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Media Watchdog 

Vermont’s undisputed, undefeated heavyweight political champion has long fancied himself a master of the media. Unlike fellow Yale alum George W. Bush, Vermont’s Howard B. Dean relishes the challenge of managing his message through the nooks and crannies of the Fourth Estate. Week after week, Ho-Ho eagerly takes on all comers in the press corps with the TV cameras rolling. It’s an art not unlike boxing.

Howard Dean, the real “man with a plan” in Vermont’s political drama, appreciates the powerful role of the press in politics. Twenty years ago, Ho-Ho was a bit of a media suck-up. His brown-nosing compliments from those days still ring in our ears. My, how things have changed!

Unlike other political heavyweights, Dr. Dean does his own quality-control work. Previous governors let their press secretaries monitor the media and get on the horn when they spot a boo-boo — and, trust me, there are always boo-boos. The press secretary’s job was to impress upon the reporter, editor or news anchorperson the importance of correcting the frickin’ mistake, pronto! But Howard Dean does it all himself. He really doesn’t appear to need a press secretary. Even his current press secretary, Susan Allen, agrees.

“After nine years,” said Sweet Sue, “he can do this job alone. His staff is redundant.” Quite the candid assessment, eh?

It’s not unusual for the governor to personally call up a TV station during the news broadcast and demand a correction. He’s sensitive to every detail, no matter how small. Recently Ho-Ho dialed up Ch. 5 after the station incorrectly identified his campaign manager, Kate O’Connor, as a Massachusetts person. You may recall that one of the lasting lessons of the 1998 election was the realization that a Massachusetts label — as worn by Jack Mullholand or McMuffin or whatever his name was — is a big negative in Vermont politics. Howard Dean did not want the impression getting out that he would ever associate with a Massachusetts campaign manager. Dean’s campaign manager was born and raised at least 10 miles outside the Commonwealth, in Brattleboro, Vermont.

“They said my campaign manager was from Massachusetts. They meant Ruth Dwyer’s campaign manager,” said Ho-Ho. “I called them up and they went on the air 10 minutes later and corrected it.”

The other day Dean called up WDEV radio in Waterbury bright and early, complaining about a report on an Anthony Pollina press conference at UVM. The Progressive Party wild card whacked Ho-Ho for boosting the state college system budget a measly 7 percent while increasing spending on prisons by 150 percent. Tony the Prog, a Johnson State College grad, lined up a bunch of college students to say how wonderful he is. And one, Jackie Gambardella, a senior at Castleton, said that when her group invited all three candidates to come speak at Castleton, Pollina was the only one who accepted its invitation. The governor’s secretary, she said, “just laughed,” and “the Dwyer campaign never called back.”

The governor assured station personnel it never happened. The laughing, that is.

Hard to tell, since it’s another one of those “He said — She said” stories that you won’t read about in The Burlington Free Press because of the paper’s high standards of journalism. And that’s no joke.

Speaking of High Standards — Bet Freeps Publisher Jim Carey and Executive Editor Mickey Hirten went into shock the other day when they picked up The Wall Street Journal and saw the story about the anti-Semitic remarks Bernie Rome says he heard emanate from the lips of Ruthless Ruth Dwyer.

Vermont’s largest newspaper, as everybody knows, declined to report the story. Mr. Hirten said it did not meet their standards.

Guess they must think The Wall Street Journal, like Seven Days and the other dailies in Vermont, have pretty low standards.

Meanwhile, The Burlington Free Press continues its disgraceful editorial silence on civil unions for gay and lesbian Vermonters. Boss Carey appears to have muzzled the five-member editorial board on this one. C’mon Jim, is it about justice and equality for a minority or isn’t it? Or perhaps you would prefer to ram your personal religious doctrines down our throats?

Okay. Fine. But at least have the courage to say so. If you wish to control and condemn the sex practices of the citizenry, Mr. Carey, be a big boy and say so.

Meanwhile, the Freeps’ editorial section continues to carry outrageous, mean-spirited and factually just-plain-wrong letters from our sexually insecure, intellectually challenged neighbors. The anti-equal rights, anti-gay, anti-people-who-are-different-than-me crowd shamelessly spews intolerance while simultaneously denying they are intolerant. It’s ugly and bizarre. The blind leading the blind. The one in Sunday’s paper smearing Barbara Snelling under the heading “Shame on her!” can only be described as pathetic.

The letter-writer, Brandi J. Barbeau, condemns one of Vermont’s most respected and admired public servants for not sharing the writer’s inability to cope with the sexuality of strangers. Barbeau incorrectly claims “the vast majority” of Vermonters oppose civil unions. “And yet, [Snelling] voted to support an unpopular piece of legislation, along with many other legislatures (sic).”

Sorry, Ms. Barbeau. Barbara Snelling would have had to be a member of the state senate to cast a vote on civil unions. You’d think an editor might have caught that, even if the writer was clueless.

“Legislators were put in office to vote the mind of their constituents,” writes Ms. Barbeau, “not their own mind.”

What was it Dan Quayle once said — a mind is a terrible thing to lose? Wanna bet he’s Brandi’s hero?

Barbara Snelling has a record of public service in this state that few, if any, can match. Her dedication to improving public education and promoting adult literacy is legendary. Her dignity, kindness and generosity is unmatched. Over the years, yours truly has lost count of the dozens and dozens of ordinary Vermonters who have related how impressed, touched and inspired they were by Barbara Snelling.

Let’s be perfectly clear — Barbara Snelling is a genuine Vermont treasure. And to have her reputation smeared by the arrogant, ignorant and, yes, bigoted among us cannot go by without challenge. Shame on you, Ms. Barbeau. What an ugly and stupid letter you wrote! Shame on our local Gannett-chain paper for printing it.

It’s as if a new form of sexual McCarthyism has swept into our state this year. What outrageous nerve to demand the right to control the sexuality of everyone. The backlashers thumb their noses at the Vermont Constitution and the blood shed to create it. They vilify the cherished institutions of our precious democracy for not endorsing their intolerance and selfishness. They place their own legal judgment above that of the Vermont Supreme Court. It’s their way or no way at all. And their way is the wrong way. Always has been and always will be. Let freedom ring!

The fact is, the Take Back Vermont movement opposes the values Vermont has long cherished. The rights of the individual are bedrock here. Until now, it’s always been a live-and-let-live state. But the backlashers have firmly parked their blue noses in the underwear of their neighbors. It’s not a very pretty sight. But this too will pass.

Lawn Sign Update — Hey, have you noticed the latest edition to the lawn-sign competition? “Proud of Vermont” signs have started popping up. In the context of the timeless struggle for freedom, being the first state to legalize love for all couples is certainly something to be proud of. We sure are.

And speaking of lawn signs, yours truly was out pedaling along prestigious Pinnacle Drive in South Burlington the other day. That’s the road that runs through the enclave of big-bucks, big-box houses that have sprouted along Spear Street across from Overlook Park. Very expensive real estate — a testimony to the good economic times under the Bill Clinton presidency. It’s also where state Republican Party Chairman Patrick Garahan resides. And we were downright shocked to find Patsy’s well-manicured lawn was bare of political lawn signs. No “Ruth Dwyer for Governor.” No “Take Back Vermont,” either. In fact, we spotted just two lawn signs in the entire upscale development — both for Democrat Lt. Gov. Doug Racine.

In the interest of fairness, we then shot down to Gov. Howard Dean’s lovely South Cove neighborhood in the Queen City. Spotted a total of five lawn signs along South Cove Road: two Howard Dean signs, two “Jim Leddy for State Senate” signs and one Jim Jeffords sign.

Don’t you just love all the signs? Maybe next year, if Mrs. Dwyer’s the boss and after the backlash really kicks in, the legislature will change the election laws to bestow victory on the candidates who have the most lawn signs? It surely would be acceptable to any right-thinking, God-fearing, sexually threatened Vermont cave dweller, eh?

Role Model? — Last Wednesday’s WSJ story on Ruth Dwyer was a keeper. Reporter James Bandler described the Thetford conservative as “a soon-to-be-divorcée who was born in Ohio and raised partly on Long Island, New York.”

Funny, but Ruthless never talks much about her flatlander roots, passing herself off as a native of the Green Mountain State when it suits her purposes.

Bandler noted that when it comes to opposing intrusive big government, Ruthless “practices what she preaches, showing disdain for speeding limits, the seat-belt law and stop signs.”

And she doesn’t have health insurance, either. That way the rest of us can pick up Mrs. Dwyer’s medical bills if, God forbid, she crashes into someone or something.

Wonder if she really believes in leading by example?

Senator Greer of Vermont??? — Convicted hash smuggler Billy Greer of South Burlington writes from prison that he is “very proud to be representing the Vermont Grassroots Party in the upcoming election for United States Senate.” Mr. Greer is serving a 27-year sentence at the federal prison in Ray Brook, New York — the former 1980 Olympic Village. Not surprisingly, the war on drugs is an issue dear to his heart.

“We as a country,” writes Billy the Kid, “spend more money on locking up non-violent drug offenders than we spend on our children’s education. The war on drugs does not work. This is a health problem, not a national security problem. I propose a doctor as our drug czar, not a military leader.”

Greer also tells us his appeal of his drug-smuggling conviction is still very much alive at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City. Stay tuned.

Vermont Public Television producer Joe Merone tells Seven Days Billy the Kid will get an invitation to the PBS station’s “Super Sunday” of live candidate debates held on the Sunday before Election Day.

Since it’s unlikely Uncle Sam will give him a pass, perhaps Mr. Greer could partake by speakerphone?

Interesting. If every voter who agrees with Greer on the effectiveness of the war on drugs voted for him, Jeezum Jim Jeffords might need some aspirin.

Speaking of Jeezum — Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords is due to have arthroscopic surgery today to repair a torn medial meniscus in his left knee. There’s no truth to the rumor Jeezum Jim injured the knee while genuflecting to Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader. Jeezum’s royal spokesman, Eric Smulson, insists the injury occurred while the senator was snowshoeing near his Shrewsbury home.

Maybe so, but we are investigating off-the-record reports from the usual anonymous sources that Sen. Jeffords first aggravated the knee while genuflecting to Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders last year upon receiving word Ol’ Bernardo would not take him on in this year’s Senate race.

Either way, we wish him a speedy recovery.

Media Notes — A very fine gentleman and top-notch sportswriter is pulling up stakes in Vermont. Free Press columnist Andy Gardiner is moving on to cover college sports for USA Today. Andy’s put in 25 years at The Burlington Free Press. Look for his farewell column Sunday.

• And the Freeps has quickly brought in a replacement for political reporter Adam Lisberg. Adam went to The Record in New Jersey. His replacement comes from The Record. Tom Zolper, the Freeps’ new capital bureau chief, told us he’s been covering the New Jersey legislature the last four years. Good training, eh? Welcome aboard, Tom!

• Hard to believe Cara O’Brien, the new sportsbabe at “All-Irish Sports” WVNY-TV has only been on the tube three months. Ms. O’Brien, a Boston College grad, sure can talk the jock talk. She calls home runs “dingers” and sounds more familiar with her subject matter than most of the male sportshunks around here. Turns out her dad coached hockey back in St. Louis.

• “The weatherman is a powerful person,” says Dan Skeldon, the new weekend weather soothsayer at WVNY. Mr. Skeldon really looks like a weatherman, too, in a David Letterman sort of way. Dan’s a Rhode Island native who picked up his meteorological diploma at Cornell. He’s been in Upper Peninsula Michigan the last two years breaking into the weather game.

• And word is Ch. 5’s smooth-as-silk weekend anchorman David Bienick has landed a job at a station in Sacramento, California. Major move upward! Congratulations!

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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