Sham Masters | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

Sham Masters 

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It’s hot enough to stir-fry lunch on the sidewalk in front of City Weekly. I’ve had it.

This last stubborn stretch of summer heat makes my brain work in quick, short takes. It’s too much work to do otherwise. And you are the beneficiary of my attention deficit. You’ll be able to skip through this piece faster than it took Karl Rove to exit the White House.

Speaking of Turd Blossom, lifelong liberals like myself should be missing him already. We didn’t know it up until the president announced Rove’s resignation, but this particular prince of darkness and his gaffes at molding George W. Bush’s policy were the progressive voter’s best guarantee for taking back the presidency in 2008.

Rove did a lot right for George W. Bush when he lurked around the sidelines distilling voter profiles and compiling masterful mailing lists. Rove managed to get an oaf elected twice as Texas governor and two more times as U.S. president because he so understood the First Commandment of political campaigning: It’s all about the drama. Campaigning is all lofty promises, hyperbole language and appeals to the loyal political base. In Bush’s case, that was right-wing, Christian fundamentalists—those “family values” folks the left always laughed at until getting crushed in the 2004 election.

But the sweet slogans that played so well to the base meant nothing when it came to the big picture of actually governing.

But Rove, setting policy through Bush, couldn’t pull it off. And, therefore, neither could Bush. Americans got it. They lost their patience long ago for the war dragging in Iraq. They are getting a feel for the reality of global warming (stir-fry-worthy heat on Salt Lake City sidewalks and all) and want a leader who at least acknowledges it minus the snickering and hubris.

Campaigns are for the committed, even fanatical, political base. Government is for the rest of us. We don’t want drama at this point; we want thoughtful action. We want to be heard. The feckless Bush isn’t smart enough to embrace that concept, and Rove got so hungry for power in the White House, he forgot about it.

And, speaking of misreading the electorate, what’s up with that Aug. 12 Salt Lake Tribune primary-election endorsement of Keith Christensen for Salt Lake City mayor? It isn’t that I have a quarrel with the paper’s editorial board for backing Christensen. They can do whatever they want. And here comes the required, important disclosure: Candidate Jenny Wilson is my stepdaughter.

So am I too personally involved to reveal what needs to come forward? I don’t think so. I also worked at “Utah’s Independent Voice” for 10 years and have watched these candidate endorsements since the Trib’s unbelievable endorsement of Bush for president in 2004. Back then, the public saw through it as the “order up” from Trib Publisher Dean Singleton that it was.

And it’s happened again.

When the Christensen endorsement showed up a full month before the Sept. 11 primary, I did a little checking. And what it came down to is a truly flawed process in making this endorsement in particular. A sham. A big, fat charade.

Three independent Tribune staffers confirmed my suspicions. I’m not naming them because, frankly, they’re petrified of exercising their right to free speech under Singleton. Would you talk to City Weekly or risk losing your job in an already drastically downsized newspaper industry? You be the judge.

Here is what went down:

The first week of August, candidates Christensen, Wilson, Dave Buhler, Ralph Becker and J.P. Hughes were summoned—as is the custom—for individual interviews before the editorial board. At least one candidate had heard rumors that the fix was in for Christensen before the meetings occurred and confronted Trib editorial editor Vern Anderson with the possibility. Anderson promised that all candidates would get a fair hearing. But he ended the conversation with the candidate by acknowledging, “It’s Dean’s newspaper.” So it is. Then Singleton should have written the endorsement. Or at least been present to ask questions at the bogus interviews—which he wasn’t.

In essence, the endorsement boiled down to Christensen’s profile as a Singleton kind of guy. He is the successful co-owner of 31 Top Stop convenience stores and a real-estate investor. And he has a pilot’s license.

The editorial even emphasized the uncharacteristic decision to endorse a candidate a month early. “As Keith Christensen’s greatest strength is not name recognition, we believe you, our readers, should have time to evaluate a candidate who is well worth the effort,” it said.

That’s very civic-minded. But, again, why insult the other candidates and city voters by putting the cast through such a meaningless charade? The deck was stacked weeks ago when Singleton decided it was time to take another bow before the business community, according to the Trib sources. “You can write the most cynical column you want,” one of them told me, “and you still won’t get to the depth of cynicism behind that endorsement.”

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