Al’s Rationale

Before the first Tuesday in November, Minnesota U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken has three primary messaging To-Dos to accomplish: 1) Wrestle the ethics issue to neutral; 2) Prove that Norm Coleman has been a Bush loyalist; and 3) Convince swing voters that Franken is an acceptable alternative.

In terms of countering ethics charges, Franken has been very active. A recent ad framed his own tax problems as an honest mistake, and then spotlighted charges about Senator Coleman’s allegedly shady Capitol Hill housing arrangement. A sequel ad employed a talking fish — perhaps a first in political advertising history — to tie his opponent to indicted Alaska Senator Ted Stevens and his merry band of gift-giving lobbyists.

As I’ve said before, Franken’s ads won’t make voters completely forget about his ethics problems, but they don’t have to. Franken’s intention with these ads is to get enough voters to the point of thinking “yeah, both candidates have imperfect ethics, so I have to decide based on something else.” If Franken can accomplish that, he still has a shot, because this is one of the best election years for Democrats in recent memory. I maintain Franken should have disarmed the tax mistakes by offering a prompt and thorough explanation, and sincere apology, but these ads are helping a bit.

Enter the second To-Do: Tying Bush to Coleman. Coleman’s centerpiece reelection argument is that he is “bringing people together to solve problems.” That is a faux non-partisan appeal to non-partisan swing voters. Franken needs to disarm Coleman’s claim by proving that Coleman has been in lockstep with the most unpopular and partisan Presidents of our times, something Franken does pretty well in his most recent ad:

Unlike most of Franken’s ads, this one is both strategic and unique enough to stand out in the sea of nearly identical cookie cutter political commercials washing into our family rooms. It’s just entertaining enough that it won’t get completely tuned out, and it may actually get discussed at the water cooler.

The third to-do – proving that Franken is an acceptable alternative — began early in the campaign, but the Frankenoids will need to close with some more soft stuff to sell the acceptability of Franken.

Franken’s got a long ways to go in less than two months, but he is finally on-track.

– Loveland

tax resolution services fine

Now It’s Franken Doing the Spankin’

Following Norm Coleman’s lead, Al Franken is jumping into the Ultimate Fighting ring with a tough new ad.

This ad aint pretty. But will it get Franken off the mat?

On the question of personal ethics, no ad can make Franken’s problems go away completely. But this ad is an attempt by Franken to neutralize the issue. In other words, he is trying to get swing voters to conclude: “Well okay, I guess both Coleman and Franken have ethics problems, so I have to decide on the basis of something else.” That would at least give Franken a chance.

Is Franken’s charge about Coleman’s rent fair? I’m not sure. An enterprising reporter should work with a real estate consultant on a market analysis of comparable housing in comparable neighborhoods. I paid only $100 less than Senator Coleman for a similar-sounding Capitol Hill apartment…24 years ago. There’s been quite a real estate boom in DC over that quarter century, which makes me wonder if this is rent set by the Invisible Hand of the marketplace, or the helping hand of special interests. But more information is needed.

The person most likely to benefit from this Franken-Coleman cage match? Indepenence Party candidate Dean Barkely. This increasingly ugly bickering will undoubtedly cause some voters to flee to Barkley. I doubt it will be enough to make the financially challenged Barkley viable, but it might.

– Loveland

tax consultant fine

Participant or observer: Journalism and its impact on the subjects

4-year-old Ali Sattar looks at a photograph that was taken of him on March 25, 2003 during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. This photo was taken July 5, 2003. (Warren Zinn -- Army Times)This story in the Washington Post cuts to the heart of a central issue in journalism ethics: Do the people who document and retell the stories of people are the world have an impact on those lives? Should they? Are these journalists participants, observers or a combination thereof?

In the story, former photojournalist Warren Zinn tells the tale of his reaction to learning of the death of the subject of Zinn’s famous photo from the Iraq war:

The e-mail was a punch in the gut: “the soldier you made famous — killed himself last Saturday — thought you should know.” […]

I knew at once what the message meant: Joseph Dwyer was dead. I drove home in a daze and walked into my apartment. And there was Joseph, on the wall, looking at me.

Zinn wrestles with whether the photo’s prominence contributed to Dwyer’s inability to “get over the war,” in the soldier’s mother’s words. Several reports after Dwyer returned home claimed he “hated the fame the picture had brought him.”

It might be tough to judge the impact the photo and the fame had on Dwyer, but that’s only part of the discussion. Considering the potential ramifications, when, if at all, should a journalist think twice about publishing a photo, video or article? In this specific case, it’s highly unlikely that Zinn could ever have known the fallout that would ensue, but how does affect those core questions about ethics: Are journalists participants or observers? Which should they be? Regardless of what role they should take, to what extent do they affect subjects’ lives? commercial loans fine