Category Archives: Media

Milne launches TV ad

MONTPELIER — Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne has launched his first television commercial as the primary approaches next week.

The ad, which will be running on WPTZ, Fox 44/ABC 22 and WCAX through the primary, features footage from Milne’s campaign kickoff event last month in Barre. Former Republican Gov. James Douglas is prominently featured, calling Milne the next governor of Vermont.

“Internally, I think sort of the campaign family, we’re stoked about it. I think it’s very, very good and I’m appreciative of all the support from Gov. Douglas,” Milne said Tuesday.

The commercial also shows footage of Milne’s mother, former GOP state Rep. Marion Milne, who passed away on Aug. 11.

Milne said his campaign is spending just over $20,000 on the commercial through next Tuesday.


In documents from consulting firm, media strategies revealed

A story in Sunday’s editions of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald detailed the components of a $1.8 million contract in which the state of Vermont enlisted the services of a Washington, D.C., consulting firm for public outreach related to the new health insurance exchange.

GMMB, best known for its work on the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, is handling everything from media relations to the production of television advertisements. And the products they’ve delivered offer a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the battle for hearts and minds by the Shumlin administration.

Below, you’ll find source documents used for the story, including some previously unreported material on the “launch event,” in which the state was going to pay GMMB more than $125,000 to organize a single press conference on the day that Vermont Health Connect launched.

The administration, according to Commissioner of Vermont Health Access Mark Larson, ultimately decided to scrap the event, and will only pay GMMB for launch-event materials produced prior to the decision to forgo the press conference.

To read the contract itself, go to:

Vermont Health Connect Communicators Guide 09 27

VT Earned Media Landscape 3 15 13

VT Earned Media Plan 04 05 13-1

Vermont Health Connect Launch Event 09 11 13

Neal Goswami joins the Vermont Press Bureau

Stefan Hard / Staff PhotoVermont Press Bureau reporter Neal Goswami.Neal Goswami has joined the Vermont Press Bureau as of Sept. 3. Goswami was a reporter for the Bennington Banner for more than 7 years, and most recently was the newspaper’s social media editor and senior staff reporter.
Goswami will join Bureau Chief Pete Hirschfeld in reporting on state government, the legislature and statewide issues. He will work out of the Barre offices of the Herald’s sister newspaper, the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, and provide local coverage on Waterbury and other assignments in Central Vermont; he report out of the Statehouse during the legislative session. Goswami is a graduate of UVM, and covered the Democratic National Convention in 2008 on a joint assignment with the Denver Post.

He has just moved to Montpelier. Follow him on Twitter: @nealgoswami

Does more competition in health insurance actually bring down costs?

David Sanger

David Sanger speaks at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland Tuesday.

While speaking at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre last night, the New York Times’ Washington bureau chief David Sanger raised an interesting question about our assumptions on health insurance and competition.

He referred to a study that was written up in the Times’ Economix blog, which compared the concentration of competition, measured by how much of a state’s insurance market is concentrated in the largest two insurers, to the rise in the cost of health insurance premiums in the same state over the ten years between 2000 and 2010.

The study finds that there is not a meaningful correlation between more competition and lower costs. In fact, Sanger pointed out, the reverse actually seems to be true – and this raises concerns about the direction we’re taking with Obamacare.

The concern comes from the increased competition required from health insurance exchanges – which states are required to have set up by 2014, or the federal government will set up for them.

Apparently, the more concentrated the insurance market, the more leverage the biggest insurers have to bring down costs. The more fragmented the market, the less leverage each individual insurer has. As Economix puts it:

In imperfect health care markets, competition can be counterproductive. The larger an insurer’s share of the market, the more aggressively it can negotiate prices with providers, hospitals and drug manufacturers. Smaller hospitals and provider groups, known as “price takers” by economists, either accept the big insurer’s reimbursement rates or forgo the opportunity to offer competing services. The monopsony power of a single or a few large insurers can thus lead to lower prices. For example, Glenn Melnick and Vivian Wu have shown that hospital prices in markets with the most powerful insurers are 12 percent lower than in more competitive insurance markets.

Food for thought as we steadily advance on the way to a single-payer system. For the full Economix blog post on this, please click here.


Former VPB staffer at center of right wing media/DOJ fracas

While flipping through channels the other night, one of our editors saw a familiar face plastered on the screen of Fox News’ O’Reilly Show – former Press Bureau and Rutland Herald reporter Tracy Schmaler, who is now a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs.

It seems Schmaler has run afoul of some elements of the media who have written that she “conspired” with the left-wing blog Media Matters to discredit critics of the DOJ over the “Fast and Furious” debacle that has dogged Attorney General Eric Holder. She’s also been compared to elements of Hitler’s Nazi regime, and  the Tucker Carlson-associated web site The Daily Caller has  FOIA’d a series of emails between her and Media Matters bloggers.

The emails certainly show communication between Media Matters and Schmaler, but mostly revolve around clarifying the similarities and differences between the “Fast and Furious” operation, which was basically an attempted sting carried out by the DOJ and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the prior “Wide Receiver”, also a joint sting.

The two operations were similar in that undercover agents were basically feeding guns – including semiautomatic weapons – and more into the Mexican drug cartel system in order to track them to the bigger, higher-up fish up the chain. This misguided attempt at flushing out the kingpins resulted in about 2,000 guns disappearing into criminal hands, and possibly the use of those guns in murders, shootings, and the death of a US agent.

The two operations differ in the respect that “Wide Receiver” took place primarily in 2005 and 2006, under the Bush Administration, while “Fast and Furious” primarily occured in 2010 and 2011, under the Obama Administration.

The DOJ Inspector General’s investigation into the operation has resulted in two officals leaving the department, and reprimand of a dozen more. 


Lisman spends big – $200,000 big – on Campaign for Vermont

In a lobbyist disclosure form filed with the secretary of state today, Bruce Lisman, founder of Campaign forVermont, revealed he spent more than $200,000 of his own money on the nascent organization between Jan. 1 and March 31.

It’s a significant amount of money byVermont standards, and Lisman sought to get out in front of the news with a press release fired off to news outlets moments ago.

“I am spending my own money because I am concerned about the economic damage current policies are having on lower and middle income Vermonters,” Lisman said in a written statement. “The futures of our state and our young people are at stake. I’ve worked hard and have done well. Spending my money onVermont’s future is more important than standing by passively.”

The Vermont native and UVM graduate made quite a name for himself on Wall Street, where he rose to head the global equities division at Bear Stearns, a position he held when the investment firm collapsed in 2008.

Most Vermonters by now have probably heard Lisman’s voice on their local radio station. He’s bought air time to run dozens of ads, some of which criticize the Shumlin administration’s stance on taxes, health care and energy.

Lisman swears his group is a policy outfit with no political motives. But his sustained focus on hot-button political issues has perked Democrats’ antenna.

The Vermont Democratic Party earlier this year asked Attorney General Bill Sorrell to launch an investigation into Campaign forVermont, alleging the group had run afoul of campaign-finance laws that prohibit 501(c)4 organizations, like his, to advocate for the election or defeat of a specific candidate.

The group’s tax status allows it to raise unlimited funds without disclosing the names of its donors, so long as it doesn’t cross the line into electioneering.

Sorrell summarily dismissed the complaint. But the incident served to expose the adversarial relationship between Democratic party officials and the political newcomer using his considerable resources to air conservative talking points.

Lisman has repeatedly denied any interest in running for political office this year, and he insists his organization is totally apolitical.

“Across the board, the future ofVermont’s prosperity is at risk.  From the pursuit of expensive energy, an impenetrable education financing system, an all-in-bet on a new health care coverage system and a state budget growing faster than our economy, Vermonter’s hopes for a more realistic and common sense approach for a prosperous economy are being highjacked,” he said.

With lines like that, he’ll have a tough time convincing people he isn’t out to defeat the Democratic incumbent.

The disclosure forms show that Lisman’s group spent $194,000 on advertising, $15,000 on compensation, and $3,000 on “other.”

The release indicated that Lisman “will continue to conduct outreach” in the future.

O’Keefe video renews debate over voter ID laws

A video that surfaced today purporting to show voter fraud inVermont last Tuesday has elicited dueling responses from the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties.

The video, reportedly produced by James O’Keefe, the conservative activist who won infamy for his undercover videos of ACORN offices, will undoubtedly reignite the old debate over voter identification laws.

That debate began Tuesday evening as Jack Lindley, chairman of the Vermont GOP, and Jesse Bragg, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, lauded and lambasted O’Keefe’s alleged evidence of voter fraud.

“It does expose flaws in the whole system, in my judgment,” Lindley said. “And it should give us all concern about the integrity of the voting system.”

Lindley had asked Secretary of State Jim Condos to investigate voter-checklist “irregularities” inBurlingtoneven before O’Keefe’s video hit the internet Tuesday. He said he had no inkling what O’Keefe was up to, but that the video footage only cements his concerns.

“If we have to show identification to get on an airplane, we surely ought to have to show ID at the ballot,” Lindley said. “I don’t think regular old Vermonters like me need to have the concern that there are people voting in elections that aren’t (registered voters).”

Bragg said the only evidence of voter fraud he’s ever seen is in the video that surfaced Tuesday. A gimmicky ruse designed to play on irrational fears about voter fraud, eh said, shouldn’t be used as basis to impose new restrictions on voting.

“He’s a radical right-wing activist and he is presenting a problem that doesn’t exist,” Bragg said.

Bragg saidVermontalready has law prohibiting the kind of behavior portrayed in the video. Adopting new laws that require residents to show proof of identification with a driver’s license or other state-sanctioned document, Bragg said, will disenfranchise marginalized sectors of society.

“Anything that requires a voter to travel somewhere, to pay a registration fee, or to take any extra step besides going to the polls, is a form of disenfranchisement,” Bragg said. “Any time you have to get an ID renewed and pay a fee, it becomes a poll tax. The point of our democracy is everyone has an equal vote, and the second we start putting restrictions on our right to vote is the second we start valuing one person’s vote over another’s.”

Darcie Johnston out, Jeffrey Wennberg in at Vermonters for Health Care Freedom

Former Rutland City Mayor Jeffrey Wennberg will take the reins at the state’s highest-profile anti-single-payer organization.

Through radio spots, social media and on-the-ground outreach, Vermonters for Health Care Freedom has helped galvanize opposition to the health care reform legislation signed into law last year by Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Darcie Johnston, founder of the group, announced Thursday that she’ll be stepping aside to focus on her consulting business. Wennberg, who also served as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation under theDouglasadministration, will take over as executive director.

“The quality, availability and cost of health care affect us all. With so much at stake inMontpelier, Vermonters for Health Care Freedom is playing a vital role in informing Vermonters about this critical issue.,” Wennberg said in a statement. “The Administration cannot or will not answer questions about the cost of their proposal, who will be covered and how we will pay for it. Vermonters for Health Care Freedom is seeking the answers through expert counsel and by investigating and sharing the governor’s plans as they become known.”

Specifically, the group has been pushing for legislation that would force Shumlin to unveil a single-payer financing plan before the November elections. Shumlin has sought to delay talk about which tax will used to fund the public health care system until next January.

“What we do know of the governor’s reforms thus far is that they will harm our economy and our ability to retain and attract physicians,” Wennberg said. “Neither of those outcomes is good forVermont.”

Johnston, who founded the group last April, has been splitting time between running the organization and her own consulting firm.Johnstonclients include Republican candidate for governor Randy Brock, for whom Johnston is helping to fundraise.

“I am proud to have founded it, but the next step in its service to our state will take more time than I am able to commit due to my other obligations,” Johnston said in a written statement. “Jeff’s top-notch experience in management, issue advocacy and policy development will support this growing movement as Vermonters’ frustration mounts from a lack of answers to questions about the state’s health care plans.”

Romney favored in Republican primary, but Vermonters still love Obama

Vermonters oppose Citizens United, love Obama and would prefer to see their governors serve four-year terms, according to the results of a poll released today by the Castleton Polling Institute.

It’s the first survey to come out of the newly formed institute, and it taps the pulse of registered voters on issues ranging from presidential politics to Town Meeting Day ballot issues.

The results, based on interviews with 800 registered voters conducted between Feb. 11 and Feb. 22, indicate that 76 percent of Vermonters favor a constitutional amendment to limit spending on political campaigns. Even a majority of Vermonters who identify as Republicans, 57 percent, would support such an amendment, according to the poll.

Likely voters in the March 6 Republican presidential primary say they prefer Mitt Romney over Rick Santorum, Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich.

But Barack Obama still ownsVermont. In the state that handed him one of the highest margins of victory in the state in 2008, Obama, according to the poll, still leads Romney by 26 points in a head-to-head match up.

Look for complete poll results, and an interview with Rich Clark, the political scientist heading up the CPI, in tomorrow’s editions of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald.

Working hard or hardly working?

MONTPELIER — Sen. Kevin Mullin, a Rutland County Republican who went along with Democrats last year and voted in favor of the single-payer health care law, wants to make sure Vermonters are getting their money’s worth out of all five members of the Green Mountain Care Board.

During a Statehouse hearing Thursday, Mullin asked the chairwoman of the board, Anya Rader Wallack, about a public perception that the other members of the board are not doing much work.

“Right now the public perception is you are Peter Shumlin’s point person on health care and nobody else knows what they’re doing,” said Mullin.

Wallack assured him the board members are working hard.

“Each of them have been up to their eyeballs in various issues,” Wallack said.

Mullin suggested notifying the press and the public when the board is out and about and hard at work in order to combat the perception.

Sounds like a good job for a PR firm, no?

– Thatcher Moats

Hogan lets the media have it

Never one to mince words, Con Hogan made plain yesterday his contempt for media coverage of the Green Mountain Care Board’s decision to launch a $50,000 “public engagement” strategy.

Hogan’s job as a part-time member of the five-person board is the latest in a long line of state-government gigs for the East Montpelier resident. He was secretary of human services for most of the 1990s, and spent more than a decade in corrections before that.

He’s a big man. With a big voice. Which means when Hogan talks, people tend to listen. And his not-too-subtle jab during a board meeting Tuesday definitely perked the ears of the half-dozen or so reporters there to cover it.

“The media over the last few days has been full of crap – words like ‘flacks’ to describe the kind of person we’re looking for, that we’re creating a Department of Propaganda, that our sole purpose is to improve the personal images of the people on this board,” Hogan said.

As for Gov. Peter Shumlin, who dispatched two of his closest aides to try to convince board chairwoman Anya Rader Wallack to rescind the RFP for a “communication plan:”

“As far as I’m concerned the administration completely overreacted,” Hogan said. “This kind of environment is geared to cause us not to move forward. It throws sand in the gears of our attempts to meet our terms.”

The board, which subsequently voted 4-1 to abandon the RFP, will apparently have to find other ways to communicate with the people of Vermont. Rader Wallack, glass half full, noted that while the spotlight might not have been flattering, “we did get a lot of free media” as a result of the controversy.

Editorials respond to Vermont journalist’s arrest

The editor and publisher of the Barton Chronicle, Chris Braithwaite, was arrested early this week while covering a protest at Green Mountain Power's Lowell Mountain Wind Project. The arrest has prompted a number of editorials about freedom of the press in Vermont media:

From the Hardwick Gazette:

   Democracy Arrested

    “Heave the tea overboard!”

    Such might have been the cry over 200 years ago when Sam Adams (the

patriot, not the beer) joined fellow colonialists to protest the English

Stamp Act. Adams and his compatriots threw boxes of tea into Boston Harbor

as an act of civil disobedience. Immortalized as a foundation block of

American democracy, the Boston Tea Party of Dec. 16, 1773 was not only a

protest against what Adams and others thought was an unjust law, the protest

was the intentional breaking of a law that is seen as unjust.

Continue reading

Totten leaving Seven Days

MONTPELIER – Vermont political columnist Shay Totten is headed for greener pastures.

Totten, who took over as the columnist at Seven Days after Peter Freyne's departure more than three years ago, is taking a new gig at Chelsea Green Publishing and will leave the alternative weekly at the end of the year.

Totten was wooed away from Chelsea Green to go work at Seven Days, he said, and now he's been wooed back to the publishing house based in White River Junction. He'll be the media and communications director.

“I've had a really good run at Seven Days and wasn't looking for another job,” Totten said. “This opportunity just kind of presented itself out of the blue."

Totten said Seven Days staffer Andy Bromage will be the new political columnist.

April Fools hits the Vermont blogosphere – GMD vs. Vermont Tiger

The liberal blog Green Mountain Daily is pulling a prank on their conservative friends at Vermont Tiger. They've created a redirect page that takes you to "Vermont Tigger", a site "Where the Green Mountain State meets the 21st Century B.C." The fake blog is populated with satiric posts on the health benefits of tritiated water, Bernie Sanders, and tax policy…

Vermont newspapers and New York Times online subscriptions

Since we went live with a paid news model in October of last year, our headlines have dropped off the Googles and the Yahoos of the world. We heard then and since that this was a major mistake, and certainly for a daily newspaper with a great deal invested in the print world while creating a new one online, this is a venture into the unknown.

One reason we did this is to keep our future in our own hands. As we saw recently, when Google makes a tweak to its search algorithm, business models are turned upside down. We never really completely relied on Google or Yahoo for our online business model, but now we don't at all. We create our own community – which is what small, locally owned businesses do, and we're slower than average to adopt new technology, which is a strategy employed by a lot of Vermont newspapers.  

I wrote about this for the Champlain Business Journal earlier this year – many Vermont weeklies and at least three dailies besides us either have a paywall up or post only limited content online. That includes the Valley News, the Caledonian Record, the St. Albans Messenger, the Addison Independent, the Barton Chronicle and the Herald of Randolph. This isn't because they are backwards or resistant to change, it's because locally-owned newspapers have an eye on the long term, and long term means having a solid business model. For some papers, like Seven Days, that means free in print and free online. But newspapers in Vermont are still in a start-up phase for their online business models; most of them have a hybrid – some free, some paid content.

Those business models are built around providing quality, local content, and around making connections between disparate parts of our cities and towns – creating a community.

We also have heard in response to our paywall the call for allowing free linking, more free content, and the ability to connect via social media, and we are close to adapting our web sites to meet that demand, because a paid online model is about quality journalism, but newspapers are also about creating that community.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has announced a new online pay model, and will be requiring subscriptions for those visiting their web site more than 20 times a month, or for use of their mobile and tablet apps.

-Rob Mitchell