Every so often I see Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee listed as a possible GOP presidential contender for 2008, and I don’t know whether to chuckle or to scream out a warning. I worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for 14 months; when I first went there, I thought Huckabee was a white knight. Just 14 months later, I had concluded he was pretty much a jack…er, well, not a jack-rabbit, put it that way. He is incredibly thin-skinned; he has a blind eye for ethical problems because, you see, he’s a Baptist minister, and that makes it outrageous even to question his ethics OR even the ethics of those who work for him. Or at least that’s his attitude. Of course, what that meant was a whole series of stupid, almost petty, ethics-related imbroglios while I was there, and at one point the governor actually threatened to sue the state’s very highly regarded Ethics Commission. It led me, on a TV appearance, to question just how dumb Huck must be: “Imagine the headlines,” I said: “Governor versus Ethics, in big bold letters.”
What brings these reflections on is the following story, forwarded to me via e-mail:
The Coalition of Journalists for Open Government (CJOG)… is sending a letter to the governor of Arkansas regarding a crackdown on access.
Following is a letter… to send to Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who is the latest public official to use an information-access sanction in retaliation for coverage he doesn’t like. In this case, the sanction is aimed not merely at an individual reporter but at an entire newspaper. The Arkansas Times is a weekly newspaper with free distribution. It has the fourth largest circulation of any paper in the state. Its editor, Max Brantley, has some 30 years experience, including 18 at the Arkansas Gazette before joining the Times. The sanction is a modest one — not sending timely notice of the governor’s press conferences and public appearances — but it is nonetheless a totally inappropriate step toward restrictions on access to information in retaliation for unfavorable coverage, and if it stands may be only a first step that will encourage Gov. Huckabee and perhaps other elected officials to implement other sanctions on information.
The letter said it is “poor public policy for any governor or any public official to inhibit access to public information, directly or indirectly, simply because he or she dislikes a particular messenger. It is ultimately the citizen who is less informed and penalized as a result.”
The letter also complained that the governor’s website said the Arkansas Times was not a “legitimate” newspaper, despite it having the fourth highest circulation of any paper in the state. The letter also expressed First Amendment concerns.
Okay, back to my own (Quin’s) comments: First, the sheer counterproductiveness of Huck’s actions are astonishing. There are ways to pick fights with problematic media outlets, but trying to shut them out should be low on the list. This is especially true when the publication is popular and respected; shut out the paper, and you insult its readers. Not smart. The Arkansas Times definitely leans left, but it does so openly, with no subterfuge, and Max Brantley, its editor, is a sharp-witted, fair-minded liberal who is a really good guy. His paper is a weekly, not a daily, but he was still in some sense our competition at the Dem-Gazette, and he was good competition. For Huckabee to try to shut out Brantley and the Times is for him to demonstrate not how unfair the Times is, but how thin-skinned he is. With such an attitude, Huckabee will be made mincemeat by the national media, and his peevishness is not likely to play well, long-term, with the American public.
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