Fred’s Interview With The Waverly Democrat

Although the Silly Hat story seems to have died on the vine (thanks to bloggers jumping on it quickly, I might add), the reporting of Roger Simon (sans-L) is still under scrutiny. Bob Owens examined some of the discrepancies between what Simon reported and what the video revealed with respect to the Silly Hat incident, and finds Simon’s journalistic integrity lacking.

We don’t know if the entire Politico article is grossly unfair in the way it characterized Senator Thompson’s swing through Waverly, Iowa, but we do know, thanks to the CBS News video, that not only was Simon’s editorializing of what occurred in the Waverly Fire Department mischaracterized, but that he doctored a quote to make his article appear all the more damning.

Simon is the Chief Political Columnist for The Politico—one that they tout as one of “Washington’s most visible and experienced journalists.”— and should know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that doctoring quotes is highly unethical by any journalistic standard.

Bob was kind enough to link to an ASHC post about an earlier political gaffe (that really wasn’t) also fomented by Simon. That left him wondering:

If this is indeed the case, it seems a resignation, and not a retraction, is in order from Mr. Simon.

As Bob mentions, “[w]e don’t know if the entire Politico article is grossly unfair in the way it characterized Senator Thompson’s swing through Waverly, Iowa,” since the only other account we have so far is from the CBS video. However, Jimmie at The Sundries Shack decided to dig a little more into the interview that Fred did with the Waverly Democrat, and found Simon’s story lacking there as well.

I’d like to follow up on Roger “Event? What Event?” Simon’s Politico story with some details about Fred Thompson’s visit to the Waverly, Iowa newspaper. You know, the newspaper where Thompson’s staff made Simon and Mark Halperin wait outside. It seems that Simon appeared a bit miffed by the exclusion and that, in my opinion, colored his entire story.

First, here’s how Simon reported the interview:

Anelia Dimitrova, the executive regional editor, greeted us in warmly and invited us to have a seat, chat and use the bathroom. …

She said Thompson was the first candidate to come into the paper. The paper does not endorse candidates, and maybe that is why the others have skipped it. “He’s got a lot of catching up to do,” Dimitrova said. “I think it’s a sign he is behind. I don’t think he necessarily wants to run. Bluntly, I don’t know why he is running.”

This is the question that has dogged the Thompson campaign from the beginning. While sometimes he displays bursts of energy at a speech here or there, he is often described as “laconic” on the road.

Just a quick note here to point out that Simon apparently has no idea what “laconic” means. It has nothing to do with energy, or being lackluster in one’s efforts. Instead, it means short, terse, to the point and easy to understand. Someone who can make a strong point with Spartan brevity is considered laconic. Lazy people are not.

Dimitrova invited Mark and me into the interview with Thompson but the Thompson press aide refused. Dimitrova said she had no problem with us being there, but the press aide refused again.

It was no big deal. We waited for Thompson outside the conference room and after a few minutes he emerged, left the newspaper office and headed straight onto his large, brown bus.

[…]

Later in the day, I sent an e-mail to Anelia Dimitrova, asking her about the private meeting she had with Thompson at the newspaper office.

She e-mailed me back that Thompson “was so vague that I would be hard-pressed to write a story. Simply put, there is no news peg other than he came to the newsroom with his model wife and a beehive of staffers. When I asked him specifically what he would do as prez for farmers in Bremer County, he resorted to glittering generalities.”

So, according to Simon’s recounting, Fred breezed into the newspaper’s offices, surrounded by an entourage, and basically said nothing of substance. Jimmie tracked down Anelia Dimitrova’s report of the interview and finds it at odds with Simon. He points specifically to this portion of the interview where Fred talked about what he’d do for farmers in Iowa:

AKD: What will you do for the farmers of Bremer County?

FT: (laughs)

AKD: You knew this was coming, right?

FT: I would continue to enjoy the fruits of their labor. I’ve been looking all over Iowa for a bad steak and I can’t find it. Been trying my best. It’s not a matter of what I would do for the farmers. Farmers are not looking for a president to hand them something. Farmers want fair treatment and a chance to prosper in a free economy and that’s what I would help ensure. There’s a lot of programs we’ve got out there, some of which are good programs, some of which are not. And I think that we need to work our way through that and make sure we’re doing what’s good for the country, not just the farmers, not just the people of Iowa, not just the people of Tennessee. But good for the country. A sound policy that makes sense. I think there’s a lot more that we could do for the working farmer in terms of ecological programs and environmental programs - land conservation, soil conservation - that would be fair and it would be beneficial to the nation and to Iowa and to our country. We’re going to have to phase out the corporate welfare system we’ve got, however. There are extremely rich people living in skyscrapers in Manhattan that are receiving subsidy payments. I think that’s wrong. I’d put a stop to that if it was within my power. That still continues in this latest Farm Bill and it’s not right. There ought to be a cutoff at some level and it’s not right to have millionaires receiving farm subsidies.

According to Simon, Dimitrova declared this answer to be nothing but “glittering generalities.” Fred didn’t get terribly specific mind you, but it’s short interview so I’m not sure why he would. Jimmie managed to find some specifics, however:

I’m not seeing any “…glittering generalities…” here. In fact, it looks to me like Thompson said something that I’ll bet not many candidates are saying this month. In fact, it looks like he got into a few specifics. Here are the ones I picked out.

1) He wouldn’t do anything to help the farmers in Iowa as such but would do everything he could to make sure they had a fair chance to compete.
2) He would examine the farm programs and cull the ones that aren’t working.
3) He’d end the farm subsidies that went to corporations if he has the authority to do so.
4) He’d work for common-sense, fair conservation rules.

Admittedly, he didn’t do bullet points and he didn’t lay out a white paper for the news staff, but he gave a good number of specifics, enough to give the editor a very good idea where he stands on the issue.

I’d agree that’s a pretty fair assessment. To be sure, perhaps when Dimitrova sent her email to Simon she hadn’t yet seen the transcript, and couldn’t recall anything very specific about Fred’s answer. Phrases like “fair treatment”, “a chance to prosper”, “we need to work our way through that”, and “sound policy that makes sense” are pretty general standing by themselves. But in the context of Fred challenging the premise that farmers want anything from government (”It’s not a matter of what I would do for the farmers. Farmers are not looking for a president to hand them something.”) and identifying specific goals (”We’re going to have to phase out the corporate welfare system …”), those general phrases take on more meaning. In other words, I think Fred’s answer can more accurately be described as “laconic” than being nothing but “glittering generalities.”

A couple of final points about the interview. Take a look at the transcript and note the number of times “(laughter)” appears. That suggests to me that the interview was not exactly boring. Also peruse Fred’s answers to the other questions. My favorite was here:

AKD: Janelle, you have questions. I will let my reporters talk. Come on.

JANELLE PENNY: What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?

AKD: Nice question. Nice job?

FT: Me? That I am a fantastic breakdancer.

(laughter)

AKD: Really? Are you going to show us?

FT: What are you laughing about?

(laughter)

FT: That’s very impolite. Are you questioning my credibility on something - I’m pulling your leg. I wouldn’t know if it was a breakdance or another kind of dance if I saw it. I don’t even know what it is. But somebody told me that would be a good answer. I didn’t mean to be flippant with you, young lady, but something you don’t know at this stage of the game is probably going to remain something you don’t know.

(laughter)

Laconic indeed.

UPDATE: Fred responds (from the bus) to the Simon-sans-L created controversy.

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