Two standards in the Koch case? (5×8 – 12/20/11)

The Koch affair, fantasy election, the danger of Twitter, the best pictures of 2011, and Minnesota’s mascots.


1) THE KOCH AFFAIR

If Amy Koch, the former Senate Majority Leader who resigned her leadership post when confronted about rumors she had an affair with a male staffer, were a man, would her situation be handled differently? The Star Tribune editorial board today acknowledges that the public announcement of her downfall was pretty man-heavy last week, but ultimately they made the right call.


The four clearly uncomfortable men who disclosed the reason for Koch’s departure from her leadership post did the advisable thing with bad news in a public realm. Granted, they might have spared themselves some suspicion if they had found a female senator to join them.

But rather than waiting for the story to roll out from unfriendly and ill-informed sources, the foursome told it themselves, as directly and fully as sound employment policies permit. That’s what stewardship of a crucial public institution required.

Previous legislators have also had “inappropriate” relationships. In decades past, they were spared the public airing Koch has endured. What has changed has less to do with gender than with the changed nature of public life.

The sphere of privacy that elected officials once could occupy after hours has all but vanished.

There are plenty of questions, of course, surrounding the mess, but why there’s been an absence of female senators with a public role in its unraveling is certainly among them.

One letter writer says there’s a double standard being applied:


This is the party that once, for months on end, defended a middle-aged, married man accused of swimming nude with underaged girls!

One can’t help think that if Koch were a man, somehow things would have been sorted out differently. Women in power are judged, scrutinized and held to a different standard.

The newspaper today details “secret meetings” last week that led Koch to announce her resignation. It doesn’t mention any involvement by women senators.

Yesterday, MPR News reported, Sen. Julianne Ortman, an influential senator, hurried away from reporters seeking comment on the situation.

2) FANTASY ELECTION

The last week of the year used to be my favorite time. When the bosses were away for the holidays — this was years ago — we little people could try things without “running it up the flagpole.” That’s when Polinaut, now MPR’s political blog Capitol View, started. It’s also when we tried the Minnesota Fantasy Legislature, as a desperate attempt to try to get people more interested in the legislating that goes on beyond the headlines. It seemed like a great idea for some smart high school civics teacher, but, alas, it died after a couple of years.

But MTV has announced a fantasy political game this week as part of its The Power of 12 promotion, which tries to get younger people interested in voting. Here’s how Mashable describes it:


“Fantasy Election ’12” players will draft candidates competing for the presidency, U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and then score points depending on how well or badly the politicians conduct themselves.

“In the way that fantasy football awards points when your players score touchdowns and deducts points when they throw interceptions, ‘Fantasy Election ’12′ will reward candidates for exhibiting the behaviors voters deserve, and penalize politicians for behaviors that hurt our democracy,” MTV said in an announcement.

Players also will earn points for discussing issues, registering to vote and checking in to debates and town halls. The game launches next fall, closer to the time the general election starts.

Here’s the problem: MTV isn’t starting the game against next fall. Still, it’s a great example of trying to engage a generation in more social terms, in this case, with gaming.

3) THE DANGER OF TWITTER

Should the U.S. censor Twitter accounts? The New York Times reports the U.S. is considering demanding that Twitter shut down the account of the Somali militant group, al Shabab. American officials reportedly are concerned the group is using Twitter to recruit new members.

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Salon’s Glenn Greenwald sees the slippery slope:


So the U.S. Government believes it may have “legal authority” to compel Twitter to close accounts. From where does that authority derive? Presumably, the Obama administration could consider Twitter’s providing of a forum to a designated Terrorist organization to constitute the crime of “material support of Terrorism.” That raises a variety of questions: is the NYT guilty of that crime by quoting some of those tweets and promoting the account (since the first NYT article was published, the number of people following @HSMPress has significantly increased and is almost certain to increase more as a result of today’s article). Can one be guilty of that crime if one re-tweets any of their messages? How about if one defends their right to have a Twitter account?

“Are there really people who want the U.S. Government empowered to dictate who can and cannot have social media accounts to communicate ideas?” Greenwald asks.

4) THE BEST

I’m generally not a big fan of the “best of” stories that fill airtime during the holidays, but I make an exception for photography. The Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog has started its The Best News Pictures of 2011 series.

One of my favorites: A visit to the abandoned city of Pripyat, two miles from Chernobyl. The city is being swallowed by the returning forest.

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NPR’s Picture Show blog is also ratings its favorite news photos of the year today.

Yesterday, National Geographic named its grand prize winner in its 2011 photography contest. Here it is:

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Find other winners in the contest here.

And the outstanding local photography site, MinnPics, begins its Best of 2011 series today.

But yesterday’s big photographic splash came from this subject:

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The “last look” at the space shuttle is probably one of the best looks we’ve ever had inside the space shuttle. collectSpace has images of a powered-up Atlantis, which is being prepared for a life as a museum exhibit in Florida. At some point this week, the power will be turned off for the last time.

5) MINNESOTA MASCOTS

Who’s your favorite Minnesota mascot? The Minnesota Historical Society has issued its latest video — a piece about famous Minnesota mascots. The gopher? Sure. That’s easy. Herman the German, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Paul Bunyan? I’ll go with the Hamm’s Beer bear.

There are good memories here

Bonus: CBS has uncovered a close call this summer at the airport in Miami. An airliner from Argentina missed an instruction and ended up nearly colliding with a landing American Airlines jet. “At first you go ‘Oh no!’ Then you just, you instinctively do something in hopes that it keeps them apart basically,” the air traffic controller who saved the day said. The full story is here. An interesting radar plot and ATC tapes are here.

TODAY’S QUESTION

Recent polling puts Rep. Ron Paul at the top of the field of Republican candidates in Iowa. His libertarian positions on foreign affairs, monetary policy and other issues place him at odds with his Republican rivals. Today’s Question: What’s your opinion of a libertarian candidate like Ron Paul?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Last week, the Center on Education Policy found that almost half the nation’s public schools failed Adequate Yearly Progress. Minnesota, along with 38 other states have asked for a waiver allowing it to establish alternative evaluation standards. What would those standards be and how would Minneosta establish them?

Second hour: From performing acupuncture in a tiny Massachusetts clinic to directing the Program in Placebo Studies and Theraputic Encounters at Harvard, Ted Kaptchuk has worked to understand the placebo effect and its place in medicine. He joins us today to discuss his work and findings.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: MPR’s “Forced to Choose” project .

Second hour: Hanukkah Lights program from NPR.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: The economy stinks, Europe’s in turmoil and Japan continues to dig out. But from coconut water to cloud computing, there’s been good news, too — people, businesses and ideas that succeeded.

Second hour: Navigating an autism diagnosis.

  • http://linkert.name gml4

    As the manager of the Minnetonka Redress, the two time Gold League champion of the Minnesota Fantasy League, I hereby announce my availablitiy as a color commentator to MTV and their new program.

  • Hillary

    I’m surprised to find myself torn on the twitter question. On the one hand, I believe wholeheartedly in free speech. On the other hand, Al Shabab is on all of the denied parties lists. American companies can’t legally do business with them – is it different because the service is free?

  • Bob Collins

    I think the question re: Twitter is who gets to decide what we can/can’t see on the Internet and what are those standards going forward? If the government is going to expand its authority to make the decision, what are the unintended consequences?

  • Alison

    About the handling of the Koch announcement, I think the 4 men handled it very well given Koch’s announcement the day before. If the allegations are true, she made no mention of the truth behind her resignation and gave clearly misleading reasons.

    As for whether it would have been handled differently if she were a man, I don’t know, but I hope not. If a man in a similar position were held to a lesser standard then the problem would lie in the standard the man was held to, not the standard she is being held to now.

  • Alison

    One thing I find interesting about the Koch story is the statement you see or hear in virtually every report about this:

    \\an affair with a male staffer

    Apparently it has to be made perfectly clear this was not a lesbian affair.

    Bob – Has there been any discussion around the newsroom about whether the alleged other person involved has to be identified as a male in every story?

  • Bob Collins

    //Has there been any discussion around the newsroom about whether the alleged other person involved has to be identified as a male in every story?

    I can’t say. I haven’t been in the newsroom in two weeks. I think the reason so many news stories are saying “male staffer” is because of the parallel story of the former communications director for the Senate Republican caucus, which is being played next to the Koch story with the strong suggestion that the two are linked.

    I think the media probably is trying to have people make the obvious connection, without actually making the connection.

  • davidz

    The comments about the “male staffer” were there even before the Brodkorb story came out (yes, there was a gap). They were certainly made as a pointed enough reference that it caught my ears every time I heard it, which then made the parallel Brodkorb story more notable when it came out.

  • Mark Gisleson

    The story I’m still waiting on is that rumors give all the credit to angry Republican staffers tattling on one of their own. If so, I’d love to know more about those staffers and what drove them to cast out one of their own.

    In times past, party staffers were always known as notorious gossips, but in a cynical, don’t-tell-the-press way. (Or tell the press after hours, off the record, in the convention hotel bar.)

    Forgive me, but I smell some pretty heavy righteousness at work here, and would love to see the media look at what went on before Koch got called onto the carpet.

  • Disco

    First, who seriously thinks there’s a double standard? What a cliche. Are our memories so short that we’ve forgotten about Anthony Weiner? He was shamed out of office when Amy Koch hasn’t (yet) been.

    Second, good for the GOP in burying the news on a Friday afternoon. That’s the way to do it so no one will notice.

    Third, there has been essentially zero mention in the mainstream media of the rank hypocrisy here. The GOP pushes sanctity of marriage, but practices something different altogether. Amy Koch likely just destroyed her family.

    Finally, everything I’ve read about Brodkorb indicates that he is a rather unsavoury character. Getting rid of these two can only help Minnesota.

  • John P II

    Re: Koch – I liked the Strib letter writer’s reference to the Jon Grunseth hot tub party. Yes, by all means bring back the standards of the 80’s!

    The Strib is ridiculous in blaming the decline of an after hours “sphere of privacy” for elected officials. Are they suggesting that if Koch had more privacy at home she wouldn’t engage in “inappropriate relationships with male staffers” at work? Or just not giving any credence to the idea that inappropriate personal relationships in the workplace can negatively impact other staff and the overall functioning of the workplace? It was not just an affair; it was somebody that reported to her, whose budget she controlled. It’s clearly grounds for an ethics investigation.

  • Kassie

    According to the current Strib article:

    Sources said on Thursday the senators gave Koch three choices: Deny the allegations, resign as majority leader or face the fact that they would share the allegations with other Senate leaders.

    So she resigned as majority leader, as they requested, and then they went and told everyone anyway. While we can’t be sure the above statement was what she was actually offered unless she or the other senators come forward, it looks like they went against what they said they would do. Not cool.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Re Ms Koch: Is she any relation to those paragons of Tea Party funding virtue brothers of the same name?

    Re the government blocking of Al Shabab’s use of Twitter: Were it not for the pesky First Amendment, that slippery slope stuff, and that charming new Defense Authorization Bill,

    It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of brutal terrorists.

    What if they promised to limit their tweeting activity to reporting what they had for breakfast?

  • Bob Collins

    // and then they went and told everyone anyway

    It would be monumentally stupid for anyone at the capitol to assume that a Senate Majority Leader could suddenly resign and the media would not eventually report on why.

    It’s illustrative, I think, that these people at some point felt that was possible.

    If I were to guess — which I am — I would say someone already knew the deets and they were trying to get out in front of it. But, the absence of women in this, I think, speaks volumes about what was really going on behind the scenes, and probably still is.

  • Lisa

    “Re the government blocking of Al Shabab’s use of Twitter: Were it not for the pesky First Amendment, that slippery slope stuff, and that charming new Defense Authorization Bill,

    It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of brutal terrorists.”

    Yes, who will make the decisions as to who gets to Tweet and who gets twitterfettered. Personally, I think the US really should cut the apron strings, (burn them so they can never re connect) as suggested by someone else today, with the Israeli officials who seem to belt out and never forget their suffering of the Holocaust but seem to think their incessant inflictiion of pain and torture and land stealing -home wrecking- over the Palestinians is ok to do.

    No tweeting for Israelis!

  • Jim Shapiro

    Lisa – yes, one person’s brutal sharia terrorist is another person’s brutal hypocritical apartheid state.

    Cut off all of their tweeters, I say.

  • Lisa

    “Cut off all of their tweeters, I say.”

    Yah, and about those Britsh and their evil colonizing ways of extracting all resources out of richly fecund land and enslaving the people, I say we cut off their tweeting rights for modeling such poor dysfunctional behaviior. Their bad acting has taught too many countries that subtle and sneaky tacktics of murder and take over are acceptible as long as one does not get caught.

    No Tweets for Brits and their dogs too!