Monday, February 23, 2009

Nip it in the *Bud*

The last thing I wanted to do after a long Monday was sit down and write a double post, but it seems like the State Journal has forced my hand tonight.

Read this, and then ask yourself why any publication posing as a credible news source would choose to run with such drivel. Go ahead, read it. I'll wait...

...Okay, while you were doing that, I sat here and got progressively more fed up with what's clearly a half-assed hatchet job character assassination carried out against one of the most dedicated, selfless, hard-working, amicable and admirable civil servants our city has ever known. State Journal -- No. Inappropriate. Uncalled for. Go back to your sagging ad revenues and think about what you've done.

I'm not attacking Sandy Cullen or Dean Mosiman for their work on this story. I know Sandy personally, and Dean's reputation proceeds him wherever you go in city hall. Many of the same adjectives I used to describe Mike Verveer can be applied in their cases too, and as sure as I know anything, I know writing this piece left an awfully bitter taste in their mouths.

I would lay good money the orders to write this piece came from up top, somewhere. Again, I pose the question: why would a newspaper choose to run this story? What about this story makes it newsworthy? What service does it provide me as a citizen and as a reader?

If I were to try and peel back all the layers of *wrong* heaped into creating this hit piece, I would start by trying to trim away the multiple levels of conjecture used to build a false link from "marijuana" to "Mike Verveer." If you take away the narrative of this piece, clean it up and set it in its proper order, a police officer went into a bar, thought she might have smelled marijuana, decided to leave and saw Mike Verveer on her way out.

Upon the patrolwoman's return, the officer in charge noted the incident and said she ought to file a report. Trying to keep things in order, the police department is reviewing the case to make sure there were no improprieties. Good for them.

It could be there was no weed at all, and the officer was smelling something else. After all, for some godforsaken reason, they make incense that smells like marijuana. If could be the odor was on someone's clothes. It could be someone in an apartment above or an alley behind the restaurant was toking up and a bad HVAC system pumped it in. It could be a few "bad seeds" in a notably dark establishment were enjoying a few puffs.

If simply being in a room that smells of pot is a news story, the entire city of Madison would have had their turn on the front page by now.

The possibilities are so endless, this can't even be called a case of "guilt by association." Nor was Alder Tim Bruer's assertion in the WSJ article that Verveer was "in the wrong place at the wrong time," accurate. This is the condemnation of a man with a political bullseye on his back by enemies striving to draw the remotest connection from him to anything resembling dirt.

Of course, none of that speaks to the fact that there isn't a damn thing wrong with it if a person chooses for him- or herself to rock the occasional bit of ganj. Verveer certainly wouldn't be the first official elected to office that enjoys a puff here or there, but if any of them do, it's none of the press's damn business.

Yes, that's me, a reporter, saying the press ought to go sit and spin on this one. What stinks about this story isn't anything herbal, it's the reek of "gotcha" tabloid grubbing that falls nowhere within the realm of respectable journalism as it was taught to me by the professionals at the University of Wisconsin.

That much said, watch for every single media outlet in town to sieze upon this story. I myself am liable to have to read it on-air tomorrow, and if you listen closely, you'll be able to pick out the sound of grinding teeth.

It doesn't take Rainman to get the math to add up on this one. Word of the investigation worked its way through the ranks at the police department, and eventually one of Verveer's enemies got wind of it. As an assistant district attorney, an outspoken city resident and a longtime member of the Progressive Dane party, he's made plenty of enemies, and there are factions trying to take advantage of a recent momentum swing in local politics that will use any edge they can get.

The news made its way through some of the seedier elements of local government, and eventually one of them walked into a senior editor's office at the right-leaning State Journal and said, "Boy, have I got a scoop for you."

Alder Michael Schumacher calling into question Verveer's suitability to serve on the Alcohol License Review Committee smacks of the worst kind of political gamesmanship. It's no secret he butts heads with Verveer on a number of issues. Frankly, I take it as a comfort on the occasions I see Verveer out at a downtown bar. It's nice to know that the people who regulate the city's drinking establishments, some of them at least, aren't out-of-touch curmudgeonly old squares.

And you'd better believe Alders Tim Bruer and Mark Clear weren't crying when they saw this story make headlines either.

I find nothing so disturbing as the notion that these sorts of political dramas are playing out, but I'm not so naive as to pretend they aren't. I already have it from good sources exactly which alders dug up the dirt, and which of them delivered it. You're on notice. If this sort of chicanery persists in my city's government, I will confirm who among you are perpetuating it, and you will be outed.

After that, I will apply a microscope to every facet of your life and flay you open for the world to see. The blade you wield is double-edged, and if you get too caught up in swinging it, you're liable to trip and fall on it.

All that violent imagery is strictly figurative, of course. But this really cooks my damn bacon.

As to what ought to happen in the next few days, the answer should be nothing. Zilch. Nada. Give the story its fair play, and then let it die a quiet, lonely death. Do not revisit it. Do not follow up on it. In perhaps the most awful pun I've made in months, it ought to be nipped in the bud, and if one person mentions it in passing come Mike Verveer's next run for office, the city council ought to pass legislation making it legal to shoot them.

But, in other news, someone out there had a worse day today than Mike Verveer, and that person is Fitchburg's Marc Jones. Up until this afternoon, Jones thought he was going to be competing with Mayoral candidate Jay Allen in the April election after placing second in last week's primary election by a single vote.

As common sense procedure would dictate in a race so close, the Fitchburg Clerk's office decided to stage a recount. In the course of counting the absentee ballots, they noticed one of the witness signatures on an envelope was invalid, meaning one of the absentee ballots cast was as well. Following state protocols, they picked one of the absentee ballots at random to discard, as the ballots and their envelopes had already been seperated.

The ballot randomly selected to be cast off carried a Marc Jones vote, knocking him into a tie with third place contender Mark Vivian and knocking the race into yet another uncharted facet of state law. In keeping with procedure, they placed the two candidates' names in a hat and drew one at random.

That's how Mark Vivian went from planning a nice, quiet spring break (presumably) to laying plans for an assault against Jay Allen's sizeable lead in the primaries. Witnesses at the drawing tell me Jones took the news with marked calm, meaning if someone bombs Fitchburg City Hall in the next couple of weeks, I know who's going at the top of my suspects list.


Alan said...

Wow, I read that WSJ article this morning and could not adequately express my rage in words. Thanks for this eloquent blog that explained how ridiculous this whole story is. Sure, it's worth reporting this story as it would be a good idea for the police to lay down some ground rules when city officials are involved (like perhaps treating them like any other citizen). But for the WSJ to try and create a scandal out of conjecture and happenstance, that's not good political journalism, that's not even good tabloid journalism.

Shane Wealti said...

Thank you for laying this out and exposing it. Shame on the WSJ for running a political hit piece.

Caity said...

Dusty, I'm glad you have such strong opinions. Its about damn time people start paying attention and having an f'in opinion about the trash that's sometimes printed in our newspapers. I don't even think this is mere happenstance - there is nothing here worthy of news. No proof that there was even marijuana in the joint (no pun actually intended). And even if there was, there was no proof that this Alderman had anything to do with it.

On the other hand - you made a statement that I have always disagreed with and probably always will. Call me uptight, but smoking marijuana is still illegal in this state and therefore, I should hate to see any elected official partaking (especially in a public place). As a former federal employee and a coworker to numerous law enforcement officials, I can honestly say that I'm not the only one who would be pissed if they caught an elected official smoking pot. Luckily, there's no proof this alderman did.

Nonetheless - thanks.

Anonymous said...

It should be worth noting that even if the officer walked in and seen Verveer with a lit joint in his mouth, it would have been a municipal citation for $109. Similar to failing to adequately clear a sidewalk in severity; a non-criminal offense. I believe having your stereo too loud is a $172 offense, and an open container of alcohol on the sidewalk is $298, for perspective.

Dustin Christopher said...

Caity, Anon beat me to the punch in pointing out that weed is de-criminalized in Madison, but you're right that elected officials serve as role-models.

Alan and Shane, thanks for your kind words... the more outrage this kind of bad behavior generates, the less it will happen -- I hope. I'll keep digging. We all should.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dustin Christopher said...

Anon # 2... I appreciate your feedback, but I can't have potentially libelous comments left, especially by anonymous posters. follows the same ground rules. Perhaps an email would get your point across?

As to your comment, Verveer's being an angel...or not...has no bearing on the degree to which the state journal's story was a set-up and a hit piece.