An open letter to Scott Gillespie

Scott Gillespie is the editorial editor and vice president of the Star Tribune. He is in charge of the opinion side of the newspaper. In his daily email newsletter on Monday, Scott discussed the paper’s coverage of Rep. Ilhan Omar under the subject heading “Opining on Ilhan Omar.” I think it’s fair to say that Scott is proud of it. I asked Scott if I could have his permission to post his message on Power Line with the thought that I might respond in an open letter to him. Scott asked only that I “make clear that news and opinion are separate at the Star Tribune – a point I make often in the newsletter but might be lost on Power Line readers – and that I am responsible for opinion.”

Dear Scott: This open letter to you responds to your January 21 message to readers that I posted here on Power Line. Thank you for your permission to share your message with Power Line readers. It takes up a subject I have written a lot about on Power Line and elsewhere. Responding to a critical Wisconsin reader, you defend the Star Tribune’s news and editorial coverage of Ilhan Omar. I find it poor. I thought I might take the opportunity raised by your message to revisit the subject with a senior officer of Omar’s hometown newspaper (i.e., you).

When it comes to Omar I think the Star Tribune has particularly ill served its core Fifth District DFL readers. You refute and disparage the critical reader whom you quote, but (to borrow Bill Clinton’s famous expression) I feel his pain. I think the Star Tribune’s coverage of Omar has been superficial at best, both on the news and editorial side. To make the subject manageable, I will limit the period of time in issue from June 5 (when DFL candidates filed to run for the Fifth District seat) to August 14 (the date of the primary election).*

The Star Tribune emphasized in its June 18 editorial that “primary voters [would] be making a choice with long-lasting consequences. The Fifth District has been represented by only four U.S. House members — Walter Judd, Don Fraser, Martin Sabo and Keith Ellison — in the past 76 years.” The Fifth District now being one of the most heavily Democratic districts in the country, the August 14 primary represented the date of the real election for the Fifth District seat. If my focus on the June 5-August 14 period is fair, the Star Tribune had a little over two months to do its job for readers making up their mind to vote in the primary. How did it do?

The primary election pitted Omar against two serious DFL candidates. Maya Rao’s July 1 profile of the three candidates is utterly superficial. The superficiality was characteristic of the Star Tribune’s coverage of the race during the period of time in issue — and there wasn’t much of it anyway.

Kelly Smith’s August 3 article reported on the candidates’ joint appearance at a forum of community and business leaders. Maya Rao’s August 7 article reported on the candidates’ joint appearance at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park before a largely Jewish audience. Neither adds much to the candidates’ quotes.

Rao’s August 11 article is the last whack before the primary. In this article Rao notes that Omar had recently traveled to Southern California for fundraising events hosted by the political action committee for that state’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

One would never know it from reading the Star Tribune, but CAIR is a terror-supporting front group that holds itself out as a civil rights organization. CAIR”s support of Omar fits neatly with her support of the anti-Semitic BDS movement that Omar obscured for one night only — during the August 6 Beth El Synagogue forum.

The Star Tribune has been missing in action on every aspect of this matter that is of interest to many Fifth District voters (witness the packed August 6 Beth El forum). Rao leaves it at this: “Omar has also drawn criticism in the Jewish community for previous statements critical of the Israeli government and military. She has said that criticism of Israeli military strikes against Palestinians does not mean she is anti-Semitic.” This is pathetic. Omar’s vocal support of the BDS movement on days other than August 6 belies Rao’s indirect statement of Omar’s defense (not that one would have known it if one got his news from the Star Tribune).

Rao’s story added: “Omar has drawn national media attention but also controversy. Some conservative bloggers alleged she married her brother to help him obtain U.S. citizenship, which Omar adamantly denied.” Would it be too much to ask the Star Tribune to do some reporting of its own on this question?

The Star Tribune endorsed Margaret Anderson Kelliher in the primary. Beyond observing Omar’s lack of experience, the editorial offered nothing of substance on Omar. Is it any wonder that Fifth District DFLers found it unpersuasive?

Defending the Star Tribune’s news and editorial coverage of Omar, you berated an out-of-state correspondent with the -isms of the Deplorables. Your message adds a weary “nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” tone to the equation. As the Star Tribune’s opinion editor, you might have made a more worthy contribution to the paper’s cause with a little professional introspection in the context of Omar’s current national embarrassment.

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*You link to Stephen Montemayor’s “On the edge of making history, Ilhan Omar confronts fresh wave of scrutiny” (October 24) as addressing some of the issues raised by the reader whom you disparage. By my lights, however, Steve’s article came more than two months after the real Fifth District election.

Even so, Steve’s article is yet another superficial contribution. A reader interested in the issues “addressed” in it (to use your word) would find no reporting to help sort things out for himself. Was Omar married to her brother until late 2017? Omar says the claim is made only “by fake journalists on bigoted blogs.”

I think Omar was referring to me and to PJ Media New York editor David Steinberg. Her insults are par for the course with her — they hark back to her original response to my inquiry to her in 2016 — but Steve doesn’t even bother to let readers know who or what she is talking about.

Unlike the Star Tribune, David Steinberg undertook an investigation of Omar’s marriage to husband number 2 (Ahmed Nur Said Elmi), whom she just got around to divorcing at the end of 2017. Steinberg thinks Elmi is Omar’s brother and that she married him for some dishonest purpose. Steinberg reported his findings in stories posted here (August 8), here (August 12), here (October 23), here (October 30) and here (November 5).

But for Omar’s allusion to him, Steinberg and his reporting have gone unmentioned by the Star Tribune. Doing no reporting of its own, the Star Tribune published Amy Forliti’s October 17 AP story “Minnesota House hopeful calls marriage, fraud claims ‘lies.’” I contrasted Steinberg’s work with Forliti’s in “Ilhan Omar’s ‘disgusting lies.'”

In his October 13 story Steve added this bizarre touch as if it were completely normal: “During an interview, Omar showed a reporter cellphone photos of documents from her family’s U.S. entry in 1995 after fleeing Somalia’s civil war. She declined to provide copies of the papers, which included refugee resettlement approval forms and identification cards, but they appeared to list her father, siblings and Omar by order of birth, with Omar as the youngest of seven children. No one named Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, who is three years younger than Omar, could be seen listed in the documents.” Omar did not even allow Steve to jot down names. He left that out of his article. I find this exceedingly strange. Don’t you?

Steve also addressed tweets conveying Omar’s view of Israel. At least he quoted Omar’s reference to “the apartheid Israeli regime,” but Steve’s article is completely unilluminating. Steve gives Omar the last word: “I don’t think there is anyone who spends five minutes with me who does not clearly see where my values are and that I will advocate for them and defend them and their humanity always.” One would not know of her avid support in the legislature of the anti-Semitic BDS movement seeking the destruction of Israel.

Omar amplified her view of Israel as an “apartheid regime” on the floor of the Minnesota House in support of BDS. Her speech is a matter of public record. Did the Star Tribune ever cover it in the course of the Fifth District election? For your information, I posted the video and transcribed Omar’s statement in “Ilhan Omar: Why I hate Israel.”

Omar’s assertion that Israel is an “apartheid regime” is a stupid and anti-Semitic lie. It would have been of interest to many Fifth District voters. The Star Tribune barely reported it — see Steve’s story above — though the reporters who covered Omar’s primary victory gave it the usual treatment with a vague allusion (“Omar has…attracted some controversy with negative comments about Israel”).

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