Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Connie Schultz's Memoir, Pt. I: "Payback" in Context

I've finished . . . And His Lovely Wife, Connie Schultz's memoir about her husband Sherrod Brown's campaign for Senate. And I have some things to say about it. I won't presume to qualify myself to give a full-bore review, but the book is certainly worth a few posts of observations.

First, we need to work off the Scene blog write-up that ruffled the blogosphere last week. In it reporter Joe Tone writes that Schultz takes "swings" at some of her PD colleagues for "breaking basic rules of journalism." He cites three such swing recipients.

Having read the book and re-read the portions in question, I cannot find a reference Schultz makes to the reporters cited breaking basic rules of journalism. She does talk about reporters breaking rules of journalism -- most notably for pursuing Brown to answer Mike DeWine's charge about a former employee selling marijuana without first forcing DeWine to name names. And she recounts incidents regarding the three PD journalists named. But at no point does she use the "breaking rules" language to describe the incidents involving PD writers.

Tone's first example was reporter Steve Koff who is supposedly called out for writing a story about an instance of plagiarism early in the campaign. Here's Tone's description: "Reporter Steve Koff, Schultz writes, wrote a critical story about the letter without even giving Brown a head’s up."

Here is Schultz on Koff's article: "Sherrod and I did not know this kind of story was coming. We found out about it like hundreds of thousands of other readers, by opening our morning Plain Dealer." (p. 29-30) That's it. No suggestion that Koff should have given her a heads up, much less that failing to do so violates rules of journalism. Schultz goes on to recount upbraiding Sherrod for his response to the article and confessing her own missteps when she emailed the paper's editorial cartoonist to complain about his take on the incident.

All of which does more to illustrate her increasingly untenable place in the newsroom more than swiping at Koff.

Second up is now-retired PD reporter and current Bellwether blogger Bill Sloat. Bill's response to the Scene post was my first knowledge of it. Sloat takes some swings back, then backs off in comments, then in comments to a follow up post expresses again his irritation that he was called out.

One fisking quibble -- Tone writes that Sloat called PD Editor-in-Chief Doug Clifton when the book clearly says Sloat emailed Clifton.

Schultz's comment -- that Sloat would have known earlier of her marriage to Sherrod if he read the paper he works for -- was a dig. But again, she doesn't say "Bill Sloat violated a basic rule of journalism." In fact, since Sloat wasn't writing a story, he wasn't engaged in journalism.

The comment is an aside in the story about how Clifton came to write a column about Shultz and Brown and how the PD would handle the campaign. It was a dig and an arguably unnecessary one, but hardly amounted to spotlighting a journalistic lapse by Sloat.

Finally, there is editorial writer Joe Frolick. Here's Tone:

    But perhaps no one takes more heat than editorial writer Joe Frolik, who broke the 11th Commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Be A Dick To Someone You Had Thanksgiving With.” Frolik, Schultz writes, is a close family friend, yet he spared nothing in a blistering attack on Brown in the early stages of the campaign. What’s worse: He didn’t even tell them it was coming.

    “I knew that Sherrod’s race would be scrutinized at every turn,” Schultz writes. “But I could not accept that after more than 20 years of friendship, there was no warning that my friend’s column was coming.”
Again, this isn't about rules of journalism. She doesn't say that basic rules of journalism require a writer to alert a subject about an incoming slam. What she says is that the column hurt her personally and served as the final catalyst for her decision to take a leave of absence. Here's the full paragraph Tone quotes:
    When I read Joe's column now, all these months later, it doesn't ignite the rage I felt at the time. He is a smart and gifted writer and I wish him well. But his column still stings. I had tried to step as carefully as possible in the newsroom after Sherrod announced his candidacy, I had stopped attending newsroom meetings about political coverage, to avoid even the appearance of scouting for the campaign. I knew that Sherrod’s race would be scrutinized at every turn,which is what good journalists do -- and I worked with someof the best. But I could not accept that after more than 20 years of friendship, there was no warning that my friend’s column was coming. And if I could not accept that , it was time for me to go. (p. 51.)
As a reader, you can pull something different if you wish, but it looks to me like she takes pains to differentiate between the rules of journalism and the rules of friendship, and in fact is discussing the tension between the two.

One irony to note in all this. Schultz has quite flattering things to say about the Scene posts' author:
    Of all the journalists and columnists covering Sherrod's campaign, the ones who demonstrated time and again their eye for the telling personal details of life that illustrate a bigger story were Jessica Wehrman of the Dayton Daily News, Peter Slevin of The Washington Post and Joe Tone of Cleveland Scene. (p. 243.)
Tone could have used that attention to detail when writing about the book he just read.

10 comments:

Bill Sloat said...

Pho --

An excellent review of the whole imbroglio. Perhaps I sounded like I was miffed at Connie. I really wasn't. I was miffed that I had been accused of violating some rule of journalism -- and wanted to point out that I had not.

I also believe that she needs to move on. Too much can be misinterpreted because of her relationship -- is what she doing, partisan, journalism or personal, or a melange of all three.

Chris Baker said...

What does that mean that she needs to move on? It's a memoir about the Senate campaign. It takes time to write. It takes time to publish. Now it's in print and people are reading it and she's working on promoting it. That's how the book business works.

It sounds like to me Bill that you are actively campaigning online to have her lose her job. That seems highly questionable to me given your own personal situation.

I also don't see how your questions couldn't be applied to all the other columnists that write in American newspapers. Why should she resign when you could ask the same questions of someone like George Will?

Village Green said...

So because she's now married to a US Senator, she must lose her voice at the PD? Was it OK while Sherrod was only a congressman?

After reading the book and her columns over the years, one should have a pretty clear idea about where Connie stands on the issues. So what's the problem -- she has a point of view? When she disagrees with Sherrod, she doesn't have a problem saying so. (Flag burning, for example.)

If Bill Sloat doesn't care to read her columns, fine -- but he certainly doesn't speak for her regular readers when he suggests she "move on."

Bill Sloat said...

Chris --

I suppose you would feel exactly the same way if Sen. Voinovich was married to a columnist.

Hmmmmm.

Chris, I believe that the personalities are less than important. The appearances are, or at least they are to me. Can you not understand that?

Michelle Steffes said...

Great review!

Pho said...

But I think there's a fundamental difference between being a beat reporter in which objectivity is the watchword vs. a columnist which is by its nature opinion driven. Like VG says, Connie's ideology was no mystery before or after she married Sherrod.

If George Voinovich's wife were to write a column, I would assume it comes from about the same Eisenhower Republican ballpark as George plays in. I wouldn't think differently about the paper that runs it just because of the identity of the spouse of one of the columnists.

redhorse said...

And Chris, it looks like you're actively stalking Bill across blogs.

Perhaps your personal situation - fan of Sherrod's, first to sit down with him post- blogdom meltdown - affects your opinion?

tim russo said...

pho,

i guess this is a good review, but my god, this was hard to follow. can this situation be more arcane? is it possible? halfway through it i was wondering why i spent the time to read it.

as i noted in a comment at bill's blog, this back and forth over internal PD gossip, or as i guess Connie is upset about, gossip that didn't happen, rings so petty it's just sad. i'm not sure this was a good use of your time, but navel gazing, if you're going to engage in it, is time consuming.

i'm also quite certain no one would give a rats behind whether or not Connie leaves the PD, but it would be nice if she just was happy with her hubby winning and just shut the fuck up. score settling usually makes better entertainment. this is just pathetic.

Chris Baker said...

> And Chris, it looks like you're actively
> stalking Bill across blogs.

Interesting term. I call it continuing the discussion that we started on his site. It's a tactic I employed when I was promoting Hackett when he was running against Brown. David Sirota was my primary foil. Funny how people didn't complain about it then.

If you don't like me commenting on your site, remove the option of commenting. Bill gets credit for actually approving my comments.

If you don't like the substance of my comments, say why. So far I've found the substance lacking. I have been called a whore and a stalker. Good for you guys. You make us all proud.

> Perhaps your personal situation - fan of Sherrod's,
> first to sit down with him post- blogdom meltdown -
> affects your opinion?

I admitted my "personal situation" back when me and Bill first started this discussion. However, I don't think that it affected my opinion.

I have several personal rules as a blogger. I never make personal attacks against family. NEVER. Not Sherrod Brown's... not Jean Schmidt's... not George Bush's.

I have always found the personal attacks against Connie Schultz to be highly distasteful. I think that they are a blemish upon the reputations of everyone in the progressive blogosphere in Ohio. Sophomoric... childish... sometimes obscene... never topical, they make us look like fools. (This isn't referring to Bill's posts)

It bugs me that no one stands up to it. The thing that changed based upon anything personal with me is that I've decided speak up every now and then. She's a good person. She deserves better.

If people have a problem with Sherrod Brown, speak your peace. I've actually been working up a critical piece on the aftermath of the recent union vote defeat. As I've basically been saying since the Senate primary, I think that Sherrod's weakness is that he doesn't know how to work, using the wrestling lingo definition of the word.

Bill Sloats posts are the first critical ones about Connie that actually have some substance. Rather than debating with Tim on where we can each stick phallic things up other's orifices I figured it might be nice to get my feet wet with someone that I've got a lot of respect for. Debating a fool generally makes you look just as foolish. (Tim is actually brilliant... he just has two blind spots where the dunce cap shows through: Connie Schultz and national bloggers) Bill is one of the best additions to the Ohio blogosphere. I just think he's wrong on this point. Thus my "stalking".

Bill... in answer to your question, no. I enjoy George Will's columns. I think that he's a great writer. I’m even glad that Robert Novak has one and think he offers a useful window into Republican power brokers. I like dissenting opinions. I would love it if more wives of Republican politicians had a voice. Fran DeWine’s cookbook is one of my cherished possessions. I'm frankly sick of listening to white males like me tell me how to live.

To me the key thing is honesty. I think that I’ve been pretty upfront about things.

Bill Sloat said...

Pho, et al

I'm going to try to write this w/o mentioning names. And I'm going to try a different tack:

I know of a large newsgathering enterprise that has a staff member who happens to be married to a fairly well-known political figure. The staff member, I have heard, has some limits on what topics the staff member can write about. Politics might be one example, I hear.

Thus, one could deduce that the staff member and the organization recognize there is some conflict inherent in the situation.

Is it unfair to the staff member to have limits -- if, indeed, there are limits -- that rein in the staff member's talents for observation and ability to shape those observations into prose?

And, one could wonder, is it unfair to the customers, too? They don't get to witness an unfettered talent. Of course, the questions beg: Why the limits, what caused their creation, or what concerns led them to be fashioned in the first place.

In other words, is the product watered down?