Columns » John Brummett

A fight lost by mere picking

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Gov. Mike Huckabee’s name was deep mud last week — deservedly, of course — in a small but active and potentially influential universe.

It served to remind of an old saying that one shouldn’t pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.

Our childish, petulant, thin-skinned and hyperbolic governor seems to present a new-age case study. It’s whether one ought also to eschew a fight with a guy with an Internet blog who knows how to link with other guys with Internet blogs.

They don’t call the World Wide Web a web for nothing. You can get all tangled up in there, then eaten alive.

The governor understandably doesn’t like the weekly liberal and partisan tabloid in Little Rock that goes by the name of the Arkansas Times and bedevils him in print and on its popular blog with critical commentary and insightful, groundbreaking reporting.

It would be one thing, and a fine thing, if the governor tersely declined any interview requests from the paper. That would be his prerogative, and wise.

But what he’s done is remove the newspaper from the list of recipients of his taxpayer-funded press office’s simple professional courtesies, such as press releases and notifications of press availability.

He has said the Times can get the information from the governor’s website. But that would be true only if the paper watched the website constantly.

The governor’s action is simply indefensible, mainly for its sheer brattiness. He’s entitled not to like the paper. He’s not entitled to be nearly so tiny about it.

To make matters worse, if possible, Huckabee got so defensive at midweek he posted his own website follow-up statement. In it, he fell victim once again to his dreaded propensity for whining hyperbole.

He said he didn’t think he had any obligation to call the Arkansas Times every time he gave some other news organization an interview.

No one ever said he did.

The man sometimes uses arguing techniques pulled straight from the elementary school playground.

His presidential hopes have provided the calling card for the Times’ clever and energetic editors — Max Brantley and Warwick Sabin. They’ve alerted colleagues around the country to their blog posts about Huckabee’s striking misbehavior. They’ve managed to pique the critical interest of leading national websites like Jim Romensko’s, Wonkette and the New Republic, the latter two of which lambasted Huckabee’s.

Brantley and Sabin also orchestrated a critical letter to Huckabee from the national association of alternative weekly newspapers, which only so happens to be convening in Little Rock next month with the Times as host and Bill Clinton as the free-of-charge featured speaker.

But probably the Times’ most effective alliances — in this matter, at least — have been two they couldn’t possibly have orchestrated, which is what makes them more effective.

The Little Rock daily newspaper, a Republican and Huckabee-admiring organ that indeed buys ink by the barrel, and which catches about as much deserved grief from the Times as Huckabee, found itself unable to defend the governor editorially.

And the national Club for Growth, an archconservative, small-government outfit that previously had attacked Huckabee as a liberal and therefore unfit for the Republican presidential nomination, was all too willing to jump on this revelation of infantile hypersensitivity to advance the notion of Huckabee’s presidential unfitness.

It is hard anymore to determine exactly what falls beneath our presidency, what with Clinton’s oral-sex receipt in the Oval Office and George W.’s lying incompetence.

But picking a fight with a lowly liberal weekly tabloid in Little Rock clearly seems to qualify.

Just picking it, not losing it. To pick it is to lose it.

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