Jesse's Jihad

What's behind the governor's latest spouting and pouting about the media?

In response, news columnists from the Star Tribune's Doug Grow and Lori Sturdevant to the Pioneer Press's Laura Billings and Joe Soucheray lambasted the governor for his thin skin and selfish behavior at a time when his state is facing a dwindling surplus and the nation is at war. Garrison Keillor chimed in with a piece on the op-ed page of the New York Times entitled "A Governor Works in Mysterious Ways," in which he dubs Ventura "Larry" and makes fun of his preoccupation with personal security.

"I think this is the waltz he's been doing with the media ever since he was with the World Wrestling Federation. It's just part of his game," says longtime Ventura critic David Schultz, a professor at Hamline University and the former president of Common Cause Minnesota. "He's being eclipsed by larger events in the world. There's nothing in reality that he has a major role in, in terms of New York, Washington, and Afghanistan. So this is his way of staying in the news."

Other observers aren't so sure. "I don't think this has anything to do with calculation or anything. It's the way he sees the world," argues the Pioneer Press's Ragsdale. "What he's doing right now does not work in his own best interest. Why aren't we reading stories about how he won the strike? That was a huge victory. And I can't get him to talk about it because he's still fuming about this stupid thing in New York.

"And you really can't accuse him of blacking everyone out," Ragsdale adds. "Because the minute you think he's not giving any interviews, he's all over the airwaves."

To be sure, Ventura's choice of folks to speak to during his ostensible media embargo is as interesting as what he's saying to them. As is usually the case not long after Ventura takes a vow of silence, he's ubiquitous. This time around he has chosen to vent at length as a guest and guest host on Joe Soucheray's Garage Logic program on KSTP-AM (1500), and he has appeared on Minnesota Public Radio's Midmorning with Katherine Lanpher. Quotes from those appearances are then picked up by every major media outlet in town. (Through his spokesman, the governor responded to City Pages' request for an interview with an evasive "We'll see.")

"When he says he's not talking to the media, he's generally referring to the capitol press corps," Wodele explains. "Governor Ventura has a lot of respect for Minnesota Public Radio. He likes their format, where he has the time to answer the questions without interruption. And he has a good relationship with Katherine [Lanpher] and [Midday host] Gary Eichten. And I have to say, Gary asks him the tough questions."

And what of Soucheray, who has never been shy about taking shots at Ventura? "The governor enjoys a good battle," Wodele replies with a chuckle. "Especially when it's in the kind of environment Garage Logic provides. Even though there isn't much love lost between the two, I do think they have a grudging respect for each other's entertainment value."

On the other end of the continuum, skeptics such as Schultz and Kessler argue that Ventura gravitates toward talk radio because the questions are broad and open-ended. Moreover, it's an environment he's familiar with and that allows him a lot of control. (Before taking office he had a morning show on KFAN-AM [1130]; he now hosts a weekly program on WCCO-AM [830].) "He tends to go only to talk-radio shows, call-in shows," Kessler says. "It's understandable, from his point of view: He feels more comfortable, not only because it's his previous life, but also because it gives him an opportunity to tell his side of the story, generally without being challenged."

This episode, like the ones that preceded it, will surely blow over. But there's a sense that it might produce lasting damage. Ventura's 58 percent approval rating, while still high, is less impressive given the high poll numbers elected officials are enjoying nationwide during this time of national crisis. And the governor's colleagues are growing weary of the spat. Late last week the DFL sent an open letter to Ventura urging him to tone down the anti-media rhetoric. "The bottom line: His image is taking a beating during rally-round-the-flag time," opines Schultz.

"The governor, without question, was terribly upset by the accusations that he was bought," the besieged Wodele offers. "And I don't blame him. That's a hard one to let go of. Do I wish he'd let go? Yes. Is he going to? No. That's just his personality."

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