Newspapers Without a Compass

Oct 31

Few people take newspaper endorsements seriously anymore. It is obvious that editorial stamps of approval have virtually no impact on the outcomes of elections and that they are often nothing more than thinly disguised attempts to rationalize the choices that a newspaper believes will serve its economic interests best, prettied up with a bunch of cynical blather about democracy and the needs of the people. As often as not, in this age of media degradation, a newspaper editorial that runs in favor of your candidate should cause a reader to reconsider his or her choice: There must be something wrong with the person for whom you planned to vote if the newspaper supports him.

Which brings us to the Star Tribune’s endorsement of 8th District Tea Party Poster Boy, Chip Cravaack.

This endorsement of a first-term right-winger by a newspaper formerly known as a leading bastion of support for liberal Republicans and progressive Democrats hasn’t generated much comment, probably because readers aren’t surprised anymore when the Strib runs red — a calculated business strategy that was put in place by the pirate publishers of Avista who took control in 2007 and whose radical restructuring of the paper’s editorial voice has remained in place under the subsequent owners. But the Cravaack endorsement is worth examining closely, not because it will affect the race for Congress between The Chipper and Rick Nolan, a former Congressman who is trying to reclaim northeast Minnesota for the DFL, but because it reveals how far newspapers will go now to not stand for anything.

The perils of making political endorsements were apparent at the Pioneer Press before the Strib began to wobble: In 1988, the Saint Paul paper earned widespread ridicule for endorsing BOTH presidential candidates, George H. W. Bush AND Michael Dukakis. Then, in 2004, it thumbed its nose at its core readership in St. Paul’s blue-voting precincts by endorsing George W. Bush for president, costing the paper heavily in lost subscribers. This year, perhaps wisely, the paper is not making any endorsements. But the StarTribune, behind the curve by several years, is playing catch-up with wind-vane editorials that attempt to make the paper appear to be all things to all readers and — more importantly — give itself fig-leaf protection by going out of its way to endorse a few conservatives. But in Cravaack’s case, the endorsement is at odds with many of the paper’s editorial stances and is transparently devoid of any consistent political or social philosophy other than a craven begging for pats on the head from the far right.

The editorial omits any mention of, or distorts the record on, several issues that would have been brought to attention by the “old” StarTribune editorial page before the paper was plundered by the pirates. For example:

Copper-Nickel mining and the environment. A burning issue of great economic and ecological importance, the Strib left it out of its editorial. For the record, Cravaack is an all-out proponent of mining who claims the EPA and environmental defense groups are anti-jobs; Nolan supports mining with proper environmental safeguards. The difference is huge and, according to Nolan’s campaign, comes down to “the difference between supporting mining (Nolan) and being a shill for the mining companies (Cravaack).”

Hmmm. Might have been worth mentioning, doncha think?

Grover Norquist’s No Tax Pledge. Any candidate for office who has kissed Grover’s ring and signed his pledge to never, under any circumstances, raise taxes, even on the wealthiest, should be disqualified from office as an opportunist who has put his brain, and his conscience, in hock to a virulent anti-government philosophy. Cravaack has drunk the Grover Kool-Aid. A newspaper that endorses a candidate for Congress like that is a newspaper that has put its own brain on hold.

Abortion: About the Strib’s only Cravaack caveat was a mention that Chip opposes abortion. The paper then mentioned that so do many 8th District voters. It didn’t mention that so did former DFL Rep. Jim Oberstar, the oft-endorsed-by-the-Strib-Congressman who was defeated by Cravaack in 2010 (no explanation from the Strib how the paper could flip-flop from Oberstar to the anti-Oberstar); nor did the newspaper mention that Nolan was accused by his DFL primary opponents of not supporting abortion rights. Bottom line: Abortion isn’t an issue in the 8th District and the Strib knows it. But mentioning it with a cluck of the tongue is meant to make the Strib seem tough-minded. It ain’t.

Nolan has been ahead of Cravaack in the polls, offering the Strib a cynical easy play: Endorse the knuckle-dragging Tea Party guy with no record and no accomplishment, then sit back, watch the Democrat win, endorse him next time and sputter…”but we endorsed the rightie last time!”

If you want to examine the record of the Real Chip Cravaack — not the one in the Strib editorial — please go to On the Issues and check out his voting record: Opposes stem cell research; opposes the HAMP mortgage assistance program; has done nothing on Civil Rights or families; opposes regulation of greenhouse gases; is a believer in absolute gun rights; etc, etc, etc. On any one of these issues, a newspaper with a journalistic compass should be taking him apart. To ignore the total Cravaack package is pandering on the worst order; an effort to make the Strib seem “balanced” by supporting someone who is wrong on every issue. The intention, I suppose, is to make the Strib seem fair-minded. Instead, the paper appears foolish.

The editorial is nothing but happy horse pucky.

The Strib lamely salutes Cravaack for showing up in his district after the June flooding in Duluth, and for “staying in touch” with his district even though he lives with his family in New Hampshire. Really? Well, Golly Gee: If the voters of the 8th District want to elect me to Congress, and entitle me to a salary of $174,000, I solemnly promise to stay in touch with the district, especially with the North Shore and the BWCA during the summer and the good-skiing months. In addition, I pledge to maintain an apartment in Grand Marais even though I will continue to live with my family in St. Paul.