Doolittle copes with ‘Fahrenheit’ fame |

Doolittle copes with ‘Fahrenheit’ fame

Nevada County’s representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Honorable John T. Doolittle, stopped by The Union recently. It’s always good to have a chat with him during his summer vacation. It’s only once a year, but that may be more often than more far-flung corners of his 4th District realm, such as Alturas.

We were disappointed this year that he didn’t bring along his daughter Courtney – a very bright and articulate young lady. But we appreciated the opportunity to ask him the question everyone in Nevada County was awaiting: “What about your cameo in Michael Moore’s ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’?”

This documentary film has been the subject of about half the letters to the editor in The Union in recent weeks. In the movie, Moore does one of his schticks where he confronts people with a camera and microphone and tries to embarrass them. In this case, he was ambushing Republican politicians outside the Longworth House Office Building in D.C., asking if they would send their kids to fight in Iraq.

“I was hurrying to a meeting,” Doolittle said. “My office used to be in Longworth, and I used to walk that way all the time. But now I probably take that route less than twice a year.

“I saw a commotion and realized they were doing some kind of taping. I didn’t recognize Moore – celebrities never look as big in person as you think they are. Anyway, he started to come toward me, but I was late and I waved him off and went on my way. He may have shouted ‘Congressman,’ but I had to get going. I didn’t realize till recently I was in the movie.”

Moore may have recognized Doolittle because Moore’s sister lives in Nevada County. Or maybe it’s because Doolittle has been in the House long enough (12 years) to have risen quite high in the leadership ranks. He’s secretary of the House Republican Conference (the No. 6 spot in the House GOP hierarchy) and is one of 17 deputy whips, who “whip” the Republican votes into line.

He also is on a couple of committees that carry a lot of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” power: House Administration and Appropriations. If you add that to being from one of the reddest of the red districts in the state, you can’t ignore the potential for being House speaker somewhere down the line.

We chatted about other things besides “Fahrenheit 9/11,” of course. Doolittle fears this presidential election is shaping up to be one of the nastiest contests in memory. He thinks the economy will be a key factor in November’s outcome. And while he is proud of the federal money he has gotten for water projects in the region, he won’t rest until he gets a dam on the American River at Auburn.

Doolittle, who is 54 but looks years younger, comes across as mild-mannered, but he can get passionate about certain topics. A question about the Patriot Act sparked a forceful defense by the congressman, who called it “unfortunate but necessary” to fight terrorism.

And then he was gone, to pay his annual visit to KNCO.


My discussion last week about journalistic objectivity prompted a long letter from Laurence Kaufman of Nevada City that made some good points.

He said the “threshhold question” is “just what do we mean when we say, ‘Objectivity?’ I’m guessing that you and I and all your readers would offer differing definitions.” I would have to agree, since even journalists don’t agree on that point. That’s why I try to avoid debating the meaning of the term altogether.

He also observed that “no matter how ‘objective’ you or your reporters believe you are, the final determination of objectivity lies with your reader. And good luck on hitting that constantly moving and amorphous target!”

True again. That’s why we try to think more in terms of balance and fairness. From selecting stories for Page One to choosing cartoons for the Opinion Page, are we providing a balance of news that over a period of time serves as many of our readers as possible?

In the end, the reader (or viewer) makes the final decision to trust your decision-making or to keep the 50 cents in their pocket.

Mr. Kaufman also challenges Publisher Jeff Ackerman and myself to try to come up with a “workable definition of liberal and conservative.” Unfortunately, we’d have less chance of doing that than defining “objectivity”!


Every time I get depressed when people say journalists are just in this business to sell papers or to twist the news to fit their biases, something comes along to renew my faith in my profession.

Reporters Matthew Cooper of Time and Walter Pincus of the Washington Post are facing jail time for refusing to cooperate with prosecutors who are investigating an apparent administration leak of a CIA agent’s identity. Both are refusing to reveal sources they used for stories about the leak, and a legal battle is looming.

In a time of increasingly wobbly moral compasses, there are still those willing to put it on the line for the journalist’s privilege.


It’s Fair time again, and The Union has a booth in the main building near the front gate. We’ve been exiled to the back corner this year, so it may be hard to find us, but try to stop by. We have balloons for the kids, free newspapers and Fair guides, and a chance to get your picture and headline on a souvenir front page of The Union.

We’d also like to hear from our readers. I’ll be there till noon this morning. “Moo on down.”


Richard Somerville is the editor of The Union. His column appears on Saturday.

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