The role of the Star Tribune

Yesterday morning John and I spoke to a group of Republican businessmen and attorneys (“Minnesota Rough Riders”) about this past Tuesday’s election results. As I recall below, John and I last spoke to the group about Rathergate in November 2004. This year we were invited to provide our retrospective on the elections. John looked back at the national results; I looked back at Minnesota’s. Today the Star Tribune runs reporter Stephen Montemayor’s story “Minnesota Republicans puzzle over how to break statewide losing streak.” I had intended to keep my remarks off the record, but Montemayor’s story has triggered me. Montemayor and the Star Tribune featured prominently in my remarks. My theme was “anyone who gets his news from the Star Tribune…” I spoke from these notes:

Introduction

When John and I spoke to you last – 14 years ago, back in 2004 — we had just lived through Rathergate. We related our involvement in the story, but we didn’t really know what had happened inside CBS News. I wanted to get into my remarks this morning by updating the Rathergate story briefly.

CBS commissioned an internal investigation by former AG Richard Thornburg and former AP head Lou Boccardi to determine what had happened. Their report was published in January 2005. If you want to know what happened, the story is set forth in two chapters of the report, which is still available online.

Later that year Mary Mapes published the memoir Truth and Duty. Mapes was the producer and writer of the Rathergate segment. Don’t read her book if you want to know what happened.

In 2014 Dan Rather published the memoir Rather Outspoken. I think it should have been called Rather Full of It. Don’t read his book if you want to know what happened.

Despite themselves, these are both important books in their own way. They are symptomatic; they both seethe with hatred of Republicans and conservatives.

In 2015 the movie Truth came out. It’s based on Mapes’s memoir. It stars Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes. Don’t see the movie if you want to know what happened.

But the books and the movie illustrate a point. The left is unrelenting. It dominates the media and the culture. This is the point I want to pursue in my comments on our election in Minnesota this past Tuesday.

Minnesota

The story of the 2018 election in Minnesota from my perspective as a Republican is an almost comprehensive disaster. We lost both Senate races by wide margins. We lost the governor’s race by a wide margin. Indeed, we lost every constitutional office. We lost our majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

I think there are a few obvious explanations. One is a function of President’s Trump’s negative effect on metro area suburban voters. You could see the effect in the loss of Jason Lewis in the Second District and Erik Paulsen in the Third District.

A second is the DFL’s enormous spending advantage. Republicans were vastly outspent.

A third is the use to which the money was put, hammering a potent message based on a persistent lie regarding health care. Alliance for a Better Minnesota spent more than $5 million saturating television with the ads from the first day of the general election campaign. [Below is “Louise’s story,” the ABM ad I saw most frequently. Message: GOP gubernatorial nominee Jeff Johnson will kill you.]

I was interested in two races in particular: Keith Ellison’s for attorney general and Ilhan Omar’s to succeed Ellison in Congress.

These races are related. The DFL had endorsed Ellison for reelection as the Fifth District congressional representative and endorsed gay millennial Matt Pelikan for attorney general at their state convention.

At the last minute Ellison filed to run in the DFL primary to run against Pelikan for the DFL attorney general nomination. That opened the door for Ilhan Omar to seek the DFL endorsement to succeed Ellison at the specially convened Fifth District DFL endorsing convention on June 17. It was obvious to all informed observers that Ellison had engineered his move in a manner calculated to ensure Omar’s endorsement at the special June 17 endorsing convention.

Keith Ellison

I’ve been writing about Ellison for 12 years. My work on Ellison has been based on archival newspaper sources. A source got me started when he asked me to meet him on foot for a handoff at the corner of a busy intersection in downtown Minneapolis.

Ellison was a committed and active member of the hate cult known as the Nation of Islam from his time in law school at the University of Minnesota roughly until he ran for the legislature the second time around in 2002. The first time around — in 1998 — he ran as Keith Ellison-Muhammad, a self-avowed and well known member of the cult.

As a member of the cult he had supported and spoken up on behalf of cop killers including the murderers of Officer Jerry Haaf here in Minneapolis. HIs vocal support of cop killers is shocking by itself, but in the context of his race for the top law enforcement job in Minnesota, it is almost unbelievable.

It’s hard to imagine a candidate less fit for the office he sought than Ellison. I had hoped the Star Tribune would perform the traditional journalistic function of the candidates’ local newspaper either before the DFL primary in August or after in the election, but it never did.

Whatever exposure there was to be would have to come from the opposing candidate. This is where Doug Wardlow’s lack of funding really hurt. He had low name recognition to begin with and the Star Tribune simply failed to perform the function of a newspaper. Instead, the Star Tribune performed as a public relations arm of the Ellison campaign.

Allegations of domestic abuse dogged Ellison and the Star Tribune covered them. How could it not? But even here its coverage was pathetic. The 15-page investigation report of the most recent charge found it to be “unsubstantiated,” which the Star Tribune always emphasized without further explanation, but the report was full of corroborating evidence that in fact substantiated it. It’s not clear that their reporter [here I’m referring to Montemayor] ever read it.

The Star Tribune ultimately withheld its editorial endorsement from either candidate. As to Ellison it said: “His history with Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam remains controversial even though Ellison has long since renounced the group’s anti-Semitic views. [The editorial omitted Ellison’s incredible assertion that Ellison was ignorant of the hate cult’s anti-Semitic views. Ellison alleged that he was ignorant of them.] His previous support for gang members and fugitive Kathleen Soliah create further doubts and would make it challenging to build a strong relationship with law enforcement.”

Wait, what?

Here the editorial linked to Montemayor’s story on Wardlow’s allegations regarding Ellison. The allegations become a ball of confusion in Montemayor’s hands. Any reader who got his news from the Star Tribune would have no idea what the editorial was referring to.

Ellison performed the poorest of all the DFL candidates running statewide. He only beat Wardlow by three points and failed to clear 50 percent. The narrow margin is attributable in part to the performance of the Grassroots — Legalize Cannabis candidate, Noah Johnson. Johnson had withdrawn and endorsed Ellison, but he still drew more than 145,000 votes, or just over 5.7 percent. We are lost in a haze in more ways than one.

Ilhan Omar

I started writing about Ilhan Omar when she knocked off 22-term incumbent state representative Phyllis Kahn in the DFL primary in 2016. A source inside the Somali community pointed out to me information online suggesting that she was married to two men. Husband number 1 was the man she advertised as her husband and father of her children. She married him in 2002. Husband number 2 was a guy who seemed to be her brother. She married him in 2009 and just got around to divorcing him at the end of last year.

The story blew up into a major crisis that August. A Democratic crisis manager was airlifted into her campaign for a few days to help her weather the storm. He put out a few statements explaining that she had never legally married husband number 1 and that husband number 2 was someone she had met along the way. At the time she was still married to him.

The story blew up onto page one of the Star Tribune. Star Tribune reporter Patrick Coolican called me for a comment on Omar’s statement. He told me they say husband number 2 is not her brother. I asked him who he is. “They won’t tell me,” he said.

And that is where the Star Tribune has left the story, even as Omar emerged as the endorsed DFL candidate to succeed Keith Ellison in Congress.

Well, you might say, so what? The Fifth District is one-party territory. Omar was never going to lose to a Republican. So what if the Star Tribune refused to dig into the story or into other relevant issues such as Omar’s view of Israel as an “apartheid regime,” an issue of interest to thousands of Fifth District voters.

Omar faced a competitive DFL primary in August. Among her opponents was former Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher. Kelliher is a woman of real political substance. She is a formidable politician. Having seen the DFL candidates speaking before a huge audience at Temple Beth El the week before the election, I can tell you to a certainty that the Star Tribune’s failure to cover the candidates in depth shortchanged its core Fifth District DFL readership more than anyone else.

The Star Tribune endorsed Kelliher in the DFL primary, but any Star Tribune reader who got his news from the Star Tribune would have had no idea of the gulf among the candidates or of the skeletons in Omar’s closet. The Star Tribune made no editorial endorsement in the Fifth District election between Omar and her nominal GOP opponent. Again, any reader who got its news from the Star Tribune would have no idea what the editors might have exercised their right to remain silent.

The Star Tribune

Rene Sanchez is the top dog on the news and opinion side of the Star Tribune. He is the editor of the paper. I made the points above in email correspondence with him before and after the August 15 DFL primary. I find his emails responding to me incomprehensible.

Media bias is an old and tired subject. In Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind, economist Tim Groseclose brings the methodology of quantitative social science to bear on measuring the political tilt and political impact of the mainstream media. Published in 2011, Groseclose’s book takes analysis of the problem to the next level, from anecdotes and case study to a general theory of the case.

The most important part of Groseclose’s book is Part IV, where he assesses the effects of media bias. Measuring the effects of media bias is difficult. What would voters’ views be in the absence of the bias in which we are suffocating? Groseclose is not certain of the precise magnitude, but he draws on three studies to make an estimate.

One of the studies he draws on is based on an experiment conducted in northern Virginia by three Yale researchers with a view to the 2005 Virginia gubernatorial election. For their experiment they recruited hundreds of participants and bought them subscriptions to the Washington Post or the Washington Times. They randomly chose which subjects would receive which subscription and compared those two groups with a control group. Professor Groseclose inferred from the result of the experiment and other data that media bias aids Democratic candidates in a typical election by about 8-10 percentage points.

Our problem in Minnesota is reflected by the difficulty of conducting a comparable experiment using local newspapers of contrasting viewpoints. We are stuck with the Star Tribune. Its owner is a nominal Republican, but if he gets his news from the newspaper, he has no idea how pitiful his product is.

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