Black Friday for the STRIB

Nov 28

Black Eye on Black Friday

The rightward tilt of the StarTribune over the past few years has been most noticeable on the paper’s Op-Ed Page, which has twisted itself in pretzel knots trying to assure the wealthiest — and the rightiest — Minnesotans that the newspaper is on their side, even if on (increasingly rare) occasion, the scruffy staff still turns out a news story whose moorings aren’t firmly conservative.

A list of some of the weird contortions taken by the Strib’s editorial page since 2007′s pirate take-over by Avista, the paper’s subsequent bankruptcy and the post-bankruptcy ascendancy of the creditors who were left holding the Strib’s strings includes:

* The Silence, during Avista’s ownership, of the Lambs:  Avista’s front-man, former publisher Chris Harte, muzzled his Op-Ed staff, ordering them to remain inert on such issues as the War in Iraq, taxes and the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge.

* Head-snapping reversals: The Strib, without batting an eyelash, reversed course on long-standing public issues such as the gargantuan proposal for a new Stillwater Bridge over the St Croix River. From opposing a wasteful boondoggle that will mar a federally protected river valley with an unsightly and over-built Bridge to Nowhere (Hudson, WI), the Strib has gone full-tilt boogie backwards and now supports the bridge.

* Shameless Shilling: The Strib repeatedly has used its editorials to pimp for a new, publicly financed Vikings Stadium in a place that will serve its interests best: On the site of the Metrodome, a block east of the newspaper’s headquarters and smack-dab in the middle of five blocks of under-used parking lots the paper has been trying to unload since Avista’s pirates swarmed the Strib. The paper now adds some boilerplate to its shilling, acknowledging that it owns some property, the value of which  might be affected by a new stadium. But the disclosure is not full and not honest: The Strib hopes to make up to $50 million off lots that are now pushing up dandelions. In the real world, such a conflict of interest should preclude the paper from commenting.

We could go on, but you get the point: Far from being the “liberal” StarTribune of the fevered imagination of right-wing droolers, the paper has become exactly what the wealthiest of Minnesotans have hoped for: A frightened newspaper without the backbone or the balls to stand up for much except for the wishes of the powerful. Which brings us to the point of this item:

Last week, on the eve of the Black Friday holiday shopping orgy, the Strib Op-Ed page hit an all-time low with a sarcastic, juvenile and insulting homily against Target Corp., employees who objected to working on Thanksgiving evening so that Target could open its stores at Midnight. This editorial, reproduced below, was so bad on so many fronts that it approached the territory of “Let Them Eat Cake,” and we all know how that one ended up, with a lot of heads in baskets.

As one friend and long-time journalist said to me, it was the kind of imperious, self-righteous blather not seen around here since the Depression when Minneapolis papers were bashing Teamsters and other workers for unionizing and editorially supporting the swaggering “Citizens Alliance,” a mob of business leaders who tried to police the streets against their employees. That didn’t end well either: People were killed on both sides of the struggle during the “Teamster Rebellion.

Maybe the Strib is bored and just wants to invite the lads and lasses of OccupyMN over to 425 Portland. That’s the only thing I can imagine to justify an editorial in which the Strib sounds like a mine boss with a crowbar: “Get down in that mine, Johnson, and if you don’t stop whining about safety conditions,  long hours and low pay, we’ll get someone else to do the job.”

Target, of course, is the Strib’s largest advertiser, and the newspaper treads carefully every time the company’s name comes up in a controversy, scrubbing online stories of reader comments deemed anti-Target, and showing a remarkable lack of curiosity about the company’s efforts to persuade employees to support Target’s corporate political agenda or its public image problems with gays.

But the editorial published last Wednesday went into new territory, mocking workers, telling them to shut up, and warning them that they can be replaced.  If the company told that to the Teamsters during contract negotiations, it might be sorry.

“When nearly 14 million Americans are unemployed, complaining about work hours is grossly self-indulgent,” the paper scoffed. “Many unemployed workers would love a steady paycheck to stave off a home foreclosure or, in the most desperate cases, to cover the cost of Thanksgiving dinner…be grateful to have a job.” (Read the entire editorial, below).

History doesn’t show that the Strib’s bowing and scraping to Target will prevail: It was during the mass unemployment of the Depression that workers found themselves forced to unite and to fight for better pay, better working conditions and limits on the demands of employers. Thumbing your privileged nose at the unemployed and at the 200,000 people who signed the petition to Target to remain closed at midnight (presumably, many who signed are unemployed workers), is not smart business for a newspaper. In the 1930s, newspapers that behaved like that got put out of business.

One productive thing, however, may come from the Strib’s pandering to power:

The lie that the StarTribune is a “liberal” newspaper has been put to rest, forever.

The Strib’s Nov. 23 editorial:

Two words for Anthony Hardwick: Buck up.

He’s the Target employee from Omaha who led an online petition drive to stop the retail giant from opening its doors at midnight on Black Friday. Don’t impinge on workers’ Thanksgiving celebrations, he said.

Hardwick’s intentions are good, but when nearly 14 million Americans are unemployed, complaining about work hours is grossly self-indulgent.

Many unemployed workers would love a steady paycheck to stave off a home foreclosure or, in the most desperate cases, to cover the cost of Thanksgiving dinner.

When times were better, retail giants forcing employees to work on treasured family holidays could easily be painted as corporate greed run amok. But today it’s hardly fair to paint merchants as retail Scrooges.

Our nation’s economy is struggling to recover from a deep recession. Businesses that no one ever thought would fail are long gone. Last week Rottlund Homes, a homebuilding giant with Minnesota roots, announced that it, too, was joining the death march.

One of the ironies in the petition drive is that consumer demand is what’s needed to pull the nation out of the doldrums — whether that demand comes at midnight or 8 a.m.

Star Tribune business columnist Eric Wieffering notes that merchants’ decisions to expand Black Friday hours reflect desperation: “The kind that comes when your stock price is treading water, sales and profit are flat, and some of those big boxes seem awfully empty.”

Retail spending isn’t what it was before the economy tanked. And merchants fighting to survive are facing stiff competition from online sites that are open 24/7.

Those online outlets will be racking up sales all day Thanksgiving — last year to the tune of $400 million — so who can blame Best Buy or Wal-Mart for opening their doors at all hours to try to attract shoppers to their stores?

More than 190,000 people from around the nation signed Hardwick’s petition to save Thanksgiving for Target workers. But if a worthwhile number of American consumers want to line up in the middle of the night to get a bargain on a flat-screen TV, the retailer would be foolish to lose the sales.

Some Americans reject the rampant materialism of Black Friday. They see it as a distortion of holiday spirit, and they choose to stay home as a way of rejecting the consumer culture.

Others view Black Friday as a second holiday — a time to hit the malls with friends and family in search of the best bargains. They look forward to the frenzied shopping experience and, given the threat posed by the competition, Target and Wal-Mart employees should welcome them with open arms.

Once again this Thanksgiving, Americans are shaken by uncertainty about the country’s financial future. Too many people are out of work, struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Many are lacking health insurance and foregoing staples that in different times were a given.

So please, protesting retail workers, stop whining about having to work holiday hours.

Be grateful to have a job.