Tuesday, November 6, 2007

In Defense of Steve Aufrecht's Humanity

I was happy to be invited by Steve Heimel to be his guest this morning on APRN's Talk of Alaska, along with Steve Aufrecht. Heimel's topic was Blogging the Trials.

Steve Aufrecht and I, along with various employees of the Anchorage Daily News, blogged ex-Representative Vic Kohring's GOP legislative corruption Federal court trial from October 22 through November 1, 2007. Dr. Aufrecht and I looked at the trial, both in the structure of our weblogs, and in our approach to what we were attempting to communicate, differently.

Steve had attended the Tim Anderson and Pete Kott trials, initially out of curiosity. He blogged the Kott trial assiduously, and was noted and appreciated by the bloggers from the Anchorage Daily News. His comments then mostly escaped notice by the media. He then approached the Kohring trial largely because he had become intrigued by the overall dynamic at work in these trials, and in how they relate to the rapid evolution of the political climate in Alaska which has come about as a result of the string of Federal indictments of legislators, lobbyists and major players in Alaska's notoriously corrupt oil politics.

Steve Aufrecht brought a lot of experience and integrity to this process. And, like a lot of writers treading new territory, he didn't wave flags, beat drums or play any trumpet fanfares.

When I started the blog USA vs. Vic Kohring with longtime friend and Kohring advocate Fred James, I knew that our blog's concept of two friends who disagree about a defendant, covering a political trial, was also new territory. And - I had Il Fettucinni with me! So I brought out the drums, trumpets, flags, accordions, kazoos and whatnot. Fred and I called in reports to local progressive radio - KUDO-AM - at least once a day, as the trial moved along. Fred was a bit reluctant to participate in the radio call-ins until I assured him that no matter how he felt about Kohring, he would be treated with respect at KUDO. Fred has a lot of radio experience in Alaska, I have some too, and Fred trusts me, so he called. KUDO treated him with respect.

All one has to do to realize I went through a growth process as a web writer during the eleven days of the trial, is to go back through my trial posts. I have eleven and a half years of writing about Vic Kohring under my belt. I've been predicting it would all end up something like the way it now has, since Vic intentionally lied about his so-called friendship with Wasilla community activist and award-winning educator Karl Schleich, in a KAKM-TV debate with his 1998 legislative election opponent, Lucy Hope. What disturbed me at the time was that Kohring wasn't just exaggerating a non-existent friendship, he was saying what he said to Lucy Hope, a close friend of Karl's, to unnerve her before he asked her a question. He had obviously rehearsed the line and followup.

I've e-mailed Kohring on issues, talked to him on the phone, had coffee with him, gone shooting with him, and dueled many times in the op/ed pages, over the years. Even with that experience, and my wariness about Kohring, the trial bothered me. A lot.

During the trial, both when writing and calling in to KUDO, I mentioned more than once that Kohring's attorney, John Henry Browne, has an interesting history. He had broken a set of cases in Wenatchee, Washington, in which scores of innocent people had been imprisoned. Browne got them freed. Lisa Demer's ADN profile of Browne, which appeared over mid-trial weekend, sought to show how multi-dimensional and fascinating a person Browne is. Talk radio didn't seem to be interested in any of Mr. Browne's redeeming values.

KUDO, initially at Aaron Selbig's afternoon show, developed a theme around Kohring's attorney, portraying the advocate as somebody regal, above the rest of us, haughty. They created a short fanfare to play, whenever announcing his name as Lord John Henry Browne - of Seattle. The first time I heard this meme, I laughed out loud in my car. I even asked Aaron and JR to play the fanfare once, when I called in a report. This shtick was good AM radio stuff, as long as it was accompanied by facts about the progression of the case. Aaron and the KUDO crew always seemed to have the quest for facts about events at the trial uppermost in their coverage. I can't remember seeing any of their talk show people at the trial, though.

I talked to six or seven reporters and journalists at the trial. I include Steve Aufrecht in the journalist category. He's also working on a book, which elevates him - in my mind - above the rest of us. I talked to a lot of other people too. Covering a trial day-by-day is a social experience. But it is also an event which shows clearly the hard fist of the State. City trials show a fist, state trials show a Fist, but Federal trials show THE FIST. Dr. Aufrecht seemed to be aware of this in the same way as some of us who are bothered by other aspects of how weird the Federal Department of Justice is getting under the Bush administration. It isn't something Steve and I spoke of, but...

I remember how fascinated Aufrecht was when Kohring came up to Michael Carey, Steve and me during a recess of the trial's first full day. We had just watched the long video of Kohring taking what we assume was about $1,000.00 from Bill Allen. Then Kohring took some more money. 45 minutes later, Vic was talking to us, at Michael and Steve's urging, about Vic's family and the trial's impact on them. Steve questioned Vic about the family. Steve was utterly hooked into trying to understand more about the big guy.

I've known so many Alaska legislators over the years - been close to enough of them, fought their ideas and projects, fought FOR their ideas and projects, yelled at them, watched one of them rip off my son for a box of hand-tied flies, busted their wild coke-and-hooker parties (when I was a sworn officer), that I can't go through the same thought process as did Dr. Aufrecht as he watched Kohring's humiliation. When I ran the Cordova Center, Alaska's biggest halfway house, I sent so many people back to prison, I lost count. Each return involved separate decisions by many people; new, long files had to be carefully written. My empathy for Kohring goes no further than that we go back a long way. And that I'll probably see him again after this is over.

Steve Aufrecht is hoping that there will be some redeeming value to this series of trials, and that Alaskans can come out the other end of the experience with a better understanding of something. I hope so, too. I fight for that change every day, in my own ways. What Steve and I hope for are somewhat different in political tactics, but quite close in terms of evolution.

Selbig and I want action. We want to attack these fuckers that have been robbing us for far too long. Aaron seems to feel that Steve's humanity might be used by opportunists to slow the process of investigation down. I think Steve hopes we will become a more mature polity here as a result of the entire stream of related political and criminal events.

This afternoon, driving back to the Valley from Anchorage, I listened to KUDO on my radio, as Aaron attributed some of my remarks on Steve Heimel's program to Steve Aufrecht. Aaron kept coming back with my remark,
attributing it to Dr. Aufrecht, about how AM radio hosts and subsequent callers tend to "pile on" to a theme. Then, subsequent callers kept on dissing Steve for my remark. That's how the lizard brain works.

Aaron and Steve are going to meet soon. I've got a hunch Steve has at least as much to teach Aaron - the first afternoon male talk radio host with a conscience in years here - as Aaron does Steve. I know, Aaron, I've learned a lot from Steve in the short time I've known him


Robert said...


Your blog has been very much appreciated by those of us unable to attend the USA v Kohring trial. You offer a very thoughtful and interesting perspective of the trial. The trial sadly exposed Vic's personal and professional flaws. Your comments and observations do not appear to be based on your personal philosophical opposition to Mr. Kohring's politics. As a freind of Vic's, I can say it appears you tried very hard to be fair and honest in your reporting and your efforts were appreciated.

Philip Munger said...


Thanks for your kind words...