Local Media, Darcy Burner and the War over the Obama Franchise

by: Matt Stoller

Fri Oct 24, 2008 at 21:26

One part of the story in Washington's eighth district I haven't touched on yet was Darcy's role in a major dispute over local media consolidation between the two papers here - the Seattle Times and the Seattle PI.  In 2007, she co-chaired something called the Committee for a Two Newspaper town, which ultimately forced the owners of the Seattle Times to pay out $24M and keep the Seattle PI in business.  I'll have more on that fight below, because it segues nicely into the overall conflict between the two wings of the Obama power structure - the center right moderates and the populist left progressives.

Buried in the contours of the massive shift in politics we're seeing with the collapse of the conservative movement is a burgeoning fight between center-right establishment, both locally and nationally, and populist progressives.  The McCain campaign is falling apart, and the far right is basically playing for 2012, positioning that race as Palin versus Romney and grooming a new generation of right-wing populist Republicans to come at Democrats in 2010.  As Sirota shows, right-wing Villagers are freaking out, while the Chris Matthews of the world are mocking McCain/Palin the way they used to call John Edwards gay.  It's a stunning reversal.  And it's happening on a local level as well, with newspaper endorsements all over the country - even conservative newspapers - going for Obama.

Matt Stoller :: Local Media, Darcy Burner and the War over the Obama Franchise
But as I've noted, these forces are organizing themselves to undercut progressives and are seeking to position Obama as a moderate, like Clinton.  In Seattle, I'm seeing this play out as a vicious media hit on Burner, a cooperative set of attacks by local Democratic and Republican political consultants (who both served as sources for this Time magazine piece by Amy Sullivan) and the Seattle Times.

The structure here is similar to what you see in DC and around the country.  As reported by Josh Feit in the Stranger, some of the political consultants are bought off by AT&T and co, and even some of the 'liberal' ones work for both sides, as Erica C. Barnett showed in her reporting.  Burner, who did not come out of this establishment, defeated a Blue Dog Democrat in the primary, using her support from the netroots to first clear the field (of Rodney Tom, a local developer who chose to drop out and endorse Burner) and then win the primary.  This primary candidate, Jim Vaughn, then turned around and endorsed Reichert, realizing that he agrees with Reichert "on all the major issues and the only difference I could find was that I am pro choice and Dave is pro life."  Vaughn lavished praise on Reichert and the Blue Dogs and noted he was "tired of going to work each day and getting taxed to death (over 50 different taxes in our state) to pay for someone to sit at home and abuse unemployment, the welfare system and worker's compensation."

The Seattle PI, the more liberal of the two major papers, decided to show its bipartisan credentials and endorse Reichert, as did the Tacoma News-Tribune and the conservative Seattle Times.  Even liberal journalists like Eli Sanders of the Stranger in the alternate weekly drove an odd sort of anti-netroots conventional wisdom, choosing to overlook polling data to make an anti-Darcy case.  Sanders analogized this latest fiasco over Burner's degree to the 'macaca' moment of George Allen, as if a falsified attack from a Republican is equivalent to a long legacy of racist slurs and actions revealed by a bullying comment towards an Indian-American campaign worker.  The NRCC is focusing on this race, one of the few incumbents in the country they are spending money to defend, and they have even set up a phone bank in the basement in DC to make thousands of calls out here.

Burner isn't just opposing the DC establishment in terms of issues like FISA and by putting forward plans like a Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq, she's also fighting through this local set of kingmakers.  In 2007, she began a stint as a co-chair of The Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town, a citizens lobby (partially funded by labor) to prevent the Seattle Times from putting its competitor out of business.

In the 1980s, the Seattle Times and the Seattle PI struck a deal to combine non-news operations and split the profits in a special Joint Operating Agreement.  The Times publisher, Frank Blethen, wanted to get rid of this agreement in 2003, as it would lead to the end of the Seattle PI and allow the Times to become a local monopoly.  There was a four year lawsuit between the Blethen and the owner of the PI (Heart).  In addition, a citizens committee emerged to fight Blethen, citing a compelling public interest to gain standing in the case and seeking to keep both papers open.  The committee successful intervened in the case and Blethen cited them as a reason to settle with the PI.

The net payout from the Seattle Times to the Heart company as part of the settlement to keep the Joint Operating Agreement going was $24 million.  That's $24 million that Burner, as one citizen activist among many, helped cost Blethen and the Seattle Times.  As they say, don't make someone mad who buys ink by the barrel.  Only, Burner ignored this rule just as she ignored the rule to be silent about a bipartisan consensus to enable illegal wiretapping, and fought successfully for a diverse media in Seattle.  Now Blethen is getting his revenge via his reporter Emily Heffter's 'scoop' that Burner falsified her degree (a charge repudiated by Harvard ex-Dean Harry Lewis).  This hit piece is part of a series of slanted articles going after Burner for, among other things, her association with the netroots.  And the local TV stations are extending credit to Media Plus, Reichert's media buyer, who is lending money to Reichert, to let him push this charge around on TV.

The pushback from the progressive populist space has been fierce.  Heffter is thoroughly embarrassed by her shoddy reporting job, the Seattle Times changed its headline (without explanation, of course), and a response from Lewis is online.  Dailykos is doing its own polling and has helped raise massive sums to aid in pushback.  And the volunteer operation here is stuffed to the gills, which will hopefully solidify the Obama vote behind Burner.

But what's important to understand is that the lies from Reichert are not isolated tactical events, but are laundered and pressed firmly by a whole series of interlocking Democrats, journalists, media business executives, and Republicans threatened by progressive populists like us that look to the public and not the good ole boys for legitimacy.  At every step, progressive populists are going to encounter this nexus - the consultants, the journalists, the publishers, the magnates, all couched under the rubric of 'moderate' Republicans and 'conservative' or 'Blue Dog' Democrats.

The only way through this thicket is to have these fights and slash through the branches, one at a time.  Backing candidates who rely on us and not the establishment network makes us stronger, and them weaker.  It's not that we're giving to Burner or Grayson or Franken or anyone else, it's that we're freeing them from having to kowtow to people like Steny Hoyer, Frank Blethen, Michael Bloomberg, and their servants like reporter Emily Heffter.  It's a complicated set of steps we've taken, but it's working.  Obama has repudiated lobbyists in his campaign, and has acquired massive amounts of power and influence through his ability to inspire trust in the electorate.  Unlike Burner, though, he did this both through the networks of the establishment and the progressive populists; he doesn't need any of us to get elected and never did, and he's shown that through his vote on FISA and his whipping for the bailout.

Obama, though, is not just a guy, he's a franchise, a network of people currying favor and looking for jobs and seeking to impose their own stamp on the world through differing ideas about how to govern.  And by fighting through these thickets, by helping people like Burner and Merkley into office, we help give Obama and the people in his orbit a little bit more space to make the choice to be a progressive populist.  

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Power is shifting! (0.00 / 0)
I like that growing awareness. People are taking note and calculating their future. It's a good sign of a coming victory.

What's that Ghandi quote? (0.00 / 0)
First they laugh at us, then they fear us, then they fight us, then we win. Or something like that.


[ Parent ]
progressives now have a viable & timely message (4.00 / 1)
Progressive candidates will have an advantage now because of they have a effective timely narrative they can use in campaigns, while blue dogs don't.  

It will be even harder after election day for an elected with a conservative issue belief set to claim with any serious that they're Democrats.   WA is a great example.

Oh my goodness are you heading for a fall (1.00 / 4)
I don't know Darcy Burner from Eve, but I would say the chances of her going to Washington and completely disappointing you with her "establishment centrist" performance are so high they're almost 100%. Not only is her background not particularly activist (isn't she a corporate suit?) but she comes from a very marginal district she will have a bear of a time defending. Hence, centrist. Just watch. And as someone who doesn't associate the words "centrist" or "moderate" with "spineless sellout", I say so what.

I wish someone would pull up all the old diaries from shortly after the 2006 elections when the netroots was arguing that the class of 2006 wasn't just a bunch of moderate D's from marginal districts, but in fact real progressive fighters. Ahem .... which would they be, exactly? The only one I can think of is Carol Shea-Porter, one of the only ones in any danger of losing. Hmm.

How sad for you. (4.00 / 7)
  The only Democrat in real danger of losing is Tim Mahoney!  And we knew he sucked.  Kagen, Edwards, Shea-Porter, Murphy, Klein, Perlmutter, Loebsack, and Hall are all going to win reelection.  Lampson is also in danger I guess, though I think he'll win.  Your knowledge of Congressional Democrats is poor.  And now Darcy Burner is a corporate suit?  What is wrong with a successful businesswoman?  I thought you moderates who look down on us flaky progressives would approve of businesspeople as candidates.  I'm so confused.

John McCain lets lobbyists shape his economic policy

[ Parent ]
This comment is as clueless as it is sad, CO "Dem" (4.00 / 1)
I bet that you're supporting initiative 54 too, because it's all about "transparency" in government. I mean, I've gotten called pathetically cynical, but you truly take the cake. You say that you nothing about Burner (which you clearly don't), and yet you have no problem stating what you know what she's about. And you add to your idiocy by calling this a "marginal" district--the one in which Microsoft, Nintendo and Costco are based.

Oh my. Is the air really that thin in your part of CO?

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
"Hello, my name is ColoradoDemocrat..." (0.00 / 1)
....and I feel sooooooooo saaaaad for you...."

Wring your eyes and move on, a**w**pe.  


Ignorant a**w**pe.

Ahem....Pardon my language, folks.  But this poster deserves it.

[ Parent ]
Jim Vaughn was *not* the Blue Dog Candidate (4.00 / 1)
Calling Jim Vaughn a "Blue Dog", as if he were  Hoyer/Emmanuel's stalking horse is giving him far too much credit.  He has no local constituency whatsoever.  In the primary he got 2.9% of the vote, deep in crank territory.

While there were in fact several people considering a run for the 8th CD seat this time around, before Darcy's first big netroots fundraiser in the spring of '07 blew everybody out of the water, Vaughan was not one of them.  In fact, nobody in any of the local party organizations had any clue who he was when he showed up at our 8th CD nominating convention back in May.  As far as anybody knows, he just randomly decided to run the week before, either unaware of the extent of Darcy's organization and depth of party support at that point or just plain delusional.  He did not receive a single vote from the assembled PCOs.

Not a serious campaign by any stretch of the imagination.

Which is not to say that the pushback against Darcy isn't real, and that the establishment you speak of may indeed have wanted somebody to run against her, but if Vaughn was anybody's recruit, this would only speak of massive incompetance on their part.  

Agreed.... (0.00 / 0)
Vaughn was some former military guy out of Graham or Orting who had a website up just before the legislative district caucuses, if memory serves.  He received a lot more respect from us in Covington, when we were voting for delegates to Denver and was allowed to give a speech, than he did when he endorsed Reichert.

Rodney Tom (who hasn't been a bad Democratic state legislator, in all fairness (he started political life as a Republican, and flipped)) was more the desired "stealth candidate".  But I never felt like his heart was in it, and I didn't expect him to last long.  

And he didn't.

[ Parent ]
Chris Hurst (0.00 / 0)
If Darcy does not pull this race out for some reason look for Chris Hurst (Ennumclaw) to take the seat in 2010.

[ Parent ]
That's one possibility..... (0.00 / 0)
...and I can think of two other guys that will fight for the seat as well in 2010.  I won't name names, but both would come at the race from very different angles.

Chris' advantage, if I remember right, is that he's from the south end of the 8th CD, correct?

[ Parent ]
True... (4.00 / 1)
Vaughn was the ultimate obscure candidate, alongside regulars in Seattle politics like "Mike the Mover" (owner of a moving company who generally runs for something in every election to get free advertising for his business) and the guy from Federal Way who claimed that he was personally receiving messages from Jesus.

As an 8th CD voter, I can tell you that no one even heard of Vaughn until about a week before the primary, when he put up a series of almost-illegible 8.5 x 11 "posters" in residential areas of the district that proclaimed him a "proud conservative Democrat" and Iraq War supporter.  The reaction of most Democratic voters was to, first, wonder "who the **** is this guy?" and, second, to forget all about him.

Seriously...I could run a more credible candidacy if I were to announce that I was now running as a write-in candidate for president, and go down to the local Fred Meyer to pass around a bunch of leaflets I'd printed here on my computer.

[ Parent ]
Whether out of greed, fear or cluelessness (4.00 / 8)
there's still an enormous amount of pre-'06 thinking and acting in the party, i.e. the belief that only Broderite "solutions" can and will work, requiring our side to meet the other side much more than halfway if anything's to get done (or worse, the willingness to sell out our side so long as one gets a nice cut for oneself). Not only is this stupid, it's just sad. And, for the sellouts, simply despicable.

A clue to the clueless and/or unprincipled: we're winning, the other side is in retreat and on the run. This is not the time to compromise, let alone stab people on your side in the back. We don't need any more Hoyers, Fords or Liebermans.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

It all comes down to this.... (0.00 / 0)
...who comes first - the money or the people?

Some try to balance the two, some prefer to serve the money first, and some prefer to serve the people first.

I'm a strong Democratic Party man, but even I know we have some of the second group in our party, in high positions.

And is scares the daylights out of them when the third group make gains.  

If we want to continue to make them, we have to make sure the first group - which are as often the voters as well as fellow politicians and people in powerful civic roles - are on our side on a regular basis.  

It won't be easy, because it will mean some serious negotiation and even some compromise.  But we'll have a much more progressive Democratic Party at the top.

[ Parent ]
really great post (4.00 / 1)
This is probably the clearest enunciation I've yet seen of where the progressive left stands vis-a-vis Obama, and the sort of task we have ahead.

I don't have much to add. Just want to say that you've been doing some really good work out there in the Pac Northwest. Maybe you ought to relocate - that Pacific air is good for the bones!

Is she gonna win? (0.00 / 0)
There's a poll now putting her ahead, after months of the opposite. I've given more to Darcy than any other candidate this cycle, and I gave to her in 2006 too.

Is she actually gonna win this thing? Or is it going to be one of those "Oh, well, we took on the establishment and lost, but we're proud of what we did" sorta things? Cause I really don't care much for that.

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

We're fighting to win... (4.00 / 5)
I can tell you that we're averaging, I've been told, between 32K and 40K calls per day statewide that include promos for Senator Obama, Governor Gregoire and Darcy Burner.

I can tell you that a lot of people like myself are taking the last five days before the election off from work (I work a 24/7 kind of job, so it'll be a weird experience not being welded to my work cell phone), and we intend to call and canvass until we can't do it anymore.  And then we'll do it some more.

I can tell you that we know that this is going to go down to the wire, that nothing is guaranteed, and the future of this state for the next four, and depending on your issue, as much as the next 20 years is very much on the line.

Serious as a heart attack, friend.

Preferably theirs.

[ Parent ]
That's what I want to hear (0.00 / 0)
I'm going out this morning to drag voters to the polls here in Florida, and volunteering every spare minute of my time between now and the 4th, including taking election day off from work.

Let's get this thing done.

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

[ Parent ]
Obama did an ad for Merkley (0.00 / 0)
That's great.  I am grateful.  What does it mean that he isn't doing one for Darcy?  or Franken.  Why this progressive and not other progressives?

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

Maybe they didn't ask .. (0.00 / 0)
I don't know ... maybe Matt can ask Darcy .. or maybe she'll post here herself and answer your question

[ Parent ]
Sen. Clinton just did an ad for Franken (4.00 / 1)
Maybe the DNC/DSCC feels that will be more than good enough to lift Franken to victory. In addition, both Sen. Clinton and Vice President Gore have visited Minnesota recently. Franken's still getting high-profile support, even without an Obama ad.

After reading Blue Oregon, I got the impression that Obama cut an ad for Merkley for much the same reason Sen. Ron Wyden did: Because Gordon Smith used them in his ads to tout his "bipartisanship." The Obama ad shows Oregonians that Merkley has his endorsement and full support, no matter what Smith may say.

[ Parent ]
Franken has the ability to handle ads on his own (0.00 / 0)
There are very cleverly done ads on Al's website. He's got all of Coleman's missteps to work with, and those make some of the best ones. What doesn't get enough exposure are Al's outstanding qualities, such as his many USO tours.

Although I didn't (couldn't hack it) watch the entire length of any of the Franken-Coleman-Third Man debates on C-Span, Al more than held his own, due to his comfort level with a TV setting. The "black hole" backgrounds for candidates and moderators were simply too much to take!

[ Parent ]
you mean he's a politician? (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
I always agree with you (4.00 / 1)
it's scary. Especially here when you say something that sparks hot discussion but seems instead to me obvious. It's because I'm a home made populist.

As kos says when they come after you (4.00 / 3)
it means they are afraid of you. They are afraid of Darcy and the way she has built an organization. They are afraid of Obama too.

But this economic situation is going down big time and for a long time. There are going to be more and more progressives on board. This will be required for the establishment of the Universal State along with Europe. The world power structure is changing and we are no longer at its center. We have been shown to be a paper dragon. Now we must protect our throats from the wolves because we have not made a lot of friends over the years with our foreign policies.

I can honestly feel all this. And for Greenspan to be surprised! Well, Ayn Rand said this was going to happen in 1960-61. That Goldwater if successful, would bring about the defeat of capitalism. What has happened is not really the failure of capitalism, but the failure of government instigating it via Greenspan, who I maintain, has done all this deliberately. There is no way he did not know what he was doing by manipulating interest rates and enabling computer driven paper derivatives to expand and then crash and burn. I have nothing but contempt for that man.  

[ Parent ]
How could he not know? (4.00 / 1)
A man this high up and powerful expects us to believe he just some gullible and naive rube.   I would bet the $10 they left me that Greenspan and the rest all have theirs in euros soundly stashed in a Swiss bank.  

[ Parent ]
No they have it in gold bullion in a Swiss bank (0.00 / 0)
devilstower has a piece R.I.P. John Galt today at dkos http://www.dailykos.com/ .

I am not advocating for Rand but I do not wish to see her flamed with Greenspan. She said that capitalism pure and simple had never been tried. And she warned against the Goldwater movement as a mixed economy. Greenspan could not have done what he did without government advocacy.Therefore Rand is not proved false but in fact is validated. So far at least.

Hippie capitalism brought about big wonderful changes in the cities. The capitalism we have been experiencing is nothing like capitalism with its gambling on  financial futures that produce nothing. All we have witnessed is this huge monster labeled capitalism that has nothing to do with capitalism. And it has been completely enabled by government. Read Atlas Shrugged and you will see it clearly.

As far as Greenspan being shocked by this downfall when he believed in the primacy of self-interest to protect the markets, I can only laugh. He is as rotten a psychologist as Rand was. Rand deliberately destroyed Nathaniel Brandon Lectures on Objectivism which was a growing and financially solvent business in educating people about Objectivism. This is where Greenspan became my teacher. But she destroyed it because Nathaniel Brandon couldn't get it up for her anymore and couldn't understand why his highest value (Rand) was no longer sexually attractive to him, and he eventually began an affair with a younger woman all while married to Barbara Brandon. All this is common knowledge to the members of the inner circle and beyond as well as through links on the net which I have long ago discarded after I read the story I had a small part in before I went to graduate school. In the early 60's when this was going on with Nathaniel Brandon, Rand was a short, stout, rather ugly woman wearing dowdy clothes and a bowl haircut. She was no age 60 Sophia Loren. And Brandon was charismatic and handsome and intelligent and articulate. And his wife Barbara was beautiful, intelligent, fashionable and completely lacking in a sense of humor.She wore tight girdles and created an image of the ice queen. She remains the same to this day if you read her comments on various sites. But she did inspire me to go on to other things.

I do not like to see Rand trashed along with Greenspan. I once turned down a NASA grant for research because of his teachings and committed suicide in graduate school by doing that as all research is funded mostly by the government. So you can imagine how I felt to see him acquire such governmental prominence when I had refused it on principle.

I know lots more stuff on them. Hayek and Von Mises are the minds one wants to confront on this economic bashing and not Rand. I don't think they are wrong and neither does Bernard-Henri Levy. He says we are in a window of freedom steering between world fascism and socialism (totalitarianism). I think Toynbee is correct that we will institute the Universal State here. Europe has already done it voluntarily with the EURO and now they're meeting to establish a world financial system not based on the dollar. They are doing it voluntarily and with Obama I think we will also.

Agustus did it and gave Rome 300 more years. A not insignificant amount of time. The Soviet Union did it from 1917 -1992 a pretty long swath of history. And I think Putin would like to reinstate it if he can. The breakdown of the Universal State is always ugly, regressive and bloody as all the hatreds have been held in check under the totalitarian thumb and let loose all of a sudden they explode.

[ Parent ]
The owner of the P-I is Hearst (0.00 / 0)
Except for that glitch, awesome, right-on post!

USA: 1950 to 2010

center right moderates and the populist left progressives (0.00 / 0)
I think the fight should be framed as center right corporatists vs center left populists.   While I'm all in for a healthy dose of Bernie Sanders socialism, I think people still don't know shit from Shinolah when it comes to the left.  All they remember is DFHs and Reagan.  

Heffter's not at all embarassed (4.00 / 1)
Most of you got a form letter from her in response. I did not, and got something more extensive, owing to a past personal connection. I'm not going to paste the entire thing here, but she basically said she feels she got the story right - that Burner "admitted" she didn't have an econ degree, should have just said she "studied extensively" economics, and that she is retracting nothing - that since she pissed off "everyone" that means she must be doing something right.

That attitude likely pervades the Seattle Times staff. That's how they justify to themselves doing the Blethens' dirty work. How they justify to themselves becoming Seattle's version of Fox News.

This very much is a fight between establishment and the populists. This smear job is the establishment's effort to maintain their hold on power. They have been very effective in Seattle, a town and a region that is very politically disorganized, in maintaining that hold.

For example the Democratic Speaker of the Washington House, Frank Chopp, represents one of the most progressive legislative districts in the state, but spent the last session cutting deals with the far-right BIAW - and nobody in the 43rd LD mounted a serious primary challenge. (I would have if I hadn't moved away in 2007 - I'd have gotten my ass handed to me but at least it would have been something.)

Washington State badly needs an organized progressive movement. Hopefully the Burner campaign is going to be the seed of that movement.


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