Harmon Agonistes

You don't need a weatherbird to tell which way the wind is blowing

That Callow writes items that appear verbatim in Berger's column just ain't so, Callow says. "Virvus Jones ghostwrites the 'Political Eye' column in the [St. Louis] American. That's ghostwriting, when you write the column and it says 'Mark Wilson' wrote this." He says the fact that Harmon believes Callow ghostwrites for Berger "shows, if possible, that Clarence knows less about public relations and publishing than he does about being a mayor."

One thing Harmon is certainly correct about is that seldom is heard an encouraging word about Harmon in Bergers column. A recent example of the nitpicky warfare was Berger's take on naming the city's new courthouse after the late Gov. Mel Carnahan. Last Friday, after an odd boldface lead-in of "WELL MEL," Berger stated that Slay had plans to name the courthouse after Carnahan. No mention was made that Harmon's office had been in contact with the Carnahan family about that topic since early January and on Jan. 25 sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan. That afternoon, a press conference took place with Harmon announcing his plans to name the courthouse after Carnahan.

On Sunday, Berger followed with "nice ideas, it seems, are contagious," implying that Harmon took the idea of putting Carnahan's name on the courthouse from Berger's mention of Slay's plans in Friday's column. When asked about these two items, Berger responds: "I'm not privy to that [Harmon] letter. All I know is, I wrote a timely item on Slay's plan to name the building for Carnahan. I didn't know anything about Harmon."

This may all seem like too much protestation about picayune postings, but a constant parade of such items in the best-read space of the daily casts the mayor as an inept, out-to-lunch doofus. Harmon's "the Post is out to get me" theory weakens when it comes to other coverage.

The mayor is perturbed over the coverage of the City Living Foundation fiasco, in which close to $300,000 in city funds was given to a nonprofit corporation to promote living in the city but not so much as an advertising campaign was developed. The board was disbanded by Harmon in July 2000, but it took the Post until Jan. 7 of this year to run a page-one, lead-story account by Carolyn Tuft that dissected the corporate corpse. Harmon was suspicious of the timing, suggesting the story was published close to the election in an effort to hurt his chances.

To that, Tuft says, well, "bullshit" and calls Harmon a "whiner." The story was written and ready before Christmas and New Year's, she says, but was held by editors until after the holidays. Tuft says she only did the piece because she had covered an aldermanic hearing on the foundation in October, when she filled in for City Hall reporter Mark Schlinkmann. Some of the principals involved in that story complained to her about the piece, prompting her to work on a follow-up.

Tuft, who also wrote the Midnite Basketball and cell-phone articles during the final hours of the Bosley regime, calls Harmon's charges of Post bias "disingenuous." She is also weary of being blamed for the political demise of two mayors, both of whom happen to be black. Tuft took over the City Hall beat more than a year before Bosley left office.

"When I went to City Hall, as soon as I walked in the door, stories came flying at me. People were so fed up with what was going on there," says Tuft, who took a lot of heat from Bosley backers. "People back then said I was working for Harmon. I didn't know Harmon. Now they say I'm working for Slay. It's ridiculous. I'm just doing my job."

What seems even more baffling to Tuft is Harmon's newfound sympathy for Bosley, with Harmon going so far as to say the mayor he replaced was not treated fairly by the Post. "That's bullshit. Harmon and his wife were calling me all the time back then with stuff on Bosley, and hardly any of it panned out," Tuft says. "That's so disingenuous."

Harmonious has decided the Post's coverage four years ago of his former opponent was unfair.

Harmon, who defeated Bosley in a bitter and racially divisive campaign in 1997, thinks the Post did not treat Bosley fairly when it covered the cell-phone mess and the disappearance of funds from the Midnite Basketball program.

"When this was happening to Freeman, I sort of looked at it, I was watchful of it, but it benefited me. Now I'm the recipient of it, and I see how unbalanced it is," says Harmon, referring to how the Post covered, or didn't cover, City Hall during the Bosley term. "If you remember what happened to Freeman, they didn't report evenhandedly on him. They didn't report on him for three years, and when they finally did, it looked like, and felt like, overkill because of the way they had done their coverage."

Harmon isn't the first media critic to say that the Post at the start of Bosley's term proceeded carefully in its coverage of the city's first African-American mayor but stepped things up during his final year. Whether that was solely a result of Tuft's taking over, the usual bubbling to the surface of stories that happens during an election cycle, or sunspot activity is hard to say.

Whatever the chain of events, the result is familiar -- a mayor complaining about negative press and a largely unexamined newcomer about to take over Room 200. In 2005, what will St. Francis be whining about?

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