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Published: Friday, May 11, 2001

Media Columnist

Feisty Web site is no SEAL of approval

My guess is every professional journalist working in the state of Minnesota has experienced a certain specific, shared moment. It usually comes amid the din of the latest ``38-DD''-``highly-trained U.S. Navy SEAL''-``hunting man'' outburst.

Though beside ourselves with glee at this latest slab of fresh meat that has fallen from heaven (i.e., the big office on Capitol Hill), each of us, privately, has paused to reflect that, as wonderful as this is in giving us something new and comic to play with, it, like all good things, will someday pass away.

If there were any way to prove it, I'd lay money that the working journalists covering Our Esteemed Governor (OEG) will, in the privacy of the voting booth, support his re-election by a 10-to-1 margin over anybody who runs against him. The gratitude is that deep.

``Gratitude,'' though, may be much too kind a word for the folks over at cursor.org, the very funny and relentlessly feisty media watchdog Web site that treats OEG like something the elephants dropped during the circus parade. (Pushing that analogy, we in the press are then the grumbling, mumbling clean-up crew).

Cursor.org maintains a highly vigilant ``Ventura Watch,'' chock-full of all things sublime and ridiculous (but mostly the latter). Their shot of the week was another round of charges by former U.S. Navy SEAL Bill Salisbury (no relation to the Pioneer Press' Bill Salisbury). This Salisbury, based in San Diego, has been digging through Navy files and, though still lacking the definitive smoking gun, is convinced OEG was a Navy SEAL only through a twist of military bureaucracy.

What's more, Salisbury's read of the records he has seen leads him to believe our guy probably spent far more time playing basketball in Subic Bay than ``hunting man'' in 'Nam or jumping into shark-infested waters.

For the most part, cursor.org is a two-man operation. Mike Tronnes and Rob Levine posted their first piece in the fall of 1997 and have steadily expanded it into a kind of thinking person's, Twin Cities-oriented, anti-Drudge Report. It bristles with intense skepticism at local TV news posturing, official-speak of any kind and sly digs at media vanities, as well as handy links to dozens of useful news, media and political sites. (Cursor.org's blow-by-blow dissection of WCCO-TV's whoring for the first ``Survivor,'' published via City Pages, remains a minor classic.)

As for dot-org profitability, Tronnes says proudly, ``We lose less money than most Web sites.''

Whether OEG ever hunted man through the jungles of 'Nam or just thinks he did after too many months in Hollywood wouldn't matter, says Tronnes, if it weren't for the way he uses his military service to define himself and deflect legitimate, critical questioning from nattering panty-waists like local reporters, most of whom, he seems to believe, haven't got the real-male wherewithal to hunt even Bambi.

``So much of the coverage of Ventura doesn't get contextualized,'' Tronnes complains. ``It just moves from one story to another.''

That said, he tosses us a bone by adding, ``Generally, though, no one has come close to the coverage the Pioneer Press has done. You guys have shown far more willingness to cover him less as a celebrity and more in terms of how his branding and bullying affects the state.''

He also has kind words for WCCO-TV's Pat Kessler.

``He's done a great job. But that may just be because I watch 'CCO more than anyone else.''

You're that fond of their news?

``No, I watch because of this really weird, aberrant animal thing they're doing with self-promotion. A third of their newscast is promotion.''

Today's Internet may be 40 percent pornography and 20 percent crackpot misinformation, but cursor.org is the sort of new media entity that prods/shames the ``pros'' into doing better work.

Media writer Brian Lambert can be reached at blambert@pioneerpress.com or (651) 228-5424.

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