Monday, November 07, 2005

Stillwater: Anything To Get Elected, I Guess

Still out of town; down in Texas now. Someone posted the following comment after I asked about candidate John Rheinberger's latest campaign material. I had been told that he had printed and distributed something that might deceive unwary voters into thinking that some "education newspaper" was actually endorsing him.

What the commenter told me in reply is worth republishing here on the front page:

Anonymous said...
This Rheinberger ad is a deplorable example of an election dirty trick.

Here's how it's set up. It's a four-page newsletter printed on newspaper stock. At the very top of the front page, a banner headline says "Special Election Edition!" (Note the exclamation mark; Margot's handiwork?)Below that is a boxed red "nameplate" (think "New York Times" or "Stillwater Gazette")that says, "District 834 News".

Below that is the tagline "Informing 20,000 households about Stillwater Public Schools!" (think, "All the news that's fit to print.")Below that, they even have the audacity to put in "Volume 2, No. 1" along with the date.

The main "story" on the front page is this: "Rheinberger files for School Board." The rest of the 4-page insert is a mish-mash of "information" that seems to actually be a list of opinions Rheinberger has about the future of public schools.

At the very bottom of the final page, in probably 7-point type, is the disclaimer that the whole thing is paid for by the Rheinberger election committee.

It's amazing that such a cheap trick had to cap a remarkably civil, uncontentious school board election. Which brings up the question: Why is Rheinberger so desperate to get on the school board that he would stoop this low?
8:48 AM

Well, commenter, thanks for answering my question about Rheinberger's imitation newspaper. If your description is correct, it certainly does sound as if it was designed to deceive voters into thinking that an independent publication endorsing Rheinberger. Very few readers will get all the way to the disclaimer at the bottom of the final page; most will only get the false impression that some school district publication is endorsing Rheinberger before tossing the thing into the recycling. A dirty trick, you say, eh? I wonder if there is some election practices committee that concerns itself with this kind of thing.

If what you tell us is true, I am inclined to agree it is a dirty trick, and thanks again for answering my plea for information. But we must agree to disagree about the school board election being "civil" and "uncontentious." This election has been mucho contentious--I'll bet the incumbent, George Thole hasn't worked this hard to get elected in years. He's so busy he hasn't found time to answer my emailed question to him about his colleague, Mr. Junker. Or maybe he just doesn't want to commit himself to an answer in print, who knows.

As for "civility," well, if you've read the Rheinberger emails to and about me, and Coach Thole's comments to his colleagues and his use of his "sports" column to get his fans to turn out to vote--"civility" is not a biggie, in this particular election.


At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the Courier missed the point. Did the Gazette do anything on this?

Rheinberger ‘newspaper’ was not part of Courier coverage

Monday, November 07, 2005
By Mark Brouwer, Staff Writer,

A four-page newspaper-style political advertisement for School Board candidate John Rheinberger that many local residents received in their mail last Thursday was not part of the Stillwater Courier’s election coverage.

About 16,000 copies of the ad, entitled “Special Election Edition! District 834 News” were included in packages of advertisements and coupons distributed by Rainbow Graphics, Inc. The Elect John Rheinberger for School Board Volunteer Committee paid for the advertisements.

The ad’s front page includes a photo taken of Rheinberger standing near the entrance to Stillwater Area High School and three short articles with the titles “Rheinberger files for School Board,” “Local factors influence District 834,” and “Global factors influencing local schools.”

Inside pages offer more photos of Rheinberger, information about his candidacy, as well as his positions on some education issues. The last page includes a “personal message” from Rheinberger in the form of a campaign letter. At the bottom is what appears to be a print advertisement endorsing his candidacy.

A few Courier readers reported confusion over the ad, and asked if the Courier published the ad as an endorsement of Rheinberger’s candidacy. The Courier has endorsed no candidates for School Board.

Jackie Dubbe, editor of the weekly St. Croix Valley Press, said she had taken a handful of calls from readers who believed the ad had been bundled with that publication, also. Micki Adams, managing editor of Stillwater Gazette, said “two or three” readers contacted her on Friday about it.

The Courier, the Press and the Stillwater Gazette are among the news publications that publish Thursday editions that are distributed locally by mail.

The school district office in Stillwater received “five or six” calls inquiring about the ad, a school district staffer said.
“We knew nothing about the document and it was brought to our attention by residents who saw it,” said Keith Ryskoski, the school district’s superintendent, earlier this week. “It was something the district had no knowledge of.”

A map of the school district included in the piece was not a reprint of a map from the school district’s web site, but rather, an original map, Ryskoski clarified.

“I think it’s funny that people confused this, it was clearly a political piece,” Rheinberger said on Friday. “It was marked as prepared and paid for by the committee. The disclaimer is right on it.”

A disclaimer is printed in small type on page 4 of the advertisement, at the bottom of the page.

Mark Brouwer is at (651) 439-4366 and at

At 12:48 AM, Blogger Prendergast said...

I don't know if the Gazette did anything on the Rheinberger "newspaper", because I'm out of town. Thank you for sending the Courier story; I hope it appeared in the Courier in print to disabuse folks of the ridiculous notion that District 834 was somehow sponsoring or endorsing Rheinberger's candidacy. I think the story itself is very good--it's news, because of the potential for deception of unwary voters. Professional ethics prevent news reporters from interpreting R's intentions--the people who read the facts will draw their own conclusions about whether or not this kind of thing is designed to "fool" people. The fact that people were contacting the school superintendent to find out whether the district sponsored it speaks for itself.


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