Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Leading the Anti-Bachmann Army

As Michele Bachmann surges, a dedicated band of haters is dishing scoops and drawing eyeballs to an influential blog. David A. Graham on the Minnesota Republican woman dedicated to bringing her down.

Michele Bachmann’s star is on the rise. Her poll numbers are climbing. The donations are rolling in. And the press is scrambling for any scraps about her character, her past, what makes her tick. Digging deep into the Minnesota Republican’s record, reporters have found some tantalizing material: her alleged ties to the hate-mongering pastor Bradlee Dean, her work to get a pardon for Ponzi schemer Frank Vennes Jr., and her husband’s apparent reference to gays as “barbarians.”
They’re juicy stories and they’ve gotten plenty of attention nationwide. But they aren’t news--a small cluster of bloggers in Minnesota broke all those stories years ago.
These are interesting times for Eva Young, Ken Avidor, and a handful of other contributors who write the Dump Bachmann blog, a small online outpost that punches way above its weight class. For seven years, Young and her compadres have devoted long hours to cataloguing Bachmann’s every move, first as an obscure state senator and then in the U.S House. Now, the object of their attention is suddenly the front-runner in Iowa, and a leading contender for the 2012 GOP nomination. Rather than celebrating their prescience, the bloggers sound downright dismayed.
“I don’t want to blog about her,” says Ken Avidor, who has become the site’s most prolific poster. “I’ve quit three times. She’s not worth of even being considered a possible candidate. But unfortunately, she’s become a more serious joke.”
Dump Bachmann isn’t the first local political blog to suddenly draw the attention of a national media hungry for leads. Just ask the folks at Mudflats, an Alaskan site that hit the big time when its target, Sarah Palin, did the same. But the Minnesota blog stands out for its early influence—and the political pedigree of its founder, Eva Young, who, like Bachmann, is a Republican woman who has achieved a level of notoriety in the ranks of the state party.
Young, a Minneapolis resident who works in information technology as her day job, began the blog seven years ago, after stints as president of the Minnesota Log Cabin Republicans, the gay GOP group, and on the national board of the Log Cabin Republicans. She cut a quirky figure—an avid cat fancier who spoke her mind, commented up a storm on political sites, and didn’t hesitate to buck party orthodoxy. State GOP leaders don’t know quite what to make of her. “I probably haven’t talked to her in 10 years, but she was always kind of out there even then,” says Tony Sutton, the chair of the Minnesota Republican Party. “She was a liberal Republican--or a liberal, I’m not sure she was really a Republican.”
Young began fixating on Bachmann as the rising star’s views on gay rights came into view in the early 2000s. The pol’s staunch opposition to gay marriage and comments suggesting homosexuality was akin to "bondage” and “part of Satan” cried out for more scrutiny, in Young’s view. “The mainstream media would cover the things that she wanted them to cover, which is she would say things in one way when she was speaking to the mainstream media and then say something completely different when she was talking to her base or going on Christian radio,” Young says. So she began collecting “Bachmannalia". In the spring of 2004, Dump Bachmann was born.
It has, at times, been a lonely road. Allies turned to enemies along the way, decrying what they describe as “obsessive” tendencies in Young and her crew. Mitch Berg, who writes the conservativeShot in the Dark blog and lives in St. Paul, says he used to be a friendly acquaintance. But he’s now an adversary, especially since Berg and Young got into a virtual tiff after Young allegedly posted his personal email to a blog while blasting comments he’d made about the perceived aggressiveness of lesbians.
Berg dismisses Dump Bachmann’s work as sensationalist. “I get the impression that they think their ends justify their means,” he says. “She’s probably the least deranged of the bunch—and I don’t mean to throw the ‘crazy’ term around lightly. But they’ve taken leave of the facts and substituted supposition for evidence.” Berg claims that no one really pays attention to them at home in Minnesota—the blog’s 3,000 visitors are dwarfed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which draws 1,000 times that much a day. But even he acknowledges the group’s influence, theorizing that their anti-Bachmann onslaught may have actually helped her in her tight 2006 race for the House.
Young’s compatriots are more traditional bombthrowers. Avidor, an artist, is a liberal New York native and mass-transit enthusiast who was a Green Party member for a time. Karl Bremer, a third contributor who also writes his own Ripple In Stillwater blog—which also doggedly pursues Bachmann-related stories—is a former professional journalist with a graying goatee and a stint at a craft brewery on his resume.
It’s time-consuming work; Young, who says she’s cut back recently despite Bachmann’s rise, often spent two hours a day on the subject over the years. But it’s paying off. Along with a handful of other outlets—including the Minnesota Independent and G.R. Anderson, a former writer for the Twin Cities alternative weekly City Pages now best known for being ripped off by Rolling Stone—Young and her fellow travelers have laid much of the groundwork for big national outlets, helping to establish a picture of Bachmann’s political past. Bremer also snagged an award from the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in June.
The mainstream media would cover the things that Bachmann wanted them to cover, which is she would say things in one way when she was speaking to the mainstream media and then say something completely different when she was talking to her base or going on Christian radio,” Young says. 
With their influence has come the sinking sensation of seeing other, bigger outlets borrowing their work. The Wall Street Journal scored a neat scoop on July 11 about how the anti-tax Bachmann’s only stint in the professional world included collecting taxes for the federal government. But Dump Bachmann posted on the same casein March 2006. Bremer went so far as to contact the Los Angeles Times after that paper ran a story about Bachmann receiving government aid for a family farm without crediting earlier versions. “Bullshit! I broke it in 2007,” Bremer says. “It’s frustrating seeing national media come in here and think they can scoop us for our work for the last 10 years. I’ve spent hours driving to the other side of the district to plow through court records that aren’t online, or staying up until three in the morning going through campaign reports on the FEC,” Bremer says. “I don’t care if somebody comes in and uses my research, but gimme a link or credit!”
Antipathy for the mainstream media gives the Dump Bachmann crew common cause with their quarry, who by and large keeps the national press at arm’s length. Like Sarah Palin, to whom she’s frequently compared, Bachmann is adept at using the press as a foil and punching bag. After she was mocked for mixing up Concord, N.H., and Concord, Mass., Bachmann told Laura Ingraham, “We all know there’s a double standard in the media … as we know all 3,400 members of the mainstream media are part of the Obama press contingent.”  Young’s frustration at what she saw as lazy and biased reporting by the Minnesota media has remained a unifying and inspiring force for Dump Bachmann. “I wouldn’t be doing this if the mainstream press had done its job,” Avidor says.
Hunter and prey also share an almost messianic sense of purpose. Prior to her announcement that she would run for president, Bachmann painted herself as a reluctant candidate, searching for a sign from God. “If I felt that's what the Lord was calling me to do, I would do it," she toldWorldNetDaily."When I have sensed that the Lord is calling me to do something, I've said yes to it. But I will not seek a higher office if God is not calling me to do it. That's really my standard.”
Young also feels a calling, though not a religious one. “Part of what has made me continue is I knew there were readers who continued to read it,” says Young, who considers herself an independent these days. “There are people who are anxious awaiting the latest news, and you feel like you can’t let them down.” Bremer recalls branching out from Dump Bachmann to start Ripple in Stillwater so he could write on other topics—only to find that most of his posts ended up focusing on the congresswoman after all.
The bloggers and Bachmann have only rarely crossed paths. Young says she’s spoken with the congresswoman three times, and describes each encounter as relatively civil. She’s debated the congresswoman on a Twin Cities Christian radio station, and once questioned Bachmann at a debate. “She kept saying, ‘Oh everybody, that’s Eva Young.’ I don’t think anyone knew why that was important.” After the event, she even scheduled a lunch date with an aide. More recently, though, the bloggers say they’ve been unable to get calls to Bachmann’s office returned.
The bloggers know that they’re entering a fateful passage; Bachmann has said she won’t run for re-election, and despite her current strength in early soundings in Iowa, the odds that she wins the GOP nomination are long. Could it be that the end is near for Dump Bachmann? “She’ll be gone some day, and maybe we’ll be able to write about somebody else,” Bremer says with a tinge of weariness. “There’s always another fraud to write about.”

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