Saturday, October 14, 2006

Stealing signs

This isn't a post about baseball or football.
Nope, it's about the only adult sport there truly is -- politics.
Every year in every political campaign, somebody whines about campaign signs being torn down by the "opponents" and you sometimes get complaints that the losers and the winners leave their signs up too long after the campaign.
Mark Sanford has a billboard up on I-77 from the 2002 campaign that never, ever came down, but that's an extreme example. It’s in good shape, so it’s not litter. That’s a political decision.
Rarely, rarely do you hear anything good come of sign stealing. Almost never do you hear about something coming of it on the "criminal" level.
I've been covering politics for a long time, and the sign stealing is the issue of the infantile and moronic. And that goes on both sides of a campaign.
Almost always, the ones stealing signs are, as I said, infantile and moronic.
But on the flip side of the coin, the candidates or campaigners who complain about sign stealing are also infantile and moronic.
Case in point -- the following e-mail was sent out to a few newspapers.

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
From: "joe st. john"
Date: Fri, October 13, 2006 11:35 pm

From: Mr Wayne Wilkinson
CC: Mike Harrison
Subject: Please write Mike Harrison, editor of the Fort Mill Times asking why he won't investigate the thousands of dollars in Ralph Norman signs being stolen every week in Fort Mill and Rock Hill.
Date: Thu, 12 Oct 2006 14:12:14 -0700 (PDT)
Friends and Fort Mill Residents; We are all aware of the media bias that works against conservatives at a national level. We are familiar with Dan Rather and his "antics" during the 2004 Presidential Race. We know about the bias of the New York Times and that the national media sat on the Mark Foley story until just four weeks before the mid-term elections. But are you aware that in our local congressional race (Ralph Norman v. John Spratt) that there are many issues going unreported by our local media? The local media has been quick to jump on Ralph Norman because Wachovia Bank is using illegal workers to build on property owned by Warren Norman Company.
This isn't even a Warren Norman project, it's a Wachovia project with their contractors and sub-contractors. But this isn't what the "drive by" media reported. They seem to have their own version of the truth.

(Edited to remove two different claims about Spratt’s family that have no proof included.)

Friends, we can't even get the Fort Mill Times to report about the thousands of dollars of campaign signs being stolen every week. During this campaign season, there have been seven 4'x8' campaign signs ($45 each) stolen from the hill just 200 yards from the paper's offices on Main Street. That is just one location. Again, the Norman campaign has had thousands of dollars in signs stolen while Congressman Spratt's go untouched. Some say that signs being stolen is just part of election year politics and to an extent it is... but when there is clearly an organized effort to steal signs from the same locations every week - signs that are being purchased through your campaign contributions... we need to say "enough is enough, the media needs to report the truth". We need your help - e-mail or call Mike Harrison, editor of the Fort Mill Times, asking why he won't cover this story.
Pass this message along to your friends and neighbors, ask the media to do their job. Mike's e-mail is news@fortmilltimes and his phone number is (803) 547-2353.
Wayne Wilkinson

There is a note at the bottom that will explain how I know what I'm about to say. But Mr. Wilkinson went to the Fort Mill Times and the editor there did indeed refuse to do a story on it.
After hearing Wilkinson out, he asked one question.
"Did you file a police report?"
Wilkinson had not and said he wasn't going to. The Fort Mill Times isn't going to do a story unless there is a police report.
It's not media bias nor a conspiracy against Norman. It's just journalistic responsibility.
Stealing "thousands of dollars" of signs is grand larceny, so one wonders why, if they are so upset about the theft of these signs, that they won't treat it as the thing they are alleging it to be -- the crime of theft?
This was forwarded to Joe St. Johns, who sent it out to a few newspaper. Two of the e-mail addresses in his list are no longer good. One of the persons doesn't even live in this state anymore. Another is the editor of the Florence newspaper, which is so remote I can't imagine why he was included. It is a paper in the same Congressional District, but it's about 100 miles away from Fort Mill.
Here's my experience with campaign signs in this particular race.
I covered the Chester County GOP meet the candidates meeting. Check it out here.
I didn't include one particular anecdote in that story, but a campaign worker for Norman was asked about signs getting stolen. They were "the big signs," the worker was told.
He very quickly said they had the same problem in "Rock Hill," and it was primarily the big signs.
Those signs were being knocked down not as a campaign prank, the young campaigner said, but because people want to steal the metal supports for the vinyl signs.
And he quickly said, "Same thing is happening to the Spratt campaign signs" of that type.
Given a perfect opportunity to whine and moan, the Norman campaign instead acted like it had been there before.
The complaint from Mr. Wilkinson is about more things than just the signs. Whether his complaints on the other issue are valid or not.
But his complaint about the Fort Mill Times is way off the mark.
If Wilkinson doesn't take the problem seriously enough to file a police report, why should the Fort Mill Times treat it seriously?
The Fort Mill Times has taken the issue of sign theft seriously in the past. It once ran a picture of a municipal council candidate in the paper. The picture showed the candidate stealing his opponent's signs. The police report that backed the story up noted the candidate's car was searched and his trunk loaded with his opponents signs.
It was exactly the problem that Wilkinson is complaining about, but it was a solid story, not some ephemeral allegation made only to the editor of a newspaper.
It was covered like any other crime would be covered.
A couple of other notes on campaign sign theft.
Danny Stacy, the successful GOP candidate for the S.C. House seat that includes both Chester and Cherokee counties made a joke about a similar complaint made by his opponent in the Republican primary for the House 29 seat. Marcia Duncan, his opponent, actually filed a police report in Cherokee County and said the crime was theft of "thousands of dollars" of signs.
He suggested that the signs may have cost that much to make, but they weren't WORTH that much. They are just paper and wooden stakes. He thought it was kind of childish.
Lastly, this one goes a while back, is way out of this area, but the candidate I have the most respect for on the sign issue is a guy named Richard Huggins.
Huggins ran for Barnwell County Council in the late '90s. I went over his campaign disclosure forms and saw he listed an expense of a few hundred dollars, paid to a guy to REMOVE his signs.
He paid a guy in advance to remove his signs after the election was over.
Best campaign money I've ever seen spent, because once the campaign is over, win or lose, the sign goes from being political speech to litter.
Wilkinson ought to take a cue from those others.
Sign theft is a joke to another candidate for S.C. House. It's something another candidate will spend money on to remove because any value they have disappears the day after the General Election.
But if he thinks it is serious enough, he then ought to do the serious first step. File a police report.
Until then, it's just whiny, crybaby political paranoia. The only person doing any “drive-by” anything is Wilkinson, expecting a newspaper to print a criminal allegation without filing a police report first.

A note
I sometimes tread a precarious line being married to whom I am married. It's more precarious for her than me.
But sometimes, things, like this, can be crystal clear.
I am the editor of The News & Reporter in Chester. My wife is currently on maternity leave, but she's the publisher of the Fort Mill Times.
There is no competitive overlap in our coverage areas, but her paper is owned by McClatchy Newspapers, which also owns The Evening Herald in Rock Hill, which purports to cover Chester County. It can get sticky for her sometimes.
But we actually (to use small town talk) take The Evening Herald as our daily newspaper. My wife and her paper are extremely focused on Fort Mill Township, and nobody covers that area better. I am not small-town oriented, however. I like to focus on at least the county level, so to find out what is going on in the county, we "take" The Herald.
Maybe we could subscribe to The Charlotte Observer, but it hasn't become a McClatchy paper editorially yet, and suffers from overblown sense of importance, relevance and other kinds of grandiosity. In a couple of years, it will have adjusted to the better way McClatchy does things.
And honestly, I live in South Carolina and don’t like anything about North Carolina, except for Ri-Ra’s Irish pub in downtown Charlotte.
That’s it.
So when I got an e-mail from these guys complaining about the Fort Mill Times, I just had to ask her what she knew. She told me what her editor told her. Mike's a good guy.
I haven’t talked to Mike, but my educated guess here is Mr. Wilkinson thinks he wasn’t taken seriously. My approach would be pretty much the same as Mike’s. My guess, again, is that it’s not Mike not taking Wilkinson seriously. I think Wilkinson isn't taking this "problem" seriously, because he's not doing what he ought to do, and filing the report.
Given the attitude of Norman's paid campaign staffer in Chester, which I hope reflects the campaign's attitude, I wonder if the Norman campaign knows whether they were shopping around a "They're stealing our signs" story, which most people take as a "BOO HOO" story.
One other thing I take very seriously is complaints about the "liberal media conspiracy," like the ones alleged in this letter.
I generally think such claims are a joke. I think there are some problems on the big level with CBS. But to paint a local community newspaper as part of the "liberal media elite" because of Dan Rather's unfortunate exit from the profession is intellectually tortured and impossible to prove. It is not true.
Unfortunate, such a conspiracy theory, while untrue, is impossible to disprove. The people who believe such things will take anything as an proof of their "theory."
But to perhaps head off at the pass such an accusation on my part, my newspaper has run just two letters of endorsement in this race, one during primary time and one more recently.
They were attack ads on Mr. Spratt, and they were written by Mr. St. John. Why someone from Fort Mill wants to let the people of Chester know he much he dislikes Mr. Spratt is beyond me.
We ran a letter from Spratt refuting Mr. St. John's claims in the first go-round. His second letter hasn't drawn a response.
St. John 1
Spratt refutes
St. John 2

Thursday, October 12, 2006

On politics

If you click on the title there, or go here, you'll see I wrote a piece for my paper about the U.S. House Fifth District race in South Carolina
I've gotten a few other things out on this race. The latest developments, I think, show I really picked up on a mistake being made by many trying to measure the horse race here as competitive.
Take a look.
The story won't be there until Friday around 4 a.m.

Glad to be back at work ... need the sleep

Originally posted on Oct 10, 2006 - 22:24:29 EDT

It was hard coming back to work, not Monday, but Sunday night, to attend the Democratic Party candidate “stump” at Chester State Park.
A big reason it was difficult was indeed leaving behind my new baby boy with his mother for the first time in two weeks. I missed them both severely.
But, truth be told, it was also difficult having to go back to wearing long pants for the first time in two weeks.
My knees were shell-shocked and have been treating me like I'm the Taliban.
That said, I'll probably be a better person for coming back to work - I need the sleep.
Does becoming a father humble all men?
I am impressed with myself in one aspect. I was in the delivery room for the entire experience, and did not pass out despite great provocation, first from the doctor whose cell phone went off to “The Tiger Rag.” I saw what she went through and know what a trouper my wife is - I know how hard she worked. But it isn't for the squeamish. I thought I was in that number, but I'm apparently not.
She got drugs to help her through most of the labor - the serious part was about an hour and 20 minutes. But it went from about 11 p.m. Thursday to after 6:32 p.m. Friday. That's about 19 and half hours total.
She slept through much of it. We worked out the early contractions, did the breathing, the rubbing, the walking the halls to move the labor along.
But it reached a point where she was too uncomfortable, and they gave her the good junk. I tried, I tried, through the first 18 and half to get some sleep. But I couldn't.
She's been up with our son most of the nights since his birth. I thought that was the one thing I brought to the table - the ability to wake up with little provocation from the slightest noise.
But I'm not my normally wakeable self.
I had gotten up early that Thursday. At 7 a.m., I think. I got two and half hours sleep from 7 a.m. Thursday to the time my son was born after 6 p.m. Friday.
My family is near enough by that we had some of them in the recovery room after the birth for an hour or so. I might have gotten to bed at 10 p.m., I think.
So I went about 36 hours without sleep, and it leaves a hole that you just can't fill. I worked 36 hours straight back in 1997, covering a drug roundup then a prison break the same night. But I was younger then, and I got to drive to the beach for a vacation the very next day.
You can bounce back.
My appearance to the contrary, I'm not quite so resilient or rubbery.
You can't get back lost sleep, and as much as I was warned to do it, you can't store up sleep in advance, either.
I was also humbled that the paper got out on time, and we didn't miss any major stories. Oh, there's a big announcement in the paper this week that you might have read about in other dailies last week. But the truth is, we covered parts of that story last month, letting Chester County readers know there were jobs on the way.
We heard about one other story that we couldn't develop and get into the print edition, so it was a few days after on that one.
But our city reporter and Sports Editor Travis Jenkins had two or three stories on Chester's new administrator before our daily competition wrote their first story about that issue. If they beat us on one, we romped on them on the other.
They could have beat us on the second development on that story, but for some reason didn't.
We got one story up on the web before any other publication in the area. I helped a little on that one from home. We had a great assist from our company's editor at-large, Josh Coffman.
So you might not have noticed I was out.
Again, it was humbling.
But I'm glad to be back. Like I said, I need the sleep.