Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Star Tribune's Suki Dardarian At Year One: "Everything That Rises Must Converge"

"An identity is not to be found on the surface."
-Flannery O'Connor
A year ago this month Suki Dardarian started work as the Star Tribune's new managing editor. There was minimal coverage of what I considered to be an important development in Minnesota media.

Dardarian came to the Star Tribune from the Seattle Times, where she had been passed over for promotion to editor. Later in the year her husband, Peter Callaghan, joined MinnPost. I wrote a two part blog about her arrival which can be read here and here. Aside from that, I know of no other coverage of her in local media, traditional or new. That should tell us something.

Since that time, the Star Tribune has moved from its previous headquarters of 95 years, a stand alone building not entirely lacking in architectural beauty, to three floors of a ghastly glass building which pockmark downtown Minneapolis, adding to the ugliness of that part of the city. For all the sneering at St. Paul, where I live, the most cursory of visits to the two downtowns quickly leaves no doubt which city understands urbanism-as-humanism better.

Even Star Tribune reporters understood what was being lost, as they tweeted fond reminiscences of the work space they were losing, sometimes at a level of treacle that made me blanche but not respond. Being Irish, I recognized mourning despite the very different garb in which it was clothed in this instance and mourning should rarely be mocked, at least in public.

New office space with a worse product is my assessment of Dardarian's first year. To be fair, which is an important value to me, I don't know how the internals of the Star Tribune have played out vis-a-vis Dardarian and her boss, executive editor and white Hispanic Rene Sanchez. Any outside observer can reasonably assume that she has executed the ideas--the vision thing--for which Sanchez hired her. And certainly one year is a short amount of time, especially given the move of the newspaper to a faux Google-like environment.

And yet a number of changes took place undeniably engineered by Dardarian. On the reportorial level, perhaps none was as noticeable as the letting go of Rachel Stassen Berger, a long time, predictably liberal reporter for the Star Tribune. The Pioneer Press picked her up and the cover story was the age old "better opportunity" one. It may well have been but something tells me not. Again, to be fair, Berger has said publicly that this is precisely what happened. And who among us would distrust the media?

David Brauer & Brian Lambert both speculated about the move but neither suggested the change had anything to do with Dardarian. It might not have but to leave that possibility out was telling. Brauer is an interesting follow on Twitter (@dbrauer) and readers should. We have something of an entente cordiale and it works. Lambert is not on Twitter (I admit to being intrigued by that) and he likes me when I criticize my team and ignores me when I do the same to his. Pure MinnPost, which is not a legitimate news source. Still, I could do worse.

But coverage of media personnel bores me and it should bore you. Why? Because where any given reporter works is far less interesting compared to what they are covering and how. Or, as is so often the case, what is not being covered by local media. Our insipid local Fourth Estate seems never to mind getting scooped repeatedly by national and foreign press on stories under their noses. Political correctness essentially explains why.

"Morning Hot Dish," previously Berger's beat, has been taken over by a new Dardarian hire, J. Patrick Cooligan. It's awful: bullshit chatty, lowbrow and full of media self-references.

Worse, it steals unapologetically, in both tone and substance, from Blois Olson and his well read and deservedly well regarded free-subscription based "Morning Take." No honor among thieves, one gathers.

Which brings us to the one thing Dardarian has done: hire lots of truly mediocre reporters who write badly and on abysmal and idiotic topics. In this, perhaps, she's just imitating her boss, white Hispanic Rene Sanchez: hire no one who will threaten you but whom you can fire if things get rough. Allison Sherry in the DC bureau, who took over from the accomplished and well respected Kevin Diaz, now at the Houston Chronicle, as is Dardarian's predecessor, is the worst among the lot. If you're intelligent, you don't actually read the Star Tribune so much as put up with it; the Board editorials are a monument to brain dead liberalism. I'm not sure what this portends for its business model.

Of course, there was a turgid 5 part series about the dangers of ATV's that fairly screamed "nominate us for a Pulitzer about an invented story the general public doesn't care about." It bombed and when the reporters went online to have a real time discussion about the "issues" it raised, one was put in mind of a digital cemetery.

I thought, mistakenly, that Dardarian would view her new job in a new town as an opportunity for truly fresh, creative thinking, writing and reporting. Putting aside the exegiencies of print media in a dinosaur-like decline, Minnesota would have benefitted from someone in her position who wanted to shake things up.

As I wrote previously, and however fatuous the premise, Suki Dardarian said she went into journalism to change the world. Instead, she does what pleases management in order to get her paycheck and oversees a daily product of breathtaking incuriosity. Sic transit liberal arts majors.

This is odd because we've had, for example, a few articles about sleazy public education officials abusing their expense accounts. Why not more of this?

The renowned journalist Jack Shafer, of all people, said to me on Twitter that the Pulitzers are a "shit prize." Indeed they are (as are Polk & Peabody and those awful "regional" Emmys). But Dardarian has twice been on a Pulitzer jury so it's all she knows. Given her readership, though, who could tell the merely mediocre from the truly awful?

It takes some doing to make the Star Tribune worse than it was just a year ago but Suki Dardarian has done just that. Again, this must be what management wants but the product is truly awful. Any Minnesotan can ignore this newspaper and be equally if not more fully informed.

The new, revamped, highly touted Star Tribune website was supposed to launch last Sunday. As of this writing, it hasn't. Some might say this is emblematic of the comprehensive incompetence at all levels of the Star Tribune.

In preparing to write this post I found that Dardarian has me blocked on Twitter. I've never engaged directly with her, to my knowledge, and have a reputation of at least being polite with those with whom I disagree.

I can't take it personally. I can only assume that Dardarian isn't used to having her journalistic ideology challenged. From the falling arc of her career, it shows.

Photo credit: Suki Dardarian, Instagram

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tom Emmer Goes To Washington

Tom Emmer has long been a Rorschach test for Minnesota republicans: one saw in him what they wanted. Or, in my case, didn't. Now, however, his reach having certifiably exceeded his grasp, it is less easy to make of him what one wants, what one prefers, what one wishes. This is because Tom Emmer is now Congressman Emmer and even in that less than honorable chamber, one can't escape the consequences of one's behavior, here defined as voting.

I've watched with detached bemusement over the last several months the reaction in Minnesota to how Emmer has voted since becoming a freshman member of Congress in January of this year. Real time blogging interests me less and less in this age of Twitter & Periscope. Paradoxically, after a bit of time passes, blogging about something can have real value.

It takes a certain form of sophisticated naivete, together with a failure to have carefully observed his behavior before entering Congress, to think that Emmer would not vote for John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Yet many in Emmer's district, Minnesota's Sixth, famously--or infamously--represented previously by Michele Bachmann, were distraught that he did just that. To expect that a freshman member of Congress would, right out of the starting gate, castrate himself politically is absurd. Emmer cast the only vote that he could and one I fully understand. The critics of this vote want him to be both effective and a bomb thrower. The former is a matter of opinion while the latter role precludes any realized expression of it.

However, it is Emmer's subsequent vote, along with a distinct minority of fellow House republicans, to fully fund the Department of Homeland Security, and thereby not attempt to withhold funding of President Obama's illicit amnesty, that caused him real grief, both in and out of his district. Together with the Boehner vote this had made Emmer natives restless indeed.

Yet to focus on that angle is to miss the story, at least in my view. Naturally, local media focused on that angle.

It's true, of course, that this vote was highly unpopular with many in the Sixth. The Tea Party in Minnesota, which really doesn't exist truth be told, was in high dudgeon. Left or right, is there anything more tedious than people in high dudgeon? I confess to outrage fatigue.

Emmer's vote was amplified by his critics when he abandoned a previous commitment to appear at a local political convention, heavily attended by ersatz Tea Party members. Avoiding being held accountable by constituents was the tag assigned to the story and local media dutifully reported it as such, in keeping with their pledge not to tell you anything you either didn't already know or pretending it was the real story when it was anything but.

When a conservative white male, who heretofore has never talked about civil rights in his long public life, plays the Selma card, a certain admiration is due, despite simultaneous revulsion. And play the Selma card is precisely what Tom Emmer did in order to get out of the pre-existing commitment. Are you going to criticize his attendance at the Selma remembrance? No, bullet proof.

There is some dispute as to whether the local political convention was or was not on the Congressman's schedule. Again, this is beside the point.

Emmer, along with his chiefs of staff David Fitzsimmons & Sarah Walker, knows full well that he has to go back to his district and talk about his voting record, something which usually doesn't happen this early in a freshman's career. But there it is and activists in the Sixth had better get used to it.


Because Congressman Emmer was already predisposed to take the easy path, the one of least resistance and the one which can, and likely will, advance his interests on Capitol Hill.

David Strom has a reasoned piece about this at True North, where it originally appeared in Politics in Minnesota. It can be read by clicking here.

In it, Strom makes the case for Emmer no longer being an avatar of the activist base that got him into Congress but, instead, coming into his own as a legislator. It's a view worth considering. In a constitutional republic, the tension between representing and leading always exists.

Yet Emmer previously and eagerly took money to shill for the National Popular Vote initiative which would eviscerate the Electoral College. Pro-choice republicans have infinitely more credibility than these paid flacks. I'm one of the last to insist on litmus tests yet NPV surely must compel all decent republicans to repudiate those on our side who have taken cash to sell out our most essential principles. What else is left, if not this? "Oh, I don't know," I hear Jack & Annette Meeks say. Therein lies our problem.

In a similar vein, I took David Fitzsimmons to task some time ago when he ran as one thing and voted as another. He then blamed his constituents for not understanding whiplash when he lost the republican endorsement. Please. I admire Fitz, as people call him, because I admire successful people. Yet my sources tell me Emmer's DC office is run unprofessionally, causing him to be thought of less by other Members of Congress. This is something that should be corrected.

Despite the desperate veneer of culture, cool and camp that liberal elites insist exists in the Twin Cities, once outside of Minnesota the state is seen as a higher level of hicks but hicks nonetheless. No need for a sloppily run office to reinforce that notion in DC.

What won't be corrected is Tom Emmer becoming ever more a happy and willing participate in the DC republican establishment. I'm half surprised he hasn't already endorsed Jeb Bush. To be fair, Emmer joins the equally undistinguished John Kline and Eric Paulsen in thriving in that establishment.

Which brings us back to who really controls Minnesota republican politics: those moral cancers Vin Weber & Norm Coleman. The former is a lobbyist for Gazprom & the latter for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Whatever your definition of political whores is, they fit the bill.

Until the republican base understands those who really call the shots, with their enormous reservoirs of cash and influence, they will continue to be played by the likes of Tom Emmer. On a fundamental level, they deserve it.