Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Depends on whose council member is being gored

During his tenure as a Metro beat reporter first at the City Paper and then at the Tennessean, I do not remember a discouraging word from Nate Rau against controversial CMs like Charlie Tygard (whom Rau once defended as "blogged to death") or Eric Crafton (whose English Only initiative Rau handled sensitively, nearly generously). But consistently with non-ostentatious CM Mike Jameson, Rau breaks out the critical analysis, regularly referencing what the Mayor's Office dislikes about him.

My issue here is not with evenhandedly treating CMs critically. I simply do not think that Rau's treatment of Jameson in particular has been the highest quality criticism.

It is no different in Rau's recent blogging on Jameson's reservations about privatizing the public Fairgrounds.  Rau blogs a somewhat rambling, disjointed, and loaded criticism of Jameson:
Jameson’s indignation could be seen as some what puzzling. He’s been a councilmember for more than seven years. He knows the ugly ins and unseemly outs of city politics.

I’ve heard it said that former Mayor Bill Purcell never used petty tactics like calling down department directors on district council members.

Somebody should tell that to Charlie Tygard and Chris Whitson, because I believe they would paint a different picture.

Since Dean was elected mayor, by my count he’s had five tough votes go through council – the Predators lease, the stormwater fee, the convention center land acquisition, the creation of the Convention Center Authority and the convention center bond resolution. Jameson has voted against three of those proposals; the lease agreement at Hickory Hollow would make four out of six.

It is fair for observers to wonder if Jameson’s opposition, no matter how eloquently justified, is rooted in politics, not policy, especially considering the weight of his stance just a year ago.
Someone needs to tell Nate that his wonderment is only fair if he goes back and actually analyzes Jameson's arguments and points out the logical fallacies point-by-point. I never remember him doing that, and I was reading the City Paper long before he was hired.

The problem is that in previous stories reporter Rau seemed to transmit what mayoral staffers either believe or spin about Jameson. The Mayor's Office told reporters that Mike Jameson was an opportunistic grandstander seeking a judgeship. Rau simply passed that judgment along without expressing any journalistic critical thinking or probing curiosity. When Jameson used the same parliamentary rules that other CMs (including Tygard) have used, Rau assumed without a second thought (or as if it had been spun to him) that Jameson used "obscure" tricks to shut down an unquestionably legitimate policy brought at an unquestionably impeccable pace. Jameson conducted council queries of Dean staffers in ways that casual observers called "polite" and "professional," yet analyst Rau was prompted to call the same act a "deposition" as if Jameson was not able to perform as anything but a slick lawyer.

But politics is an end game. If someone is playing politics then they make a rational choice for benefits that outweigh the risk involved in taking on a popular Mayor under this Metro Charter which relegates CMs to a ridiculously weak position from which to make legislative checks on the executive. While I am not happy with acquiescent CMs, I can understand that in this system their choice is either to be a Dean supporter or to find oneself isolated to the Mayor's dog house. And the fawning print media does not help break the servitude by repeating whatever their Metro PR sources tell them.

So, the insistence that a maverick is somehow gaining more than losing in opposing the Mayor on most of the most contentious issues is absurd. And yet, that seems to be exactly what Nate Rau is insisting. If it's just politics, then what is the benefit to Jameson of continuously sticking his head out of the council trenches only to face Karl Dean's howitzer? Given the Courthouse disdain he faces from the perfect storm of council conservatives, sovereign Mayor, and cynical reporters, what chance does Jameson have to win the end game that Metro politics is? Rau doesn't say, but he doesn't seem to be required by anyone to do so, either.

In the end Nate Rau fell into the same trap as many bloggers: he put up a post based mostly on anecdotes with few warrants, making a flawed case, nonsensical when judged rationally. Granted, it may make airtight sense inside the Courthouse.

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