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Censored in Vermont! 

Bernie Sanders

Published September 20, 2000 at 1:00 a.m.

Last week’s Seven Days scoop on alleged anti-Semitic remarks by the Republican gubernatorial candidate has ricocheted across Vermont and all the way to Washington, D.C. And in a state already divided by the hot-button political issue of gay marriage in the form of civil unions, the Bernie Rome vs. Ruth Dwyer story — specifically whether it even is a news story — has sharply divided the Vermont media. Amazing!

The story of Bernie Rome’s allegations hit the Battleship Dwyer squarely amidships last week. It clearly stalled Ruthless Ruth’s momentum in the wake of her landslide victory in the Republican primary.

By now everyone with a passing interest in Vermont politics has heard the story. But while the vast majority of Vermont news outlets considered the matter newsworthy — even Washington, D.C., politicos have read all about it on The Hotline — two giant media companies in this market have refused to report it at all!

Both The Burlington Free Press (Gannett) and WPTZ-TV (Hearst-Argyle) in Plattsburgh, New York, have blacked out the anti-Semitism story from the news page and TV screen. They say it’s not news because it’s just a three-year-old “He said — She said” story with no corroboration. They say their news standards are “higher” than the rest of us peons in the press. How noble.

As a result, the story of alleged anti-Semitism by the charismatic right-wing populist poised to become Vermont’s next governor simply does not exist in the world inhabited by the readers of Vermont’s largest daily newspaper. Nor viewers who watch the frequently top-rated TV news program in the market.

It’s as if the most-talked-about story in Election 2000 never happened. As if Bobby Thompson’s home run was a foul ball. As if the Japanese never surrendered. The Beatles never wrote a song. As if there was never an Anita Hill, a Juanita Broderick and most certainly, never a Monica Lewinsky. Quite simply, in the past week, the news scene in the Green Mountains has resembled a “Twilight Zone” episode.

Let’s back up a little.

In a nutshell, Republican Bernie Rome of Killington, a successful multi-millionaire developer and 1998 GOP gubernatorial candidate, says that then-State Rep. Ruth Dwyer of Thetford made astonishing anti-Semitic remarks to him in a September 1997 telephone conversation. At the time, both were political allies. They were recognized as the most outspoken opponents of Vermont’s new Equal Educational Opportunity Act — Act 60. Rome told Seven Days that Dwyer told him the reason the Vermont press was defending Democrat Gov. Howard Dean in the contentious Act 60 debate was because Dean “is Jewish and the press is Jewish.” She went on to identify three prominent journalists as being Jewish, though only two of them actually are. Neither is Ho-Ho.

Mrs. Dwyer denied she made the anti-Semitic statements. She did acknowledge, however, that she had several conversations with Bernie Rome that year, both in person and on the telephone. Asked face-to-face by Seven Days if Mr. Rome was lying, she replied, “I think Bernie is trying to spin something for political reasons.”

In fact, one week later, we note that not once in her denials on radio, television and in the daily newspapers does Ms. Dwyer ever charge that Mr. Rome is lying.

Last week’s Seven Days report was followed up by stories in the Rutland Herald, in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, on Vermont Public Radio via Bob Kinzel, the dean of radio news in the Green Mountains, on WCAX-TV (CBS), on WDEV and WKDR, on WVNY-TV (ABC), in the Valley News, St. Albans Messenger, Caledonian-Record and on the wires of the Associated Press under the byline of veteran Statehouse reporter Ross Sneyd. The following day Bernie Rome himself appeared for 90 contentious minutes on “The Mark Johnson Show” on WDEV/WKDR radio. Mr. Rome took a garbage-truck load of nasty, low-life brickbats from over a dozen devoted Dwyer disciples. It was shoot-the-messenger radio, and yours truly was honored to get some incoming as well.

Instantly rising in defense of Ruthless Ruth was none other than the chairman of the Vermont GOP, Patrick Garahan of South Burlington. Patsy the Pol, a former Coast Guard officer and “Jeopardy” champion, turned his guns on the Vermont press for having reported it in the first place.

“It is absurd,” said Patsy, “that the media would cover an unsubstantiated story that could damage the reputation of a candidate. It is unprofessional and unfair.”

Echoing Mr. Garahan’s unbiased viewpoint is Mickey Hirten, executive editor of The Burlington Free Press. Mr. Hirten told Seven Days the Freeps decided to ignore the Rome/Dwyer story because there was “no corroboration.” Like Mr. Garahan, Mr. Hirten portrayed it as a “He said — She said” situation with no way to know whom to believe.

“It doesn’t satisfy our standards,” said Hirten.

Standards, eh?

So we asked why the local Gannett paper had recently given top billing to uncorroborated allegations that Hillary Clinton had made an anti-Semitic remark to a campaign staffer in an Arkansas campaign in the 1970s.

Replied Hirten, “The national news is trickier.”

Cute answer.

WPTZ news director Andy Woormser agreed with Hirten.

“We wrangled about it,” Woormser told Seven Days. “It was a private conversation between two people that occurred three years ago and we couldn’t confirm it,” he said. So Ch. 5 decided not to put it on the air, even though it was a story on the region’s Associated Press wire and carried by all the competition.

We asked Mr. Woormser if the same standards should have been applied to Anita Hill’s infamous allegations against Judge Clarence Thomas, then a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. You remember, pubic hair and Coca-Cola.

“That’s a very good point,” replied Woormser. “It didn’t come up in our discussion. This is a craft, not a science,” said the news director. “We thought we made the right decision at the time.”

After speaking with Hirten Tuesday morning, yours truly was contacted by a professor in the philosophy department at UVM. Professor Hilary Kornblith, who teaches contemporary philosophy, said he had also contacted Mr. Hirten to question why the Freeps was censoring the Dwyer anti-Semitism story. He told us that he had a lengthy phone conversation with Hirten, who called him at home Monday after the paper had received a letter to the editor Kornblith had submitted on the matter.

Kornblith told Seven Days that Editor Hirten told him the same thing. That it was a “He said — She said” story that could not be corroborated.

The UVM professor said he then asked why the newspaper had been running letters to the editor expressing uncorroborated, and outlandish allegations about Gov. Dean, such as one accusing Ho-Ho of supporting pedophilia.

He said Hirten responded, “We shouldn’t have run that.”

Asked if Mr. Hirten might change the paper’s letters policy, Professor Kornblith told Seven Days Mr. Hirten replied, “It’s not my department.”

After batting the issue around for awhile, the Professor said Mr. Hirten “asked me why I was so interested in seeing this issue given coverage.” Kornblith told Seven Days that Hirten asked him, “Are you Jewish?”

Kornblith is Jewish and told the Freeps editor so. He also told Hirten he thought his religion “was irrelevant to the discussion.” But, he said, Hirten disagreed.

“He told me that if I’m Jewish, then that shows that I ‘have an axe to grind.’”

Professor Kornblith told Seven Days the Freeps executive editor said the story of former gubernatorial candidate Bernie Rome publicly stating that Ruth Dwyer had made outrageous anti-Semitic remarks and was unfit to serve was “not an important story.”

“I don’t understand how the editor of Vermont’s largest newspaper can suggest such a thing,” said the professor.

In hopes of getting a response from Mr. Hirten on this serious charge of questioning the letter-writer’s religion, we left several messages for the distinguished, award-winning editor at the paper Tuesday afternoon, both on his voice mail and with his secretary. Mr. Hirten did not respond.

If Freeps editor Mickey Hirten thinks that, in Vermont, one must be Jewish to be concerned about statewide political candidates making anti-Semitic remarks, he is a sad victim of serious journalistic and cultural misjudgment.

The Bernie Rome story is big news. And because of the reaction it’s drawn from Dwyer, her supporters, the public, WPTZ-TV and The Burlington Free Press, it’s only gotten bigger.

Bernie Rome told Seven Days this week he “appreciates the courageous elements of the Vermont press that did cover it. I respect the balance they had to achieve and did achieve,” he said. In every case Dwyer was given the opportunity to respond.

Rome said he also appreciates the public support he’s received from fellow Republicans — state Sen. John Bloomer Jr. of Rutland and state Rep. Dick Mallary of Brookfield. Both described Rome as a man of integrity in the Rutland Herald (the paper which, by the way, supported Rome on its editorial page Monday).

As for criticism from Pat Garahan, Skip Vallee and other Dwyer defenders, who have publicly trashed him and questioned why he waited three years to go public, Rome replied, “The answer is, this is an ugly kind of story whenever it comes out. I never did want to bring it out,” he said. “I hoped [Ruth Dwyer] would fade into the woodwork. But she’s running for governor.” As one caller told him, he said, “You at least waited until you really had to do it.”

Meanwhile, this week the gubernatorial candidates begin public debates, starting at City Hall in Burlington Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., then at the Capitol Plaza in Montpeculier Thursday evening, and on Sunday in a televised debate at the Paramount Theater in Rutland. Ch. 3’s carrying it live.

No doubt any comments made by the candidates in reference to Bernie Rome’s charges against Dwyer will not be mentioned by The Burlington Free Press, nor reported by WPTZ-TV. Interesting to note that the Freeps is the only major daily in Vermont that has declined to take an editorial position on civil unions.

And WPTZ is the only TV station in the market that has refused to run paid ads promoting the state’s Dr. Dynasaur program, which provides health-care coverage for kids. The station’s general manager objects to the fact that Gov. Dean, a physician, appears in the ads.

Hey, don’t you just love censorship?

Dwyer’s Massachusetts campaign manager, Kathie Summers, told Seven Days Tuesday the Dwyer campaign will “do a general statement Thursday,” calling for an end to the “negativity, hearsay and innuendo” in the current campaign for governor of Vermont.


Bernie & Tony — UVM’s senior political pundit, Garrison Nelson, tells Seven Days he isn’t buying the line he’s getting from his Sanderista sources about why Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders won’t endorse Anthony Pollina for Governor. Mr. Pollina is the standard-bearer of the new Vermont Progressive Party.

Gary-Gary-Gary, who’s been teaching political science at Groovy UV longer than most people in town have been alive, says he’s been getting the same lame excuse reported in this space over a month ago, i.e., that Ol’ Bernardo is afraid the House Democratic Caucus will look unkindly on him if he chooses to endorse Tony the Prog over Democrat Gov. Howard Dean. Remember, last fall Bernie took the big pay-off and cut a deal with Dick Gephardt, chair of the Democrat Caucus, to run for re-election in the House rather than challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords. Gephardt has promised Ol’ Bernardo a seat on the Appropriations Committee as a reward.

“I think Mr. Courage,” mocked Prof. Nelson, “has shown some lack thereof.”

You see, when it comes to the inner workings of Congress, Professor Nelson is what one calls a “certified expert.” Garrison’s a longtime Washington observer, and he says the excuse that Bernie endorsing Pollina would tick off congressional Democrats is “a crock.”

“The Democratic Caucus,” says Nelson, “could care less who wins the governorship in the various states, because there’s no impact upon them, particularly in a state that has just one congressional district and it ain’t going to be reapportioned.”

If Prof. Nelson is correct and Ol’ Cowardo, sorry, Ol’ Bernardo has nothing to worry about in terms of retribution from Dick Gephardt, then why won’t Bernie support his longtime loyal supporter, Tony the Prog?

Hey, if you see The Bern roaming around out there, ask him. ’Cause we haven’t been able to get a straight answer out of the “Father of the Progressive Movement” on this one.

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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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