This could be bad: VTDigger’s holiday-break filler

The normally tireless scribes at VTDigger are off on a well-earned ten-day hiatus. But during their absence, they arranged for some daily postings in the form of an 11-part series on poverty in the Northeast Kingdom.

A worthy endeavor, no? The Kingdom has a long history of poverty and neglect, and its problems have been too tough for any businessperson, politician, academic, or government to solve. So why not give it a long hard look? Especially from a reporter billed as an “AP award-winning writer” who lives in the Kingdom?

Well, the answer is in the fine print. First, the Editor’s Note informs us that this series is being recycled from the St. Johnsbury Caledonian-Record, the most reactionary newspaper in Vermont.  And second, we learn in a note at the end of Part One that the writer in question, Bethany Knight, has “co-authored five reports on Vermont issues produced by the Ethan Allen Institute.” Yes, that Ethan Allen Institute, dogged mouthpiece for the Ayn Randian fantasies of its founder, El Jefe General John McClaughry, sponsor of the execrable “Common Sense Radio,” which is hosted by none other than the newly-installed President of the Ethan Allen Institute, colorless ideologue Rob Roper.

The fine print also fails to provide any specifics about her “AP award-winning” work*, or name any of the newspapers where she plied her trade.

*Dirty little secret of journalism: Prizes abound. If you have a pulse and a reporting job, and you submit entries for journalism awards, you will win some. I should know; I have dozens on my resume.

So considering the sources, I have a feeling I’m about to be treated to a right-wing fabrication of history. And doggone it, Bethany Knight does not disappoint. Part One, “From Kingdom to King Dump,” spins a fable of a proud bucolic paradise that’s been devastated, and its people’s native nobility stripped away, by the predations of state government.


The fatuities contained in this essay are too many to thoroughly explore. But let’s start by noting that Knight’s essay contains no factual basis for the assertion that the Kingdom is poorer now than ever before. It quotes no experts; its only quoted sources are “a Newport activist for the poor,” “a native who moved to Boston in the 1990s,” and precisely one named source: a man named Jack Ruggles, whose family used to operate a major building in downtown Barton. Impressive.  How about an example of their deep thinking?

“Vermont is not the Vermont of my childhood,” says a native who moved to Boston in the 1990s for a decent-paying job. “We never had to lock our doors. No one ever had their home broken into.”

Note that this “native” doesn’t specify the Northeast Kingdom; he talks about the entire state. And note that Knight quotes no statistics on crime to support her assertion that the Kingdom has suddenly become a place of danger and suspicion.

As for those expensive government antipoverty programs, the esteemed Mr. Ruggles yearns for the Good Ole Days when we all got by with barn-raisin’s and quiltin’ bees:

“Every town had overseers of the poor,” Ruggles say (sic). “If you needed assistance with groceries, he would go with you and the town would pay for it and help you find a place to stay. He would make sure, if you weren’t working and if you could, to help you get employed.”

And when you got sick, you took a chicken to the doctor.

The rose-colored eyes of memory becloud the painful realities of the old Kingdom. It has always been a place of grinding poverty, and the Overseers of the Poor (and the churches and the generosity of neighbor helping neighbor) were never, ever enough to blunt the harshness of Kingdom life.

Again, Knight quotes no statistics to support her depiction of a Kingdom in decline from a former Golden Age of Self-Reliance. She notes that today the NEK has the highest rates of unemployment and poverty in Vermont, but she fails to add that it has always been so. Even in the Good Ole Days.

And the spike through the heart of her mythical Kingdom?

Vermont started to churn out environmental laws that discourage, if not prohibit, manufacturing and other big employers to do business here.

Which kinda ignores some inconvenient truths. First, the Kingdom has never had much of a manufacturing base. And while it has lost some major employers, it is hardly alone in this. At one point in the essay, she claims that “manufacturing jobs are in New Hampshire.” Oh really? Any statistics to support that? Of course not.

If you think New Hampshire is a low-tax paradise of full employment, just take a drive east on US-2 to Berlin, a formerly thriving mill town that’s at least as run-down as any Northeast Kingdom community. New Hampshire’s North Country suffers from the same economic illnesses as the Kingdom: remoteness, lack of infrastructure, undereducated workforce. The vaunted “New Hampshire Advantage” in taxes and business-friendly regulation doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.

Knight includes a short list of lost NEK employers, but she fails to draw any connection to Vermont’s environmental rules. Did Ethan Allen Furniture dramatically downsize its Vermont presence because of regulation, or because it could make more money elsewhere? I think you know the answer to that one. The Kingdom, like many other benighted areas, is at the mercy of economic forces beyond its (and Vermont’s) control, including globalization, downsizing, and outsourcing.  

Knight’s work may improve in future segments; it can hardly get worse. But unless she takes a sudden turn for the better, with more rigorous backing material, better sources, and fewer unsupported assertions, then this series will be a waste of the readers’ time. Based on Part One, I have to wonder why VTDigger bothered to publish it.


14 thoughts on “This could be bad: VTDigger’s holiday-break filler

  1. I have no idea who Bethany Knight is, but I found Part 1 to be one person’s contorted view of things.  I’m hoping future episodes reflect the strong spirit of the people living in the NE Kingdom who deal creatively with their challenges and not just the writer’s gloom-and-doom view of life there.  

  2. repeats an earlier statistic that is not supported by the evidence. The author said “A real villain called poverty plagues 25 percent of the men, women and children” in the NEK.

    According to the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income & Povety Estimates, the figures for 2011 are:

    18.4%  Orleans

    16.7%  Essex

    14.0%  Caledonia

    These are terrible statistics (and higher than in 1989) but clearly they do not add up to 25%.

    Note that as the author of the Job Gap Study I know that the poverty measure actually understates the extent of poverty because the methodology is so out of date. My point here is not to diminish the seriousness of the problem, only to point out that the author has used inaccurate data. Why?  

  3. someone looks like a rightwing extremist, walks like a rightwing extremist, quacks like a right wing extremist- probably a rightwing extremist.

    To deny the obvious is simply ludicrous & also mystifying.

    I have rw friends & fam, but not many. They don’t seem to like me, or they want to ‘have a conversation’, meaning they wish to ‘straighten me out’. I was also once an rw, they can be sniffed before they come into view. Attitudes, spin, the way a story is framed are just a few clues. After a while they can all be read like a roadmap.


  4. For those who are inclined to read as well as think and judge for themselves, my very good friend Bethany Knight penned a 20-part series concerning poverty as experienced in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom (NEK), the federal and state programs designed to address such and whether they have succeeded or failed to do so. The series is available online as follows, fyi:

    Tangled In The Safety Net: Public Assistance In The NEK (20 part series; via Caledonian-Record):

  5. For those inclined to read, think and judge for themselves, don’t bother reading anything Bethany Knight ever wrote, since it’s all extremist lies and gibberish; a lot of made up nonsense backed up by not one single fact at all.  Her work sounds like she was fired from Wing Nut Daily for incompetence.

  6. Bethany Knight certainly doesn’t need facts, truth or reality to write her 20 part series on how great the extreme far right is at recreating a Golden Era that never actually existed.

    It seems that everything she wrote is one big gigantic lie.  Her argument boils down to, “It’s all the Government’s fault that people aren’t starving to death because they can get foodstamps.”

    Right-wing extremists like Ms. Knight live in a fantasy world where Father Knows Best was real and not a TV show.

  7. Not true, at least not in Bethany Knight’s case anyway.

    It would appear, however, that those who seem to be jumping to those sorts of conclusions, among others, as well as demanding others do so right along with them, could well be exhibiting the very “extremist” type of tendencies they are wrongly accusing others of exhibiting.

    These sort of “extremist” tendencies are no less alive and well on the liberal side of the political spectrum than they are on the conservative side, nor are they much different in nature as well as temperament and certainly no better.

  8. Morgan, I appreciate your friendship with the writer. Lord knows I have plenty of right wing buds. But that doesn’t really change the fact of how the article reads. It’s quite leading. And the site you link to (with its owner hidden from a whois search), very much looks like the skeleton of a conservative propaganda site – especially with that URL.

    I don’t think there’s any jumping to conclusions, here – and if readers were blindly following the opinion of a GMD front pager, well – let’s just say that would be a first at this site. ANd certainly by expressing an opinion forcefully – that is not “demanding” others join in.

    Instead of just expressing your offense at jvwalt and others’ umbrage at the piece, why not take a minute to specifically refute his conclusions? Maybe you can offer some alternative interpretations. I’d be curious to read your thoughts.

  9. Ms. Knight IS a far-right extremist based on what she wrote that is now being reproduced on VT digger.  Her writing is a prime example of far-right extremism.  That’s how I know she’s a far-right extremist.

    As to your assertion that “‘extremist’ tendencies are no less alive and well on the liberal side of the political spectrum than they are on the conservative side, nor are they much different in nature as well as temperament and certainly no better.” the liberal side doesn’t control the AM radio waves (Limbaugh, et al), short wave radio (religious bigots), have dozens of magazines (NewsMax, WingNutDaily and prominent websites (Drudge, RedState, Free Republic, etc).  Your false equivalency denies the reality that America has been dragged so far to the right over the last 30 years that Obama, who is a Moderate Republican on his most liberal days, is called a Communist (pretty far to the left).

    Your statement is a false equivalency (and you say I am jumping to conclusions).  Yeah, we have pierced and tattooed hippies in drum circles, but how much political clout do they have? ZERO.

    Just look at Congress: 230 TeaBirchers in the House, 40-something in the Senate: all far-far-far-right extremists, all intent on damaging America anyway they can just to try to embarrass the Democratic President and gain political power for their party.  How many ‘extreme’ leftists are there in Congress?  ZERO.  Senator Sanders is NOT an extremist, he occupies the position of a moderate Democrat.

  10. Odum,

    Although it is good to learn about how you have plenty of “right wing” buds, nor did I doubt otherwise for that matter either, what you might not be aware of is that, like many others who not purely single-minded in terms of one’s political persuasion, Bethany Knight is someone who is among those who in fact can not be fairly labeled as strictly being ‘right wing’, given — as I understand it — her politics are all over the map and she is also rather independent-minded.

    It has been made clear that due — at least in part — to the piece having originally been published by the Caledonian-Record, which is also the owner in question who is hosting the 20-part series on a Website of its own (see last paragraph of this lengthy reply), and her noted association with the Ethan Allen Institute (EAI), assumptions have been made and conclusions have been jumped to that there is a ‘right wing’ agenda at play and that it is an extremist one.

    If those assumptions were actually true, my friendship with the author would not hold me back one bit from challenging it, her and the series with all my passion and energy.

    It is highly likely the case that other reasons for the assumptions being made about the author and the series they penned is due to the timing of the series and all the deeply troubling political posturing going on at the national level, including over the very programs she researched and wrote about, which are at great risk of being gutted or even done away with if some have their way.

    Although Bethany Knight was also more than likely well aware of these matters herself, this does not therefore mean she shares or is in sympathy with the same agenda as those intent on gutting or dumping those and other programs that serve people who are most in need.

    As far as I understand it, she shares some of the very same concerns as those of us working to ensure these programs and those served by them not only survive, but more importantly thrive.

    Does the author of the series use certain language and make certain statements that could be easily taken as leading and also have a conservative bent is not in question. Her audience includes those who view the world in a rather stark, conservative fashion to say the least. Her politics also include a conservative viewpoint as it does a liberal one and much in between as well.

    However, this in no way makes her a “right wing” extremist, nor is she an ideologue by any means or measure.

    My concern is that she ought not be judged merely on the basis of the series — particularly just one part of it — or because of who originally published it or for certain associations she has with others, some of whom can easily be considered as being right wing extremists and ideologues.

    The hope was that people would carefully read and, for those who already had done so, more carefully re-read the entire series. Yet, I harbor no illusions whatsoever that this would change the minds of some. But, at least then there would be more of a basis to have a conversation and debate regarding these matters and the issues as a community, including those who there might be strong and passionate disagreement with, of course.

    The issues in need of discussing are those written about in the series as well as related ones, which is what I understand Bethany Knight was trying to help bring about.

    This is also part of why it was greatly bothering to me that readers were basically being advised in one manner or another to not waste their time reading the first part of the series or the rest of it either. People should be encouraged to read it as well as then think and judge it for themselves, not discouraged from doing so.

    Again, I did not have any doubts that there would be those who would have deep concerns regarding the series and what was raised in it, however at least readers would be better or more informed about what was written on the whole and could make their concerns known and heard on that basis rather than just on the first part of the series as well as other factors or things.

    By the way, if you had managed to scroll down to the bottom of the Website in question, you would have found what you were seeking in terms of who the owner of it is: “Website by Caledonian Record”.

  11. Another strong hint as to the ownership of the Website the series is hosted on can be easily found at the top right side of the pages. There one finds social media buttons listed after “Follow Us”, which when hovered over or clicked upon lead to the official channels of the “Caledonian-Record”.

  12. So you’ve made a couple snarky digs at my powers of perception (although the Caledonian Record does have a history of moving towards propogandistic right-wing websites without ever getting around to finishing them), but you still haven’t refuted anything jvwalt said, or made a counter-argument. You’ve just berated jvwalt for making it, and others for agreeing with it.

    Are you waiting for someone elese to make the counter arguments/observations so you can support them? In any event, it hardly seems fair to spend so much time and energy leading with such derision on the opinion writer at this site without actually offering a counter opinion. In your last comment, you even seem to suggest that jvwalt’s opinions are justified – and yet still you berate him for it, and for the agreement others may have.

    You grant him his point, but cast scorn at others who would do the same – before returning to further scorn for him making it to begin with.

    Let me try some specific questions for you… I still think this could turn into an actual discussion, rather than a pie fight:

    1. You’ve granted that a right-wing slant could be interpreted. Are you comfortable with it as a pure news piece, or do you believe it reads as – and is intended as – somewhat of an opinion piece?

    2. Do you think the perspective that government assistance could be a driver of poverty has merit in this particular incidence?

    3. Do you think the writer’s history with the Ethan Allen Institute should be considered at all when reading the piece?

    4. Do you feel that the economics of the NEK are distinct enough from the rest of the state that a different ideological approach (vis a vis left/right) should be necessary.

    I think these questions could be a guide to getting some productive debate/dialogue going.

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