Friday, December 21, 2007

Huckleberry unhinged at long time reporter foe in Arkansas

Long time foe of Huck's apparently kept nasty letters sent to him by Huck in years past when they were at their heights of feuding. Max Brantley has decided to share those letters with the public.

Brantley, the editor of the alternative weekly Arkansas Times, has feuded with Mike Huckabee since the presidential candidate first appeared on the political stage during his failed 1992 Senate run. A liberal columnist married to a circuit judge appointed by Bill Clinton, Brantley penned weekly columns antagonizing Huckabee for his staunchly conservative social views, opaque campaign finance disclosures, and acceptance of gifts during his time in office. "Huckabee would believe I covered him obsessively, and he'd be right about that," Brantley says.

In a series of unpublished private letters dating to the mid-'90s that Huckabee faxed to Brantley, a surprising--and furious--side of the former governor comes through. The four letters, which Brantley provided to The New Republic, are multi-page, rambling, and highly personal attacks that Huckabee wrote while in Arkansas office. In them, he excoriates the journalist, referring to the Arkansas Times as "a local version of the National Enquirer," a "collection of carping columnists," a "newsletter for the Democrats," an "irrelevant irritant" and the "Theater of the Absurd," among other sobriquets.

And Brantley was not alone. Reporters recall Huckabee as combative, even malicious, in response to critical coverage. He was known to attack reporters, fire off scathing e-mails to newsrooms, and complain to editors about probing questions. "I was just astounded at how vindictive he was," says Joan Duffy, who covered Huckabee for The Commercial Appeal of Memphis in the '90s. "He took it all so personally. . . . You're either with him, or you're a mortal enemy."
What's ironic about all this is how Huckabee--a graduate in speech and communications from Ouachita Baptist University and former p.r. director for televangelist James Robison--seems to be fashioning himself a sort of media-relations expert. About halfway through his campaign autobiography, Character Makes a Difference, Huckabee comments on his communications strategy. "Several points are helpful in dealing with the media. One is not to be afraid," he writes. "If a newspaper reporter doesn't like you, there may be nothing you can do to change that. You have to be ready to counter it with other information outlets."

And, in his meteoric ascent in the polls this past month, Huckabee has not only managed the press but mastered it. In December, The New York Times' Gail Collins dubbed Huckabee a "guitar-strumming, good-humored populist." Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker wrote of his "curiously unthreatening" demeanor.

It could be that, when it comes to media relations, Huckabee is finally in good hands. But talk to enough reporters who really got to know him, and you begin to suspect that his curiously unthreatening demeanor may not last.

Brantley has witnessed the full extent of Huckabee's piques and barbs. In 1991, he first criticized Huckabee for calling his Democratic opponent, Dale Bumpers, a "pornographer" during the 1992 Senate campaign. By October 1998, Brantley and Huckabee's feud reached a new low when the Arkansas Times quoted a disgruntled former aide alleging that Huckabee used the governor's mansion operating budget to supplement his income.

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