Sunday, December 19, 2004

Fire on the roll and target the rigging

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:18 PM |  

Photo used on my blog that prompted the nickname "Captain Fishsticks"

Thanks to “LearnedFoot” of “The Koolaid Report” for being the first one to the beach on Nick Coleman's column today in which he blasted me not attending a party to which I was not invited.

Today Nick pulled the veil from the threat contained in his December 12 e-mail that “I will be addressing this [Maxfield controversy] in more detail.”

A tip of the Sou’wester to Brian “Saint Paul” Ward at Fraters Libertas for a couple of calls. First, he nailed the essence and the form of Nick’s response with syllogistic precision:

Westover is a blogger
A blog is the “first refuge of scoundrels”
Westover is a scoundrel

(or a “snake,” but the Nick never is very tight with his metaphors, precise with his word selection or accurate in his reporting, which leads to Saint Paul‘s second hit -- Nick‘s “Clintonian parsing of language.”

A second tip of the Sou’wester to Saint Paul for this call --

But, there is another outlet for Nick Coleman criticism that may not have such a positive consequence for his career. Because that outlet has the potential to threaten the monopolistic news cycle of abuse that sustains him. I speak of the Pioneer Press. . . . A Westover editorial in today's Pioneer Press provides a great example of this. Better yet, it directly refutes a Nick Coleman column. Apparently, newspaper professional courtesy prevents him from naming names, but the references are undeniable. . . .The ability of this column to expose Nick Coleman, not for being a blithering leftist apologist, but for being a lazy researcher and lousy writer, well, it's like a miracle. Bravo Westover and Pioneer Press management for publishing it.
I admit, I enjoyed reading that, but deep down I feared it false flattery. The idea that a journalist of Nick Coleman’s “stature” (not to be confused with gravitas) would bother to flick this little once-a-week gnat at his spurned former-employer seemed more than a little unlikely to me. But I think LearnedFoot might be on to something. He posted today --

He [Coleman] doesn't seem to recognize that by acknowledging our [bloggers] arguments, he validates them. Do you ever feel threatened by those whose arguments are completely meritless?
That I do take as a compliment and return in kind to everyone who has checked in on the Maxfield controversy. We are making a difference, and I ask now for your continued support.

Later tonight I will be sending a column in response to Coleman to Art Coulson, opinion page editor at the Pioneer Press. It is the policy of the Pioneer Press not to respond to anything directly that appears in the Star Tribune. My proposed column pushes the envelope of that policy.

Changing precedent is never easy. My response to Coleman, like my post here, focuses on the issue of school choice, not his insults. Nonetheless it is impossible to do the former without a mention of the latter. That’s where I may be in trouble.

As you’re so inclined, I’d appreciate any support you’d care to send to the Pioneer Press in favor of keeping the Maxfield issue out in the open. As I wrote to Nick, which he blatantly ignored, this isn’t a pissing contest between him and me. We’re talking about kids and education policy not who lives where.

Let’s hope the Pioneer Press has the courage that Saint Paul gives it credit for.

And now for some fun, me rum-swigging hearties.

First, let’s give Nick credit where credit is due -- Captain Fishsticks is pretty funny, but then remember it was my favorite Trollette that first made the connection between these ruggedly virile guys (Thanks to my brother, Grandpa of Gracie, for the artwork).

Separated at birth; United in spirit

As for fisking Nick’s column, frankly I’m a little tired and frustrated at the prospect. In response to his unprofessional and discourteous e-mail to me, I sent him a well-thought out and courteous response. He ignored and misrepresented everything I wrote, which is posted here for all to read and judge. Here’s the one lowlight for his column that really goads me --

I should thank him for helping me understand the extent of the campaign against public school funding, as well as the strategy of the pirates who want to plunder education funds and use the money for schools that will teach young men how to tie a proper bow tie.
Here’s what I wrote that I can only assume prompted that comment --

What you should immediately pick up on is that the well-to-do people who send their children to private and religious schools and those who select schools by choosing to live in districts with the better programs have such [school] choice already. Who doesn’t have a choice in education? Low-income kids in inner city schools -- the very kids that for some unfathomable reason the education establishment insists must stay in schools that are fighting for “survival.”
Seems to me that it’s a much larger jump from what I wrote to what Nick inferred than it is from “books in the classroom” to “textbooks.” But, hey, I’m only a "semi-pro newspaper columnist."

[BTW -- my worn out “Reader’s Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary” defines “textbook” as “A book used as a standard work or basis of instruction in any branch of knowledge.” Can we now get past the red herrings and deal with substantial issues?]

Nick also says that if he were Zell Miller, he’d challenge me to pistols at 30 paces -- an interesting supposition for a gun control advocate not to mention an exceedingly long distance for a duel. Nonetheless, Nick had the opportunity for a somewhat less bloody encounter, but he declined Mitch Berg’s offer to appear on the Northern Alliance Radio Network (as did Zelma Wiley) with me to discuss the Maxfield issue. I’ll give him that NARN is not exactly Coleman friendly, but for a man who would, were it not for journalistic courtesy, be priming his flintlock right now, that hardly seems too daunting. If he’d rather debate from behind the skirts of Kerri Miller on MPR, hey, I’m up for it.

He also writes --
Captain Fishsticks was reproved in print by Maxfield Principal Zelma Wiley. Since then, Fishsticks has gone back to his boat and confined his tirades to the first refuge of scoundrels, his personal Internet blog, where he is toasted by other rum-swigging hearties daily.
Nary a mention of this from my e-mail to him --
As Art [Coulson, opinion page editor] is painfully aware, I am dying to carry on this dialogue in the newspaper. Art is a more judicious man than I and more journalistically cognizant. Therefore, rightly the call is his.
As for Maxfield Principal Zelma Wiley, in my letter to her, I offered to visit Maxfield after the holidays when I’ll be visiting other schools with demographics similar to Maxfield to see how they manage to keep their kids in books. I have yet to hear from her. My invitation to “family night” must have been lost in the mail.

Principal Wiley gets the final words in Nick’s column -- “I wish they’d [school choice advocates] just leave us alone.” Apparently she stands by Nick’s original less-than- flattering portrayal of her school, and she wishes that no one had challenged her accountability for it. Nick’s tirades would indicate he’s harboring much the same longing.

I have some sympathy -- I wish that every time Nick felt guilty for being a rich white guy, he’d leave the rest of us alone, but -- what can I say? -- redemptive liberalism is a tough addiction to beat.

“Captain Fishsticks” -- hell, Nick can call me anything that bails his boat as long as it keeps school choice in the public consciousness. After all, that’s what the debate is all about.