Columnists Gone Wild
The controversy over the recent inaccuracies in Nick Coleman's reporting in the Star Tribune seems to be heating up. For those just tuning in, our story so far is revealed in these previous posts. And now the Big Trunk has added Power Line's considerable gravitas to the debate. With the size and quality of their audience now alerted to the irregularities in Coleman's reporting, he won't be able to avoid answering for his work for much longer.
In fact, he has hinted that he may be forced to present a full response soon. Here's the text of the email Nick Coleman sent to the Pioneer Press's Craig Westover:
Dear Craig Westover and Art Coulson: Where in my November 14 or Dec. 5 columns on the literacy problems at St. Paul's Maxfield School did I mention the word "textbooks"? Both columns were about the desperate effort to improve reading skills at Maxfield, and the fact that that effort has been hampered by a shortage of READING materials. The topic was not text books. It was LITERACY. Perhaps you should look into it, Westover. What Principal Zelma Wiley and Superintendent Pat Harvey have upbraided you for was your lazy attempt to exploit the situation to serve an anti-public school agenda (You couldn't even get off your duff to set foot inside a school 1.5 miles from your desk). All you did was hijack my columns to beat up on a school whose parents and neighbors were trying to help their school survive. This is kicking poor kids while they're down. Now you are covering your butt in your blog -- but not in the newspaper? Whassamatter? Too hot for you?
(Side note on Coleman. For some reason, subconsciously, I still hold onto the preconception that Nick Coleman is a professional journalist and that he actually does "know stuff". That maybe our criticisms betray a lack of analysis and perhaps he deserves more respect that we've granted him, if only we'd take the time to understand him better and remove the partisan ear muffs long enough to really listen to him. This instinct illustrates how powerful the medium is, in terms of granting default legitimacy to whatever is "in the paper," an impression particularly powerful for those not prone to analysis at all.
Then Coleman writes something like that, to a fellow MSM journalist no less, and it proves we've been right all along. Coleman's standard of conduct, level of rhetoric, and attitude towards his job is beneath what you'll find on any blogs (at least any worth reading). "Kicking poor kids while they're down" - you don't even see that in the City Pages. It's embarrassing, laughable, childish - and wholly consistent with the rhetoric in his columns. I guess it's not shtick. That's the real Coleman - the lead columnist for the dominant newspaper in the market. Is there anybody in Star Tribune management who has any shame left? Do they even care what he's doing any more?)
What's great about Coleman's telegraphed punch to "address this in more detail" is that he's beholden to the structures of the mainstream media. He's all fired up and ready to defend himself ... but not until his next columns runs, nearly a week later. On the bright side, that will give him time to meticulously research his topic, get the facts right, and hone his prose to a high degree of professionalism and accuracy ..... Ah, yes, sometimes I crack myself up.
Instead of a reasonable, professional discussion of the issues at hand, I predict Nick's columnar response (if it ever appears) will include some or all of the following:
1) Clintonian parsing of language. He'll try to make us believe there is a difference between "textbooks" and "books in classrooms." Any readers who made the mistake of confusing the two will be blamed for their own ineptitude. Then he'll question the secret, evil motivations behind anyone who could possibly make the mistake of misreading a Nick Coleman column.
2) Blame others for his mistake. Maybe Zelma Wiley, or someone else, didn't tell him everything he needed to know when he was interviewing them. Remember, that was his excuse when the Minneapolis Police Department caught him spreading falsehoods about their record. To quote Coleman: True, but not my fault: The park police spokesman I talked to did not mention that there were other arrests that night, even though I asked for a description of what had occurred. If I had been given the information, I would have included it."
3) Attempt to distract from the real issue via ad hominem attacks on bloggers (a status to which he'll assign Pioneer Press writer Westover). In Nick's mind the word "blogger" alone is enough to discredit any criticism he received, so he'll bleed it for all it's worth. Maybe go after our sartorial choices (pajamas, boxer shorts, doesn't matter to us - because, that is actually TRUE). Perhaps he'll belabor the perceived "geeky" aspects of the medium. Because, you know, you have to some sort of science freak to use computers as the primary vehicle to transmit editorial comment. Given Coleman's ability to stay current with the culture, I predict at least one derisive Star Trek reference, (bonus points if he slyly uses the phrase "beam me up, Scotty").
I encourage the legion of other long time (long suffering) readers of Coleman to come out with their predictions of what his response to the Maxfield reporting discrepencies will be. Email them to me, or put them on your own blogs and shoot me the link. But hurry, you've only got two days before Coleman is on deadline again.