Thugs for Better Schools IV

I have yet to proof read this. I may come back and polish it up later so be forewarned.

This is a story about character assassination. I’ve been accused of it and I plead guilty to being candid. I also plead guilty to being a bit vengeful. I also freely admit that my self-defense for this, of not having been the first to cast stones, is pretty pathetic. I’ve apologized for a number of shortcomings publicly through the years but I’m not inclined to do so for taking self-righteous egoists down a peg. Such a case is Ralph Doty, former radio personality, teacher, legislator, community college president, columnist and the proud possessor of four pensions most of them public.

During his stint as an editor/ columnist at the Duluth Budgeteer Ralph Doty used his bully pulpit to get some payback on Duluth Mayoral candidate Herb Bergson who was running for reelection. You see Bergson had once had the effrontery to challenge Ralph’s Brother, Gary, for the same office when the younger Doty was Mayor. An honest editor makes sure to make his criticism or endorsement of a political candidate is published a couple weeks before an election to give the target a fair chance to rebut. Ralph meted out his vengeance just three days before a primary election. Since the Budgeteer was a weekly Herb Bergson was given no chance to defend himself. That is the action of a political hack not a journalist.

And what did Ralph Doty’s breathtakingly vicious attack consist of? Little more than out of context quotes from the Superior (Wisconsin) Evening Telegram covering the time Mr. Bergson was that City’s relatively popular Mayor. In Ralph Doty’s hands the criticism of Bergson put him on a level only slightly higher than axe murderers.
The attack’s viciousness was probably unnecessary. Bergson was given little chance of winning his Duluth Mayoral post again in 2007. He had committed enough faux pas (mysterious auto accidents and inexplicable firings) and was already the subject of enough rumors to sink his reelection.

Ralph’s hit piece probably was assembled from his younger brother’s opposition research files meaning they that were ancient history, and over eight years old. Reading old letters to the editor took little journalistic skill to ferret out. I don’t recall that Gary Doty, while undoubtedly aware of Bergson’s Superior follies, ever himself saw fit to publicize them and yet he won handily without resorting to name calling.

I had reason to pay close attention to Doty’s misuse of his editorial authority since I too was a candidate that year for the Duluth School Board. Doty had already made it clear in earlier columns that he didn’t have much use for critics of the Red Plan and I wasn’t eager to see him visit the same calumnies on me.

I first got wind of Doty’s infatuation with the plan when he mischaracterized the power of the Minnesota Department of Education to stop the Red Plan. Had the plan not met their criteria they could have vetoed it forcing the District to resubmit another plan. Doty quoted the Education Commissioner Alice Seagren who did once say something startlingly close to Doty’s claim about her Department’s lack of power to stop the Red Plan. I never quite figured out what Seagren was driving at because her staff later confirmed what they had repeatedly told me – that their Department did indeed have that power. I suspect Seagren was attempting to remove herself and her Department from the growing controversy in Duluth. As it was the Dept. did make the School District sweat it out for several extra months when they took a closer look at the Red Plan proposal.

Because of the commissioner’s statement I couldn’t really fault Doty too much for his misinformation but after I read what he did to Bergson I realized I’d better make nice with him lest he do the same thing to me or to Let Duluth Vote.

I invited Doty to meet me over a cup of coffee. I reasoned that I could make a pretty compelling case for the pro vote side in a face-to-face meeting which he would have to take into consideration if he chose to criticize me prior to the election. I was also counting on our meeting making it harder for Doty to attack my character once we’d broken bread together. We set at least one meeting date but he canceled it. He would not be encumbered with any sense of mutual respect when he cut me down to size three days before my date with the voters. This wasn’t the only meeting he skipped out on.

Dr. Dixon had come to Duluth from Faribault, Minnesota under fire. This was not generally known in Duluth. I’ve written about this extensively so I won’t take up space here. Just put “Dixon” and “Faribault” in this blog’s search engine for more. Gary Glass, also a candidate for the School Board in 2007, had accumulated a wealth of critical news stories about Dixon from the Faribault Paper, probably a lot more than the Evening Telegram had devoted to knocking Mayor Bergson. Gary set up a meeting in Duluth with one of Faribault’s most vociferous Dixon critics and invited Doty the “journalist” to the meeting. As with my invitation to coffee Doty agreed to meet with Glass but backed out at the last minute.

Having avoided any attempt to get fair and impartial information from Red Plan critics Ralph Doty was free to give Glass and me the Bergson treatment. Three days before the general election he raked us over the coals. In Gary’s case, he all but called him a liar for saying that JCI could earn up to $33.4 million from the Red Plan. I’ve just spent two weeks trying to get a letter-to-the-editor published about this sorry episode and reconfirmed that Gary Glass was not only much closer to the truth than Ralph but that Ralph was disseminating a blatant lie about JCI’s likely earnings. This will all be laid out in the letter to the editor which I finally got the Trib to accept after two weeks of providing adequate documentation.

Glass who won despite Doty’s smear took a complaint to the Minnesota Association of Newspapers. He offered to let me join him but I figured the Budgeteer had every right to publish political rubbish. Ignorance is generally an acceptable excuse for libel.

Doty had not lived in Duluth when I was on the School Board which is what he beat me up about in his hit piece. In eight years I once said “God Dammit” which proved that I was foul mouthed. It was just my tough luck that his grand embroidery was sent out to almost every home in Duluth, close to 40,000 of them. If his column caused a little over 300 voters to switch votes away from me then Ralph was the reason for my defeat and the reason the Red Plan was able to proceed.

Because Gary and I were public figures I understood that we were almost completely vulnerable to criticism. Even so I was surprised that Gary’s complaint received several votes although not enough to censure Doty. Clearly other Minnesota journalists found Doty’s methods objectionable.

I’ve always suspected that Doty was in Dr. Dixon’s camp from the beginning. Certainly, the letter he wrote in praise of Dr. Dixon hints at more than a mere journalistic acquaintance with the former Superintendent. Dixon had an amazing way of tracking his critics. When Let Duluth Vote published a full-page ad criticizing the Red Plan the school District countered with a two-page ad countering our arguments including one criticism that we pulled out of our ad just before publication. Someone had given our ad to Dixon before we altered it but the District deftly rebutted something we didn’t say.

Dr. Doty’s unqualified endorsement of Dixon demonstrates a lack of perspective. Says Doty “I believe the former Duluth superintendent of schools was one of the most brilliant, courageous and gutsy administrators I’ve ever known.” It’s funny how the best Superintendent Doty ever met managed to get himself run out of two school districts one after the other.

As I wrote to Chuck Frederick, a real editor who made me re-edit a 300-word letter nearly a dozen times over two weeks, if Ralph Doty really was an editor at the Budgeteer he was a disgrace to the profession.

About the author