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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Watching history.

Paul Bass Photo
On orders of our overlord Kos, Jane has moved
east to work on the Lamont campaign. All
hail Kos.

Jane & Her Poodles Get The Story

by Paul Bass | July 4, 2006 10:54 AM |

Hollywood producer Jane Hamsher was sipping iced black tea outside Oolongs Tea Bar in New Haven's Sherman's Alley when a call came over the cellphone. Joe Lieberman -- the man she'd traveled from the West Coast to watch disintegrate -- was about to make a major announcement 40 miles north at the state Capitol.

In no time she was barreling up I-91 at 90 miles an hour, cellphone crackling with updates, poodles trying to push their way to the front seat. This was real time, not reel time. She wasn't going to miss this story, whatever it turned out to be.

Not after driving here from the West Coast, she wasn't.

Hamsher (of Natural Born Killers fame) had just arrived in town. The producer and author has become a blogger of late; her Firedoglake site draws up to 80,000 unique visitors a day. Like other national bloggers incensed over the direction of the country under President Bush, Hamsher has taken a deep interest in the Aug. 8 Connecticut Democratic primary between three-term Sen. Lieberman and liberal challenger Ned Lamont, seeing it as a test battle for "the heart and soul of the party."

Hamsher was leaving Oklahoma, where she spent the last days of her 82 year-old mother's life with her, when she decided she and her three big black poodles weren't ready to return home to her homes in Hollywood and the Oregon coast. She had some time before shooting was scheduled to begin on her latest projects. So she drove East to Connecticut with the intention of staying here until the primary and blogging the campaign up close. She also wanted to see the local bloggers whose work she'd been following at sites such as DumpJoe and MyLeftNutmeg ; she has a hunch they might be making history.

There she was outisde Oolongs answering a local reporter's interview questions, with poodles Kobe and Katie and Lucy tied by their leashes to a grate, when her Razor flip phone rang with the Lieberman news. The blogger universe was buzzing. No one knew what the Lieberman announcement would be. But it felt big; the Lieberman camp had waited until just two hours before the event to let the press know about it. On the slow news day before July 4.

"We have to go," Hamsher declared. She piled all three big black poodles back into her car along with a local reporter (me) who knew how to get to the Capitol, and stayed in phone contact with a Lamont staff blogger who was also in the area and wanted to follow in a separate car.

Hamsher turned the air conditioner up high but left the radio off; the car was already filled with waves of virtual and real motion. Somewhere around Meriden I realized Hamsher was breaking two Connecticut laws at once: the dashboard needle tugged at the 90 mark, and she was dialing and talking on the celly while steering. I also noticed that car had air bags. So I said nothing, and resolved, if pressed to testify, to follow Judith Miller's original example in the Valerie Plame case (the case which incidentally originally inspired Jane Hamsher's blogging before Lieberman-Lamont caught her interest).

Then I remembered: Fourth of July weekend. Extra state police patrols. Oregon plates. This could mean trouble. But there was no other way to make the press conference on time.

More calls from bloggers and informants stretching from D.C. to the West Coast. One carried word from a senator's office.

"He's taking out petitions!" Hamsher cried. This was going to be a big story. It was worth the trip East. "The poodles have a nose for these things. They said, 'Mom, get me to Connecticut!'"

As anticipated, Lieberman was indeed going to take out petitions to run as an independent in case he loses the Aug. 8 primary, a remarkable admission of weakness for a three-term incumbent who was once his party's vice-presidential nominee.

Another call: the AP was going with the story. Hamsher dialed Firedog staffer Christy Hardin Smith in West Virginia and dictated a post. Racing a parallel track along the blogosphere and the Connecticut interstate, she wanted to have the story first.

As she shooed Kobe's shnoz from the front seat (or was it Katie's? or Lucy's?), Hamsher squeezed in some reflections on why she travelled the country to bear witness to the race of the summer.

"It's all about [Supreme Court Justice Samuel] Alito for me," she said, referring to Lieberman's vote to prevent a filibuster and allow the right-wing judge's confirmation to proceed. "We're this close" -- she took her hand off the wheel to demonstrate just how close with two fingers -- "to having another judge who will seal our fate for the next 20 years. We can wind up permanently stacked and unable to swing the pendulum back.

"This is a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party," she said, the state police headquarters passing in a blur outside her window. "Are we going to rubber-stamp judges like Alito? Or are we going to say that Republican Lite isn't good enough?"

She also wants to correct the impression of the race created by the national press, Hamsher continued. "I'm trying to provide some counterbalance to the mistaken narratives that are being perpetuated in Time, Newsweek, the Washington Post... and they're the best. Everything I was reading was buying into this narrative, 'It's all about the war.'" Lieberman has repeatedly cast Lamont's challenge as a single-issue campaign against his support for the Iraq war. Lamont has repeatedly responded that yes, the war is a major difference between them, but so are universal health care, the Bush-Cheney energy bill, gay marriage, free trade, school vouchers, and the Alito nomination, among other issues.

For now Hamsher has an extended-stay motel room in Meriden. She's hoping to rent a farmhouse in Guilford through the primary; a bunch of her West Coast buddies want to stay with her and the poodles to witness and blog history themselves.

OK, Jane just watched her mother die after an unexpected illness. But she thought this so important that she basically came east to stay for the next month.

What the right doesn't get, and going to a day spa to watch 20 loons doesn't count, is that bloggers are committed people. Willing to make some serious sacrifices, and make no mistake Jane will be spending a couple of thousand bucks here, with only some ad revenue to cover her costs.

Now she has the money and time to spare, but this is the kind of thing which bloggers will need to do to make better blogs. The will to be good reporters is there, but the finances aren't. Jane deserves a great deal of respect for upending her life at a difficult time to cover an election in a state she doesn't live in.

posted by Steve @ 2:01:00 AM

2:01:00 AM

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