STATE of CORRUPTION, Part IV: ZYGI WILF’s AIRPLANE
@stribgillespie: Highly placed sources say Zygi Wilf has downloaded a certain Randy Newman hit.
That Tweet from the StarTribune’s Editorial Page Editor, Scott Gillespie, hit Twitter on April 20, a few days after the vote by a Legislative committee NOT to let the $1 billion boondoggle of a plan for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium go to the floor of the House of Representatives for an up-or-down vote. It appeared to many to be the end of the road for the controversial project, with the Strib and other media outlets pouring a stream of Apocalyptic stories and headlines into the Twin Cities media environment, and Gov. Mark Dayton amplifying the scare tactics of stadium supporters.
“We’ve got to get a stadium,” Dayton said, “or the Vikings will leave.”
Let the history books show that Dayton was the first to amp the threat. Up to that point, the Vikings and their lobbyists had been careful not to make any explicit threats about leaving the Twin Cities after 51 years. Of course, that threat, spoken or not, was always the fist inside the velvet glove. With “the threat” now made naked, Vikings legislative lobbyist Lester Bagley dropped his Mr. Nice Guy persona: ““It’s a mistake to think the Vikings and the National Football League will continue with the status quo of playing in the Metrodome without a new stadium,” he snarled. After Dayton and The Bagster made the threat public, there was an avalanche of stories, talk radio shows and panicky commentaries that if the Legislature didn’t reverse course in a hurry, Minnesota would surely lose its prestige NFL franchise.
The threat was not real — Los Angeles has served as the NFL’s Bogeyman that is useful for scaring childish football fans for years — but it had its intended effect: Minnesota Media, and politicians, began to fold faster than K-Mart lawn chairs. Panic set in on the airwaves.
This is where Gillespie’s Tweet fit in: “Zygi has downloaded a certain Randy Newman hit”? In case you are unfamiliar with singer-songwriter-composer Newman, his songs include the well-known anthem, “I Love L.A.” In other words, Gillespie was trying to make a faux-hip reference to the “threat” that the Vikings might move to Los Angeles, since the stadium proposal seemed dead (it would soon roar back to life, and eventual passage.) I would excuse Gillespie’s tweet as harmless fun except he included in it a link to a breaking story in the Los Angeles Daily News reporting that the private jet belonging to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf had been spotted at an airport in “Southern California” — an exotic location that means only one thing to most geography-challenged Minnesotans: Los Angeles.
So, let’s review: The Viking stadium appeared to be dead, the governor had given credence to threats that the Vikings would move, Zygi’s plane was in Southern California (not Los Angeles, although credulous Minnesota media often reported it as “Los Angeles”). And now Zygi, according to the newspaper that has five mostly empty blocks of real estate it hopes to dump to developers in the new stadium neighborhood, was humming “I Love L.A.”
Gillespie’s tweet helped fan the flames of a Twin Cities media meltdown that already was under way: “The Vikings are moving! The Vikings Are Moving!” It also helped give impact to the Los Angeles newspaper’s story which, upon further review, turns out to be pretty thin gruel. The story was written by veteran sportswriter Vincent Bonsignore, who like other sports writers who have to chart the often-shrouded comings and goings of sports owners and players, keeps an eye out for airplane registration numbers. One of his sources, he says, tipped him to the fact that Zygi’s plane was parked on a San Diego runway. Why didn’t he write “San Diego,” then, instead of saying “Southern California,” leaving Minnesotans to assume that Zygi was unpacking his Dobb Kit in Los Angeles? Bonsignore told me he was concerned about Wilf’s privacy, so he fudged the plane’s location a bit. A bit?
San Diego is 120 miles from Los Angeles — making it as if a plane parked in Duluth is reported to be in the Twin Cities area.
Bob Collins, of Minnesota Public Radio, was the plane-spotter who revealed the San Diego part of the story, actually asking acquaintances in “Southern California” to check out the San Diego airport to look for Zygi’s plane. Basic journalism, but it makes Collins look like goddamn Woodward and Bernstein compared to his lazy counterparts who did nothing to fact-check the story. “This particular plane story was an absolute crock right from the start,” Collins commented on an earlier State of Corruption post. “And the local media bit on it. Hard.”
Give Bob Collins credit: He was a notable exception to the media mob’s panic over the L.A. plot.
“…fans of political theater have got to be enjoying the football stadium show that’s underway,” Collins wrote on his NewsCut blog April 20, the same day Gillespie was tweet-spreading the rumor. “..the Los Angeles Daily News claims Zygi Wilf’s plane was seen at an airport there. True or not … the resulting buzz fits the purposes of creating a sense of urgency back in flyover country. This is how it looks when the NFL plays hardball on a stadium issue. It helps that at least one local TV station reported — erroneously — this morning that the plane was in Los Angeles.”
But Los Angeles wasn’t the target of the bull that was being spread. Twin City airwaves were full of panicked accusations that, see! We told you the Vikings would leave if we didn’t build a new stadium and now they are practically gone!”
Few “journalists” helped their customers steer through the heavy propaganda spin. Was Zygi’s plane in Los Angeles? Or not? What weight should a sketchy report like that be given? Did an aircraft sighting in Southern California — without a corresponding sighting of the airplane’s owner — mean anything? Or was it a heavy-handed ploy in what was becoming a full-on onslaught by the NFL to beat the Minnesota Legislature into submission? Has anything like this happened in the past?
Well, it turns out, YES. Twin Cities media failed their audience.
With the exception, again, of MPR’s Collins, there was little effort to inform us that the NFL has played plane games before: When the Indianapolis Colts were campaigning for a new home, a plane belonging to the team’s owner was seen parked on a runway in Van Nuys, Calif., an actual Los Angeles suburb. After ominous reports of that plane sighting, Indianapolis caved like a rube Midwestern burg getting fleeced by a New Jersey developer.
Like a rube Midwestern burg getting fleeced by a New Jersey developer.
If that sounds familiar to us rubes in the Twin Cities, it should. Zygi’s plane — parked two hours from L.A., with no sign of Zygmunt himself, worked as planned: It scared the pants off lazy Twin Cities media who couldn’t imagine life without the giant purple revenue streams NFL football brings to their properties. And couldn’t imagine doing important public-service journalism that might have shed light on the biggest public policy boondoggle to come down the pike in their lifetimes.
In the sorry stadium “debate” just past, most Minnesota media proved to be either rubes or self-serving hypocrites who abandoned journalism and served, instead, Big Money. I would prefer to think they are just rubes. But it may be worse than that,
I will continue this series on this blog, and welcome your comments.
Up soon, “The Failure of the Commentariat.”