both with some deep background and respect in a range of quarters. Talking about the run for Oregon state treasurer, which seemed headed for a matchup of state Senator Ben Westlund, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat of rural Tumalo, and moderate state Representative Vicki Berger of Salem.

An update in the Salem Statesman-Journal, however, reports that Berger won't be running for treasurer after all. One factor, she suggested, was that if she departed, Democrat Paul Evans - the former Monmouth mayor who made a strong impression in a Senate run last year - might file for it. That and "The fact of the matter is, I didn't want to give up my seat for it. I like what I do." There appear to be no likely Republican candidates for the office hustling around.

Westlund still appears on track to file for the job, though his formal statements so far still have him undecided between the Senate and Treasurer. (The latter seems a lot more likely.) He's moving on it slower than might have been expected, partly because of family issues (his mother's illness and death this summer). At this rate, if he jumps in formally this fall and starts to work, he could rapidly turn into a presumptive favorite.

Qualifying as

Deborah Boone

Deborah Boone

Candidates for partisan office love to trumpet support from members of the opposition party, but only occasionally - even rarely - does it mean a great deal. To really mean something, such support has to include elected officials from the other party, or substantial office holders in the other party's structure. That's where "Democrats for" or "Republicans for" organizations really count: When they're getting the hard gets, hard because such people ordinarily are loathe to publicly back an opposition candidate.

We've made that point with "Republicans for" groups in Idaho, which included people who may have been Republicans but weren't elected office holders (present or past) or substantial party figures. Turn now to Democrats for Smith - Oregon Senator Gordon Smith - and consider that list.

There is a former Democratic U.S. representative on the list, Elizabeth Furse. Her presence in the group probably had more impact last time around, in 2002, than now, because she left Congress after three terms in January 1999, and hasn't been very politically visible since. (She was David Wu's predecessor's in the 1st district.)

The next most significant name on the list, and the most significant now, is state Representative Deborah Boone, of Cannon Beach. She is quoted on the Democrats for Smith site as saying, "exactly the type of Senator Oregon should have representing us."

But today, she's saying she's instead supporting for Senate House Speaker Jeff Merkley, saying "he has demonstrated the kind of leadership Oregon needs in the U.S. Senate." She has withdrawn her support for Smith.

There are other Democrats on the Democrats for Smith group, but Boone's departure seriously thins the ranks of officials elected as such. The announcement of the group in 2002 (then at a key juncture in the race) may have had some impact that year. Barring a fresh infusion, it seems less likely to have as much effect this time.