Columns » Max Brantley

Campaign reading

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Thanks to growing Internet resources, I've probably read more about the 2008 presidential race than I did in 2004, certainly than in 2000.

The timing couldn't be better, what with a former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, challenging for the lead in the Republican primary and a former Arkansas first lady, Hillary Clinton, leading the Democratic candidates.

The Internet reflects that journalists have begun to take a deeper look at Huckabee's record in Arkansas. The tougher reporting, however, still often comes on the fringes of the press establishment. The major TV networks and newspapers are more inclined to cover the candidate-dictated story lines and the poll-dictated horse races.

Case in point: the latest issue of The Nation, the venerable liberal weekly, produced the deepest reporting I've seen yet on the influence Fayetteville preacher and right-wing talk show host Jay Cole has had over Huckabee. Cole championed Wayne Dumond's release. The Nation notes that Cole helped Huckabee establish a church-based TV show in the 1980s that propelled him into public life. Cole praises Huckabee for sharing his apocalyptic world view.

Our own Ernest Dumas outlined the myth of Mike Huckabee's populism. The biggest black spot is the anti-worker Workers Compensation Commission, overseen by Huckabee appointees who included his chief of staff's husband.

We owe the Christian Brothers University alumni magazine the delicious tidbit that Huckabee's campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, previously worked for a company specializing in job outsourcing and also for a bloodsucking payday lender. This came out the very week Huckabee was decrying outsourcing and otherwise telling people in Michigan he was the working man's champion.

The website Talking Points Memo did strong reporting on how Huckabee was benefiting from automated phone calls — robocalling — even as he decried the practice.

But credit the major media, too. Thanks to Newsweek, we now know that tobacco money — meant to foil Hillary Clinton's universal health care plan — was a major contributor to Action America, the long-secret front that financed Huckabee during his early days in public office. The Wall Street Journal has reported on the influential preacher who prompted Mike Huckabee to set free another murderer. MSNBC raised pay-to-play questions in the close timing of Huckabee's clemency decision for a rich man convicted of multiple DWIs and the drunk's major contributions to the Republican Party.

You might ask why local media missed these stories. A partial answer is that Huckabee's departure from office loosened tongues, particularly those of many former aides, appointees and one-time Republican supporters. They've been rushing to reporters with inside information and seeking outlets with the broadest circulation.

Some simply like other candidates. Many had unpleasant experiences in working with or for Huckabee. He broke promises. He treated them roughly. He put his own well-being ahead of others. Some find his graspiness unattractive. Some are motivated by principle. The young Republican producing the Dumond TV ads against Huckabee seems genuinely horrified that Huckabee's poor judgment led to the rape and murder of a Missouri woman's daughter.

From the perspective of all the leakers, Huckabee isn't likable. Big feet at the New York Times and Washington Post, among others, still seem to prefer to believe their lying eyes. But the Internet “press” never stops rolling.

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