Saturday, April 21, 2007

Accurate reporting miffs Walberg, staff

Truth is, I was dying to read about U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg's Black History Month legislation, even though the press release didn't arrive until March.

But alas, I've now been stripped of the privilege of at least 23 Walberg e-mails clogging my inbox each day. That means, loyal Enquirer readers, that I may not be able to apprise you of the Tipton Republican's valiant scraps to lower taxes, protect traditional marriage and restore the Great Lakes.

It seems a recent story hit a nerve. Not when I quoted Walberg insisting Iraq is just as safe as the body armor-free streets of Detroit. That was kosher.

This was the remark by Walberg that his handlers didn't want you to read:"Our goal is to make a real strong (financial) showing in the first quarter, so people like Joe Schwarz back off."

Well, he didn't. And the specter of Schwarz, whom the conservative preacher edged out in the 2006 GOP primary, still seems to be breathing down his neck.

Schwarz, 69, has returned to his surgical practice and is playing coy, saying he'll decide this summer whether to take another stab at Congress. The Battle Creek native has been busy with stuff like investigating the Walter Reed Army Medical Center as a member of the blue-ribbon Pentagon panel.

But he clearly remains the No. 1 threat to Walberg's job security.

My punishment from Fort Walberg was swift and severe."I took you off the (media) list," his spokesman, Matt Lahr, informed me this month, "because the congressman has decided he will no longer talk to you."

That hurt. Congress' 423rd most powerful member and I have been through a lot together since last year's venomous, cash-chucking race. Walberg even posted some of my stories on his campaign Web site, which was even better than seeing them hang on my mom's fridge.

Once, a grandmotherly supporter mistook me for the 56-year-old's trophy wife. Good times.

But I soon dabbed my eyes with extra-absorbent Puffs Plus. This isn't the first time Walberg's posse has tried these ham-handed tactics with reporters.

It's not personal. It's just a bad public relations move, typical of a staff composed of 20-something "Jesus Camp" counselors who almost managed to lose the general election to Sharon Renier, a chicken farmer with $1.03 in the bank.

They're not ready for primetime.

"So what about the public's right to know?" I asked the Walbot.

Replied Lahr: "The congressman's concern is getting out his message."

Take that, voters. Walberg will tell you what you need to know, when you need to know it and who can tell you.

It's little wonder the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has made him one of its top targets for 2008. Conventional wisdom says a Republican can't go down in the 7th District.

But evidently, Walberg's lackluster, less than 50 percent showing in November — losing Calhoun, Eaton and Washtenaw counties by clear margins — has inspired the Dems to take a real crack at the seat for the first time in decades.

You'd think the former Moody Bible fundraiser would spend a lot of time mending fences in the areas he lost — say, Battle Creek. But he's mostly hung with his Bible-belt brethren down in Lenawee and Hillsdale counties.

Who knows what Walberg's strategy is, especially when he's still spitting out troubling racial remarks about Detroit even after he garnered ridicule 'round the globe."

I think Lenawee County got (the meaning)," he sniffed at a recent Adrian town hall meeting.

Guess we folks in Calhoun County just aren't in the loop. Maybe the strategy is just to ignore us in hopes we'll go away.

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