Minnesota Public Radio: Anatomy of a Smear

Katherine Kersten is a Senior Fellow at Center of the American Experiment, the think tank that I run. In the Fall 2017 issue of our magazine, Thinking Minnesota, she wrote a long, thoroughly documented expose of leftist political indoctrination and bullying of nonconforming students, teachers and staff in the Edina, Minnesota public school system. She did a follow-up story in the Winter 2018 issue of the magazine. Because of their quality and depth of reporting, these articles (along with an op-ed by Kathy in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the same subject) triggered a vigorous local debate.

The issue of left-wing indoctrination in the schools is, of course, of national interest, and Kathy’s articles began to attract attention from national news outlets, as well. The Weekly Standard commissioned a piece by Kathy which greatly expanded the national reach of the story. Kathy’s Weekly Standard article was featured on the Drudge Report. Links to the article were tweeted by prominent conservatives like Brit Hume. Fox’s Dana Perino included it in her weekly reading list. Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist whose recent book was the #1 best seller on Amazon for several weeks, discussed it. The piece became one of the Weekly Standard’s most-read articles of 2018.

Many popular web sites linked to, and discussed, Kathy’s various Edina articles, including, of course, Power Line. In addition, national web sites including Real Clear Politics, InstaPundit (three times), Fox News, the Kansas City Star, the Independent Women’s Forum, Intellectual Takeout, Education News, Breitbart, The American Conservative, PJ Media, Erick Erickson in the Macon, Georgia Telegraph, Legal Insurrection, Frontpage Magazine, Hot Air, Alpha News, and many more.

In addition, Kathy appeared on television on Fox & Friends, and on Dennis Prager’s radio show, and was also a guest on a number of local radio programs across the country. Her stories about indoctrination and bullying in the Edina schools truly had gone national.

Thus, I was not surprised to get an email from Solvejg Wastvedt, a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, on March 5. Ms. Wastvedt said that she wanted to interview me. She wrote:

I’m doing a story on the ongoing criticisms of the Edina school district that CAE has published and that have been picked up by other media. I’d like to interview you about the Center’s focus on Edina.

I offered to set up an interview with Kathy Kersten, but she wanted to talk to me. She came to my office and interviewed me for around 16 minutes. It is my practice to record interviews with reporters. This is our conversation in its entirety:

Solvejg told me the focus of her story was on “how it’s taken on kind of a national profile.” No surprise there. But she made it clear where she was coming from when she identified “a couple of, you know, national publications, like whether it’s Daily Stormer or Breitbart.” As you can hear on the tape, I reacted with incredulity to her reference to the Daily Stormer and asked whether she is a regular reader of that online publication.

In due course, the Minnesota Public Radio story appeared, both on the radio and transcribed on MPR’s web site. The article’s focus was indeed on the fact that the story had gotten national traction:

[A] critique that began with a post on the website of local conservative think tank Center of the American Experiment has garnered national media coverage and found a new audience this month in hearings at the Minnesota legislature.

The article included one partial sentence from Ms. Wastvedt’s conversation with me. This is how she described the “national media coverage” of Kathy Kersten’s expose on the Edina schools:

During the fall of 2017 — as Edina voters weighed candidates for four school board seats and a school tax referendum — Fox News, Breitbart, a blog by Newt Gingrich and the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer all picked up the story. Katherine Kersten, the author of the Center’s two magazine articles, appeared on Fox & Friends in October 2017. Hinderaker presented the critiques at a meeting of the local Republican party.

As I told Ms. Wastvedt in our interview, the meeting she refers to was open to the public and was attended by people from both parties, including representatives of the Edina schools. You can watch my presentation here.

The coverage sparked a thread on the white supremacist website Stormfront. A thread on the anonymous internet forum 8chan posted a street address and phone numbers for an Edina English teacher and said, “We need to literally crucify her and destroy her completely.”

It is obvious that the principal purpose of MPR’s story was to smear Katherine Kersten and Center of the American Experiment by associating us with the Daily Stormer (“neo-Nazi!”), Stormfront (“white supremacist!”) and 8chan. No mention of mainstream conservatives like Dennis Prager, Brit Hume, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Dana Perino, Power Line, InstaPundit, Independent Women’s Forum, Hot Air, the Drudge Report, Legal Insurrection, Frontpage, Intellectual Takeout, Education News, American Conservative, PJ Media, as well as neutral outlets like Real Clear Politics and the Kansas City Star. These mainstream sites have traffic that is, what? 100,000 times greater than the Daily Stormer and Storm Front? 1,000,000 times greater? Obviously, Ms. Wastvedt featured the obscure, extremist sites as a politically-motivated smear.

I wanted to ask Ms. Wastvedt some questions. To begin with, I wondered how she even knew that Stormfront and 8chan had references to Kathy’s stories. The sites I referred to can be identified in less than two minutes with a Google search, and Daily Stormer comes up on page 9. But Stormfront and 8chan don’t show up at all; Google has barred 8chan, which I had never heard of prior to the MPR story, from its search results. So someone had to do some digging to come up with material for MPR’s smear.

I’m pretty sure I know where Wastvedt got the idea for her smear, and perhaps who did the research. Tim Klobuchar is one of the left-wing ringleaders at Edina High School. He is quoted in the MPR story, and he testified before the legislative committee that is referred to in the story. It was Klobuchar who first came up with the Daily Stormer. Here is the audio of his testimony; the Daily Stormer reference is at 1:28:

This was one of several questions I wanted to ask Ms. Wastvedt, so I emailed her:

Solvejg, I would like to interview you for a piece I am writing on Minnesota Public Radio. In particular, I want to ask about your attempt to link Center of the American Experiment with the Daily Stormer etc. I am happy to come to your office for the interview. Please send me a couple of times next week that would work for you.

She responded that interview requests need to go through MPR’s communications office, in the person of Angie Andresen. So I had an email exchange with Ms. Andresen. She asked:

Hi John,
Thanks for your note. Were there specific questions you had around her story? I just re-read her story and saw the only reference to The Daily Stormer as one of a number of outlets that picked up Katherine Kersten’s story.

I responded:

Angie, I am writing a story about MPR and want to ask, as I said before, about Solvejg’s effort to tie Center of the American Experiment to the Daily Stormer, etc. I think that is reasonably clear, but feel free to call me if you have additional questions.

To which I got this reply:

Hi John,
Can you tell me more about the story you’re doing on MPR? As I mentioned, the Daily Stormer is listed in her story as one of a number of outlets that picked up the Kersten piece. If there are inaccuracies or anything we should address, please let me know and I will share with the MPR News leaders.

So I explained the point of my interview request in more detail:

The story is on inappropriate political bias in a publicly-funded news organ, MPR. (Which, by the way, parallels the theme of the original articles that MPR was commenting on.) I want to interview Solvejg about, among her things, her choice of which “outlets that picked up the Kersten piece” to mention. I also want to ask how MPR handles comparable situations where a story has been linked to by a wide variety of online publications. I think the point is very clear. There are additional questions on the same topics that I want to ask her, of course, but I do not intend to submit them in writing in advance.

I should add that if you are not willing to permit Solvejg to be interviewed, I will have no alternative but to draw, and to communicate, adverse inferences.

That brought this wholly unresponsive reply:

MPR News is determined that its journalism reflect the highest professional standards and one of its principles is unbiased and non-partisan reporting. If there are inaccuracies or corrections to be made to Solvejg’s story or any other, we want to be sure we make those. Below is a link to our news ethics page and a full list of our principles.

We are unbiased and non-partisan in our reporting.
Our journalism is in service of the public.
We believe in journalism of verification, facts and an obligation to the truth.
We are inclusive in our reporting and programming.
We report without fear or favor, independent of those we cover.
We strive to monitor and hold accountable people in power.
We place high value on engaging with the public and providing forums for debate and understanding.
If we err, we are forthcoming and correct our error.
We take care with a person’s right to privacy and report within the bounds of the law.
We are guided in our journalistic practices and behavior by ethical guidelines.
Thank you.

Having reached the end of my patience, I wrote:

Does this mean that you are declining to make Solvejg available for an interview?

To which I finally got a straight answer:

Solvejg is not available for an interview.

I did connect with her and her goal was to make the point that the CAE story had been picked up by national media. Were there some that were missed?

Yes, Angie, there were some that were missed.

There are other questions that I would have liked to ask Solvejg. For instance: how do you decide when the approval or disapproval of a disreputable fringe group is relevant to your listeners’ evaluation of mainstream people or institutions? Let’s take a concrete example: MPR has interviewed and written about Keith Ellison many times. On any of those occasions, has it seen fit to tell its listeners and readers that Ellison was endorsed for DNC Chairman by David Duke? If not, why not?

I think it is telling that MPR is quick to smear those with whom its reporters disagree politically, but refuses to make its reporter available for an interview. Transparency is, apparently, a one-way street.

I am asking Minnesota Public Radio for an apology on behalf of Center of the American Experiment.

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