When Gov. Jesse Ventura opens his piehole to complain about the way the press treats him (which is to say, about every other day), it's tough to know whether to smirk or cringe. For a hard-ass ex-Navy SEAL, Ventura is so thin-skinned it's embarrassing to listen to him. But although I almost hate to admit it, last week, for the first time, I actually felt for the guy.
By now--assuming you haven't been completely unconscious--you're aware that in addition to being duped by a scam artist who bunked for a month at the governor's residence, Ventura's 22-year-old son Tyrel allegedly hosted "wild parties" at the Summit Avenue manse, where guests engaged in "improper behavior," "passed out," and, occasionally, "vomited."
For journalists and audience alike, the story was impossible to resist: a peek behind the gates of the hulking brick mansion, filled with titillating details like "stained slipcovers" and a broken "antique barley twist chair" (whatever that is).
By Saturday we even had a Pioneer Press poll that found women are more apt than men to "disapprove" of Tyrel's lifestyle.
Shortly after the story broke, Papa Ventura appeared on Gary Eichten's Midday program on Minnesota Public Radio to announce that he would not run for reelection (and, while he was at it, to compare himself with Che Guevara). Though he said he'd come to the decision weeks ago, he couldn't resist going off on one of his media-bashing tirades, complete with the usual overblown tripe.
But he also stood up for his family.
"I don't like the fact that they're somehow portraying that the First Lady and I are somehow bad parents," Ventura told Eichten. "I will tell you on the record that my son's behavior is exemplary. He's 22 years old. He's a man. He's adult. He can consume alcohol if he wants to. I behaved far worse at his age than what he's ever behaved."
And later: "You're right, a chair got broke there. My son lived there off and on for three years. Chairs get broke in my home. Things happen....I always have a standard rule in my house that if anyone consumes too much alcohol, then they sleep over. They do not get put out onto the road."
Don't get me wrong: I said this was an irresistible story and I meant it. And though Ventura would have you believe otherwise, revelations from members of the staff at the governor's mansion constitute News with a capital N.
But were the allegations sensationalized? Absolutely. The Star Tribune was particularly shameless in this regard, devoting twice as much ink to the story as its competitor across the river. While the Pioneer Press's Jim Ragsdale was relatively straightforward in laying out the staff's gripes, Strib reporter Patricia Lopez's June 18 front-page article (on which fellow reporters Robert Whereatt and Jackie Crosby were also credited) cites a "stream of guests floating in between midnight and 5 a.m." that turns out to be instances "involving anywhere from two to a dozen guests." (You call that a "wild party"?) Purported "filching" of alcohol from the Official Liquor Cabinet refers to a mere "half-dozen bottles." And although it was alleged that "neighbors complained about noise," Strib reporters asked around and found that "no one could recall hearing anything unusual."
Two days later the paper's editorial-page windbags collectively emitted. Beneath the headline, "Ventura's whining has gotten old," the unsigned Star Tribune editorial chided the governor for blaming the press, and made reference to "young people wandering in at all hours of the night, guzzling state-purchased alcohol and treating the mansion as though it were a frat house.
"If it had been the governor's suburban ranch, the behavior of Tyrel Ventura's young guests would have been an issue only for the Venturas. But this is a house owned by the people of Minnesota and provided temporarily to a governor as a courtesy," the editorial writers sniffed. "The mansion is a symbol of the respect the state shows its most senior official and the respect it expects he will receive from the rest of the world as well."
The conclusion: "Before he goes, the Legislature needs to tally the cost to taxpayers from misuse of the mansion--and bill him."
What a pantload. As inane as it is to attack journalists for doing what journalists are supposed to do, preachy moralizing is infinitely more pathetic, whiny, and deserving of contempt. Tyrel's antics make for entertaining reading, but from a parent's point of view, they're no big deal--in fact, they're part of the deal. By backing up his son in this situation, Jesse Ventura did exactly what he was supposed to do.
Come January, the moralists are certain to welcome a more upstanding citizen to the governor's mansion. And just as surely, the journalists will miss the partying.
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