Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Minnesota Media & The End of Session

"Some knew the answer.  Some wouldn't tell."
--The New Pornographers 
Minnesotans could be forgiven for thinking themselves well informed if by informed one means consuming Minnesota television, radio, print and internet news products. They aren't, of course, but in the final analysis they can hardly be blamed for what passes as media coverage in this state.

The end of the legislative session provided an object lesson in media homogeneity, media self-absorption and media malpractice. Viewing all of this through the transformative medium of Twitter was not for the faint of heart.

It was, of course, altogether another matter for the chuckleheads and suckups who pretend to know exacting journalism when they see it and thank, scattershot, all of the journalists who tweet, who "report," who publish. We're just so gol darn lucky to have them tell us what they think we should think. Saves us the effort, ya know? Tweets from the hysteroid personality incarnate, Lars Leafblad, exemplified this. It's hard to top his unctuous, end of session tweet to media, which can be seen by clicking here. Astute users of Twitter will see who retweeted it (five), who favorited it (twenty-two) and who replied (one).

My idea of hell is to be endlessly reincarnated as Lars Leafblad because not even killing myself would bring relief. Pangloss has nothing on him.

The idea of local media routinely falling short of excellence, of thoroughness and of being a critical lens through which to assess the actions of Minnesota's state legislators and its governor never crosses those types' minds. It's like the lousy food in this state: put it in front of them and they'll eat it. Come to think of it, why not News Trucks™, where the pablum is ladled out to grateful rubes? Food Frauds™ like Andrew Zimmern could continue to prosper while everyone else can pretend that they learn something watching "At Issue" or "Almanac," (the Olive Garden of political television shows) or reading the two local newspapers, or ingesting state sponsored radio.

It's Minnesota: lie back and think of Sweden.

Instead of quality journalism, we were treated to a simulacrum of it, a lazy "the-clock-is-ticking narrative," starting in earnest on the last Friday of the session when the democrat senate leader and the republican house leader announced a budget deal on the lawn of the he's-not-all-there Governor Dayton. As if to prove that fact, which the media know & talk about amongst themselves but never on the record, Dayton later that night gave an exclusive to his media teacher's pet who dutifully recorded that suddenly the deal which was brokered in his own mansion would be vetoed by him. A thoughtful reader--obviously not Minnesota media's target audience--was left wondering what sort of executive incompetence was in play given the governor's party controls the state senate and these negotiations stretched out over five days in his official residence.

Dayton suddenly claimed that "pre-K" education had been his highest legislative priority, despite the paucity of supporting evidence. Given the ruinous effect of our failed public education system, people from across the political spectrum objected. No matter. It was what our mostly part-time governor wanted because he was indebted to the state's most poisonous union, Education Minnesota. That this could damage private child care in the state was an added bonus to the vindictive governor's agenda who had failed to unionize them previously.

You won't find many stories about this topic, though. It makes a demonstrably bad democrat governor look worse. Dayton would go on to veto two more bills. Where had he been all year? Media don't know and won't deign to find out. Has any reporter embedded himself in the governor's office to see if Mark Dayton can put in a 40 hour work week? Of course not and for the obvious reason: they already know the answer.

Meanwhile, we were treated on Twitter to pictures of reporters being handed board games such as Scrabble while they waited for something to happen. When the principals to the budget negotiations wisely decided not to conduct them in public and refrained from speaking with the press in any substantive manner, the whining on social media became embarrassing except to the media whiners, whose lack of self-awareness is almost total. Democracy was somehow being undermined, said they, those who to a person couldn't find any solidarity with the slaughtered of Charlie Hebdo and who routinely get scooped by national and international outlets on subjects under their noses that they are too politically correct to report upon.

Nothing could top, however, the Star Tribune's worst reporter (so much competition for that title) playing chess with one of Gov. Dayton's top aids and tweeting a picture of such. An astute person pointed out to them that the chess board was upside down. Commentary is rendered superfluous but it captured the malpractice and insincerity of political coverage perfectly.

All this time, though, Minnesota's governor was held hostage by a special interest with direct and indirect ties to his own personnel. Media reported anything but that in a sustained way. Sure, there was the proverbial glancing blow, which is to say a mention, that some thought this was the case but it was never allowed, by design, to become a media narrative.

By contrast, had a republican been in the pocket of big pharma, big business or big pro-life (no such thing exists, alas), the media coverage would have been radically different. Which is to say, extensive. And with a negative narrative.

It's the kind of bias and double standard that even casual observers of Minnesota media have come to expect. What is a source of continuous astonishment to me is the unwarranted high regard in which they hold themselves. Some say that they don't know how biased and one-sided they are, similar to a fish not knowing that it is in water.

But fish do know, just take them out of water. And media do know, just critique them.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Once More Into The Buzzsaw: Minnesota Republicans, The Zeitgeist & Social Issues

Yesterday a group of Minnesota Republican Senators introduced legislation that would grant a limited number of businesses an exemption from providing wedding services to same sex couples on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs.

Where, I thought to myself, have they been these last several months? And what, precisely, precipitated the need for introducing this kind of legislation and with only a couple of weeks remaining in the session? Republicans aid in their own marginalization in Minnesota by their ham handed, wholly incompetent handling and addressing of social issues. We've all seen this movie.

What, then, could be the explanation? According to the reporting of David Montgomery in the Pioneer Press, lead author of the bill Sen. Paul Gazelka said "a family in his district was fined for refusing to host a same-sex wedding on their property."

The usual suspects weighed in and were quoted in Montgomery's piece. His typically thorough reporting can be read here. Outfront Minnesota was polite but firmly against the bill. Why on earth would they be for it, in any shape? I confess to being amused that the Minnesota Family Council thought the bill granted too many "concessions" but were supporting it. The effort looked futile on its face: zero support from the left and wholesale reservations on the right. These senators appear to have no innate talent for politics.

And politics is what this is. Cue the media responses, which cast the measure in terms of anti-this and anti-that, not religious freedom or freedom of conscience. This is to be expected, of course, except early on I saw no indication that supporters of this out-of-nowhere bill understood it.

Javier Morillo was quick to cast this in the most extreme language: "When did gay hating bakers become a thing?" This is of a piece with the professional left and its routine demonization of anything with which it disagrees. A disagreeable tactic? In my view yes but too often quite effective. Conservatives need to do better to neutralize the over the top rhetoric--mockery is deadly to the deadly serious left--but this is precisely the sort of reaction one should have expected and been prepared to push back against. You can read Morillo's piece by clicking here.

Sally Jo Sorensen, writing at Bluestem Prairie, sees a wedge issue for exploitation by republicans in rural Minnesota in the 2016 election, with a focus on the bad guys capturing the Minnesota Senate. This was the first thought that crossed my mind as well but I'm not as confident in the red team's ability to pull this off as she appears to be. Then again, there seems to be little else, at least on the surface, and at least this early, to justify this development. Her post can be read by clicking here. 

Doug Grow, writing at MinnPost, notes accurately that "[t]here also appears to be no support from anyone the [sic] GOP’s leadership in the Senate or the House to take on this issue this year — or ever." His post can be read here. Gazelka even borrows the repulsive language of overgrown, petulant children known as college students and talks idiotically about "a public conversation that leads to a safe place so both sides can live their lives as they please.’’

Oh please. The last thing we need to do is incorporate language from the regions of cultural decay in order to advance thoughtless legislation the mere proposal of which is likely to harm republicans in Minnesota.

And that's the point: social issues, to the extent that they exist, needs must be handled adroitly and with finesse. Not even the most charitable observer of Minnesota republican acumen in this regard would give them a passing grade as of the last few years. Bringing up a topic that has divided the country lately, and with some nasty discourse primarily on the left, offers no benefits to a party that still can't think its way through a compelling message sufficient for Minnesotans to elect them to a single statewide office.