Spin & Tonic
TO OFF BEAT'S (admittedly jaded) eye, the only thing odder than the Star Tribune's October 7 story about Jesse Ventura's Lincoln Bedroom sleepover was the paper's October 10 followup, in which editor Tim McGuire offered a conditional apology "if we misinterpreted the governor in this case." It all began with the October 6 installment of Ventura's weekly radio show Lunch With the Governor, broadcast from a Washington, D.C., restaurant, in which the gube and his staff talked up his White House slumber party the night before. A subsequent Strib story by intern Andrew Donohue paraphrased Ventura as saying that he and Clinton were up until 4:00 a.m. "trading cigars and putting back four or five beers," and noting that "conversation didn't really pick up until about 'the second shot of Bombay Sapphire.'" Three days later a piece by staff writer Bill McAuliffe alerted readers to Ventura spokesman John Wodele's contention that although people might have gotten the wrong idea from listening to the broadcast, the drinking stuff was just a joke. How, Off Beat wondered, did the St. Paul Pioneer Press manage to steer clear of these murky waters? Writers Jim Ragsdale and Tom Webb were circumspect in their story, referring to Ventura's "late evening of cigar-trading and bonding with President Clinton"; the sole reference to drinking was this Ventura quote: "You can't smoke in the White House. But you can go out on the balcony and drink beer and smoke." Ragsdale says he wrote the piece based largely on Webb's reporting and doesn't recall whether Webb, who interviewed Ventura after the show, asked the governor whether he was kidding about the drinking. But his past experience covering the governor caused him to tread lightly; to him the drinking references seemed intentionally oblique. "He said, 'You can drink a beer on the balcony,' and that's what I quoted him saying," says Ragsdale. "I do remember thinking at the time that he was being very cagey about it." Still, Ragsdale adds, "I think the average person listening to [the broadcast] would have felt that he and the president knocked down a few. It seems unfair that after the fact he expresses outrage. He's responsible for what he said, and his aides are responsible for encouraging him to say it." Responds Wodele: "Do I wish we would have made an even clearer effort to delineate between kidding and the truth? Yes, I wish I would have specifically, but I don't think that in any way takes away from the responsibility of the media."
Who Put the Dexedrine in Gary Gilson's Ovaltine?
WHEN MINNESOTA NEWS Council executive director Gary Gilson got wind, via Jim Romenesko's MediaNews Web site (www.poynter.org/medianews/), that author and Vanity Fair contributing editor Gail Sheehy was fuming about an article in the October 9 New Republic by Franklin Foer that labels her "a journalist with a world-class reputation for getting it wrong," he wrote to Romenesko touting his group and offering to resolve the dispute. Last Friday the New York Post reported that Sheehy had taken Gilson up on it. Gilson tells Off Beat that isn't quite true; he has fielded a call from Sheehy's lawyer, who expressed interest in the process, but as of Friday he had not received a formal complaint. Gilson, who confirms that the news council has never held a hearing on an out-of-state dispute, says his offer was "absolutely" an effort to get more publicity for the organization (of which this paper's former managing editor Monika Bauerlein was once vice-chair). With a bankroll from the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the news council--one of three such entities in the nation--has also taken out ads in trade journals, featuring testimonials from the likes of Bill Moyers. And Gilson says they're succeeding in making inroads: Two California papers, including the San Francisco Bay Guardian alternative weekly, publish along with their mastheads the suggestion that aggrieved readers contact the Minnesota group. The Sheehy flap, however, would seem moot. Gilson sent a letter to New Republic owner Martin Peretz, asking whether the magazine would be willing to participate, but as of Friday, he hadn't heard back. "We're not going to entertain a complaint from out of state unless the news organization in question agrees to participate," he says. When Off Beat called the New Republic, Peretz's office referred us to editor Peter Beinart. "I haven't seen the letter, but I can tell you I think even without seeing it that we wouldn't [agree to a hearing]," Beinart tells us. "We view our letters to the editor page as the place where all these issues are hashed out. We're very confident in Frank's article and in Frank."