Northern Valley Beacon

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Saturday, October 21, 2006


Gropegate turns into a fumble

Bob Mercer, in today's Capitol Notebook in the Aberdeen American News (the story is not online) tells why the professional media did not touch this story. When reporters learned that a complaint was made about a state senator making sexual advances to a page, they also learned that the complaint was turned over to the Attorney General's office for investigation, and when no charges or further action were taken, they dismissed the charge as "unsubstantiated gossip."

Just a month before election, the story was ratcheted up when the father of the page pursued his complaint and Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, the state senate majority leader, sent a letter to Sen. Dan Sutton telling him to resign or be subjected to a legislative investigation. Sen. Sutton did not resign, but is fighting the charge. Sen. Gary Moore, the minority leader, refused to participate in the ultimatum and instead recommended that the legilslative body pursue investigation and due process in resolving the matter.

Bob Mercer does not mention the role that bloggers played in pushing the story, but from the outset there were many very basic things wrong with the facts and context they presented. The errors and general botching of the story by blogs was compounded by the degraded meanness of the comments added. Two blog commentators perceived the dangers in the story as presented. Jerry Hinkle cautioned that the charges had not been substantiated and that Sen. Sutton still had the right to a hearing and the procedures of due process. Prof. Jon Schaff warned that if the allegations were found to be untrue, there would be hell to pay.

None of the blog posts which purported to be breaking the story contained the basic ingredients of verfication, meticulous citation of the facts, or statements from people involved that would be required in a legitimate news story. Although they referred to the letters from the senators, they did not accurately characterize how the letters pursued the legal responsibilities of a legislative body in monitoring its affairs or what positions were stated by the senators involved. Their reports were based upon vague charges inflated by prurient innuendo and implication, and, of course, downright mean and trivial-nasty partisanship.

Some salient facts not reflected in the report are that the page, the son of former Farmers Union president and gubernatorial candidate Dennis Wiese, was sharing a motel room with Sen. Sutton with his parents' consent. Dennis Wiese, as president of the Farmers Union, was involved in locating a beef packing plant in Huron that would share the water and waste disposal infrastructure with the new turkey processing plant that opened there this year. For reasons that are unclear because of South Dakota's rules that protect corporations and their interactions with government agencies, the deal between Huron and Ridgefield Farms, the packing plant operator, was broken when local investors withdrew their money. The proposed operation was moved to Flandreau. As president of Flandreau's development group, Dan Sutton sat on the Ridgefield board of directors to promote the group's interests. Flandreau provided $750,000 to the project and an additional $100,000 to finance the move of the Ridgefield offices from Huron to Flandreau.

Dennis Wiese was a key figure in the Ridgefield schemes and was a paid consultant for the outfit. The project collapsed this past summer and Wiese's job was no more. Dan Sutton has figured prominently in trying to recover the Flandreau money that was contributed to the scheme.

Bob Mercer further points out that Dennis Wiese was given a copy of Schoenbeck's ultimatum letter to Dan Sutton. He says that the more information revealed on the matter the more unclear it will become. And Prof. Schaff's warning that there might be hell to pay seems accurate, because the flames are lapping the asses of a lot of people.

And once again the blogosphere appears to be the realm of partisan hacks and dupes.

Fumbling a fondle?

Beats me why, after reading much in the way of distortion reporting first outed on, anyone in South Dakota subscribes to publications that willingly reduced themselves from "watchdog" press to pr machines, albeit with a better, subscription based, veneer.
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