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ABC22 Post Mortem 

Sanders commends Howard Dean for his brilliant campaign and for realizing that, after 12 years as governor of the state of Vermont... he really is a Progressive!

Bernie Sanders

Published September 17, 2003 at 4:00 p.m.

The lights are out in the Ch. 22 news department. WVNY-TV pulled the plug last week. After giving it the old college try for four years, and pumping a lot of money into the effort, our local ABC affiliate's TV news just wasn't selling. No matter how hard they tried, Ch. 22 couldn't get more than a 2 percent share in the Nielsen ratings.

What's the lesson here, folks?

Maybe it's that the way to beat Ch. 3 (CBS) and Ch. 5 (NBC) is not to be Ch. 3-Lite or Ch. 5-lite, but rather to be something completely different.

Ch. 22 produced a newscast that was a cookie-cutter version of what local news is around the country. It could have been Topeka or Toledo or Ft. Myers, Florida -- only the local place names were different.

Ch. 22's great contribution to the market was "Weather First." That policy dictated that the second story every night was the weather report.

Give me a break.

The only local talent Ch. 22 put on air was two-time right-wing Republican gubernatorial loser Ruth Dwyer as an "investigative reporter."

Give me a break.

If ever Ch. 22 takes another shot at local news, and we dearly hope they do, it should go for something different. WGOP, er, sorry, WCAX has carved out its niche as the champion of conservative Republican politics and politicians. Owner Stuart "Red" Martin has long been a generous financial contributor to Republican causes and candidates.

Last week, when the U.S. House told IBM to take a hike and rallied behind Rep. Bernie Sanders' amendment on cash-balance pensions, it was big news in the national press. But on WCAX it was a four-sentence read-over buried between the weather and sports. Not even a soundbite from the hero of the day?

Given the fact that Vermonters flock to the polls to overwhelmingly support candidates like Sanders and Sens. Patrick Leahy and Jim Jeffords, why not cover the news from the perspective of most Vermonters?

The demise of Ch. 22's news effort leaves a vacuum. One wonders whether a progressive TV news operation that counters Ch. 3's conservative slant wouldn't hit pay dirt?

P.S. Bernie Sanders tells Seven Days his once-a-week radio show on WDEV-AM and FM is going national. Ol' Bernardo says the show is being picked up by stations in Madison, Wisconsin, Presque Isle, Maine, and Houston, Texas!

Negotiations are also in the works with a prominent station in the Big Apple, we're told.

Look out, Rush Limbaugh, here comes Bernie!

Clavelle's Big Call -- Mayor Peter Clavelle is about to announce his pick for chief of police. Mayor Moonie will choose between two current deputy chiefs: Steve Wark and Tom Tremblay.

The two are "extremely qualified," according to Police Commission Chairman Gerry O'Neill. But there are a couple differences.

For one, take the voice-mail greetings of each candidate.

Tremblay's is cut and dried: "Sorry I'm not here to take your call. Leave a message and I'll call you right back."

Wark's message adds a sort of New Age twist. Not only is he sorry he's not there to take your call, he also takes the time to let you know, "Your call is important to me!"

Funny, Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Jack McMullen uses the same time-wasting line on his voice-mail message.

The other difference between Wark and Tremblay is where they'll live and pay taxes if tapped by Clavelle to be chief of police. A chief might keep a closer eye on the overtime if his personal property taxes are paying for it.

Burlington currently requires city department heads to live in the city they serve. There is wiggle room, however. A department head can apply to the city council for a waiver. That's what the fire chief Mike O'Neill did.

Asked if he would move into Burlington if chosen top cop, Tom Tremblay of Essex told Seven Days "If requested to move, I'll move." Tom Terrific said he has discussed the possibility with his wife and kids.

"We're prepared to move into Burlington," he said.

Wark was asked the same question, but he gave a very different answer.

Wark said he "hopes not to have to move." He currently resides in Colchester, where he also serves as chairman of the Colchester Planning Commission, a position he would like to retain.

Interesting. Stevie Wonderful's so talented he can serve two towns simultaneously!

Wark added that he'd been told "there would be flexibility" on the issue of residency.

By whom?

"By the mayor," he replied.

Mayor Moonie was a little fidgety when we asked him about the residency requirement. He quickly whipped out a copy of the city ordinance and stuck it in our hands.

We told da' mayor we were aware of the ordinance and its loophole, but what was his stand on the matter? Should Burlington's chief of police live in Burlington?

"I'm not a big fan of residency requirements," answered Clavelle. "Having said that, I think the next chief needs to live in the city."

Was that both sides of Moonie's mouth, or what?

Our hunch?

He's leaning toward the guy with the New Age phone message.

Douglas Enviro Update--

Gov. Jim Douglas tried to sharpen his environmental credentials this week by issuing an executive order directing state government to set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2012. Jimmy D even trotted out VPIRG lobbyist Curt McCormack to stand in the camera shot and "commend" Jimmy D for signing the executive order.

But when asked what the number-one cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont was, the Gov started to blush and quickly called Environmental Commissioner Jeff Wennberg and his aide Dick Valentinetti to the front of the room to provide an answer.

We didn't think it was that tough a question. Honest.

Cars and trucks are the biggest source of greenhouse, they said.

But when Jimmy D was asked if he supported higher fuel efficiency standards for cars, he declined to take a position.

We asked the Gov if he knew what the second-largest source of greenhouse gases in Vermont was.

He didn't know.

And when we asked Douglas if he knew who the largest private contributor of greenhouse gases in Vermont is (maybe IBM?), Douglas stepped out of his normal cardboard character and blasted yours truly for even asking the question. That's right, Jim Douglas got testy. Obviously he reads this column.

The Gov said the real problem was our inability to accept the fact that a Republican can support the environment.

He never did answer the question about greenhouse gases.

But the astonishing news was Jimmy D's characterization of the controversial Circ Highway Project. Bet you thought it was a transportation project, right?

Ready for this one?

Governor Douglas said the Circ Highway is actually an "environmental project." It will reduce idling time in traffic, he said, and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Following Gov. Douglas' logic, we could build 10 more Circ highways around Vermont and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero!

P.S. When asked if he agreed with Jimmy D's assessment of the Circ, VPIRG's McCormack uttered a quiet "no," and instantly turned beet red. Curt quickly backed away from the microphones.

DeanWatch2004 -- In 1991 Bernie Sanders was sworn in as congressman. The same year, Howard Dean was sworn in as governor. But their two paths rarely crossed over the next decade. In fact, it wasn't until the final year of Dean's last term that we recall the pair ever holding a joint press conference. The subject was high pharmaceutical prices. At last, common ground!

Ol' Bernardo and Ho-Ho are two big dogs from Burlington. Bernie's a Northsider, Howard lives on the South side. And miles apart is where they stood politically over the years.

So it is with a critical eye that Mr. Sanders has been watching what Mr. Dean has been doing over the last nine months. Sur-prisingly, Bernie likes what he sees.

"Dean and his staff are running a brilliant campaign," Sanders told Seven Days. "They're energizing a lot of people all over this country. I applaud them for that."

Sanders told Seven Days that over the years he has "lamented" the lack of young people involved in the political process. But Dean crowds, packed with students and twentysomethings, have caught Ol' Bernardo's eye.

"I applaud Gov. Dean for doing that," said Ol' Bernardo.

The former Burlington mayor and seven-term congressman has watched Howard Dean develop over the last 20 years. The latest version is the one he likes best.

"On the issues," said Sanders, "I'm glad that after 12 years as governor of the state of Vermont, Howard has suddenly concluded he really is a Progressive!"

The new Howard Dean is staunchly pro-labor and bitterly opposes tax cuts for the rich.

"Many of the issues that I and others have talked about," said Bernie, "are now issues he feels confortable speaking about. I'm delighted with that."

Half-truth Doesn't Cut It-- A letter in the Seven Days "Mailbag" last week accused yours truly of revisionist history concerning the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident that triggered the disastrous U.S. military intervention in Vietnam.

The previous week, "Inside Track" compared the North Vietnamese gunboats that attacked the USS Maddox to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which Dubya & Co. insisted were ready to be turned on America. Neither the gunboats nor the WMDs existed, we wrote.

Rising to President Bush's defense, letter writer Roger Donegan of Hinesburg noted an August 2, 1964, incident in which North Vietnamese gunboats attacked the destroyer. The USS Maddox was not damaged.

Mr. Donegan is correct as far as the events of August 2, 1964, are concerned, but he conveniently left out what happened next.

You see, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the "attack" by the North Vietnamese that sparked a presidential TV address to the nation, did not take place until two days later, on August 4.

It was night. The USS Maddox and the USS Turner Joy were on joint patrol. The sonar man on the Maddox heard what he thought were enemy vessels approaching. The alarm was sounded, shots were fired. But the destroyers never made visual contact with the "attackers."

Overhead, Squadron Commander James Stockdale, from the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga, was at the controls of his A-4 fighter plane. He listened closely to the destroyers' radio chatter.

Stockdale once recalled he had "the best seat in the house to watch that event, and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets -- there were no PT boats there... There was nothing there but black water and American fire power."

In a 2001 interview (available at, Stockdale called the August 4 Tonkin Gulf incident "a big screw-up. Even in the intelligence community," said Stockdale, "nobody disputes it now. There were bullets fired, but they weren't fired off of PT boats out there."

Within days, the infamous Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed the House 416-0 and sped through the Senate on an 88-2 vote. The good ol' USA went to war over those phantom PT boats.

Like Dubya's Iraq Resolution, LBJ's Tonkin Gulf Resolution handed the president of the United States a blank check to take whatever military action he deemed appropriate.

In 1964, Congress gave Lyndon Johnson of Texas the green light "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression."

In 2002, Congress gave George W. Bush of Texas the green light "to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."

One year after the gunboat attack that never happened, Stockdale was shot down and captured. He endured seven years of confinement and torture and inspired his fellow POWs with his courageous resistance to his captors. Upon his release Stockdale was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

However, it's not just Admiral Stockdale and patriotic Bush opponents who make this case, Mr. Donegan. It's the official history of the United States Navy.

According to Edward J. Marolda, Senior Historian at the Department of the Navy's National Historical Center, "More recent analysis of the data and additional information gathered on the August 4 episode now makes it clear that North Vietnamese naval forces did not attack Maddox and Turner Joy that night in the summer of 1964."

You can read Marolda's December 12, 2001, report on what really happened in the Gulf of Tonkin at

Folks, Donegan pitched a half-truth. Bad boy, Roger.

We stand by our story.

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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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