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Is a music writer for Des Moines-based rag cityview an objective journalist or a tool for the establishment?

NOTE: The following article is NOT about Iowa City’s music scene. It pertains to the Des Moines music (and art in general) scene. I would’ve had it published on a more appropriate site, but: 1) The content below is most likely too controversial for any Des Moines music blogger to feel comfortable hosting, 2) At this time I have no plans to write additional articles about the Des Moines scene that would justify creation of an entirely new blog site, and 3) It may still interest readers in Eastern Iowa to get a glimpse of something happening over here in Central Iowa.

About a week ago, one of my friends shared a link to what he described as a “hit piece” that appeared in the November 12, 2014, issue of Des Moines zine cityview. The article, titled “Social Status”, may have been intended as a provocative exposé about the Des Moines Social Club organization. Instead, writer Chad Taylor takes quotes out of context and distorts information, contradicting his self-certified “objective examination” of the subject matter.

When politicians use the word “robust”, it’s often for the purpose of describing things that are, in reality, shoddy (or, in some cases, completely nonfunctional). And when you read the word “objective” in one of Taylor’s articles, it likewise seems to serve as a warning for ulterior motives ahead. I suspect many of our modern buzzwords are uttered so frequently because professors and mentors nationwide are encouraging their pupils to use them for the following reason: If you’re going to outright lie to your audience, it’s better to first identify yourself as a professionally-trained liar.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the Iowa Smokefree Air Act, a state law that outlawed smoking in most private businesses starting in July of 2008. One of the supporters of the smoking ban was Amadeo Rossi, co-owner of Des Moines bars The Lift and Vaudeville Mews. Rossi made trips to the statehouse in 2007 and 2008 and actively lobbied in favor of the bill’s passage. When addressing legislators, he generally spoke about health and safety concerns linked to second-hand smoke. Later in 2008, after the law had been passed, Rossi was quoted sharing a perceived personal benefit of the law about to take effect: “I feel I have a competitive advantage on a level playing field.”

My interpretation of Rossi’s above statement is: 1) Prior to the statewide smoking ban, both the Vaudeville Mews and The Lift took in comparatively less revenue than other nearby bars because they were less attractive destinations for smokers, and 2) Rather than change their own smoke-free policy, Rossi thought it was acceptable to use government as a means to force the other bars into being smoke-free, because it would help his businesses (possibly at the expense of his competitors).

So what does this history lesson from six years ago have to do with the 2014 article about the Des Moines Social Club? Like Rossi, Taylor seems concerned with the idea of maintaining a level playing field for preexisting Des Moines bars.

For the second half of the article, Taylor is most fixated on the subject of how the nonprofit Des Moines Social Club is running its own in-house venue with liquor sales. He quotes someone who suggests the practice could result in “civil suits” and “criminal charges” for those responsible. The friend of mine who forwarded the link wanted to know, in general, “What’s Taylor’s angle?” From what I see, his main goal is to deliver a message on behalf of the long-standing established local music racket scene warning the outsiders (Mannheimer’s originally from New York?!?) of how there could be…problems…if the two sides suddenly find themselves in direct competition for the same group of patrons.

Next to the article, cityview published corresponding inserts showing the names of the top donors (the online version contains a link to see all reported donors) as well as a vow to publish the salaries of the organization’s staff (it remains to be seen if cityview will do this for all nonprofits in the Des Moines Metro, or only the ones they dislike). These actions seem to be nothing more than attempts to intimidate both current and would-be supporters of the Des Moines Social Club – and, by extension, anyone else who would dare to challenge the Empire.

Taylor also used a large portion of his article towards bringing the leadership of Des Moines Social Club’s Executive Director Zachary Mannheimer into question. The organization’s decision to loan money to Mannheimer in order for him to pay off his debts is undeniably newsworthy, but the twisting of words to make him appear worse than the raw information suggests is just plain unprofessional (yet, sadly, not uncommon for the writer). And that part about how we should be outraged our tax dollars are going to the organization by way of grants also misses the mark: If the money wasn’t received by the Des Moines Social Club, it would still be available to other organizations for similar purposes. When a liberal pretends to be a fiscal conservative, the results are sometimes clumsy.

It would be rude of me to not mention that Joe Lawler (writer for The Minaret) and Taylor co-host a weekly half-hour radio show on Des Moines FM radio station KFMG, where a certain beneficiary from the Iowa Smokefree Air Act’s passage just so happens to be on the Board of Directors.

Someone else I spoke with about the overall subject matter remarked, “I hope cityview doesn’t go after all those liquor-serving nonprofit American Legion Halls next.” Me too.