Newspapers can’t win, but it doesn’t help matters if you’re the Star Tribune

January 4, 2007

The Star Tribune has been taking a hell of a beating in recent months. What with their inexorable downward economic spiral, which culminated in their recent surprise sale, their decision early last year to stop their employees from “stealing” the paper, their redesign which actually may have contributed to killing their circulation, it doesn’t sound like a fun place to work right now.

On top of all that, the paper’s being fired upon from both the left and the right. Conservative bloggers have called the paper the worst newspaper in the United States. Ouch.

Normally, if you’re a newspaper and you’re angering both Republicans and Democrats, you’re doing something right. But this is a screenshot of the Star Trib’s politics headlines for yesterday, the day the new Senate was sworn in:


I don’t want to imply that Ms. Klobuchar does not deserve to make front page headlines for her accomplishments, but what about Keith Ellison? He may be only a Representative instead of a senator, but he is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress (and yesterday he performed his ceremonial swearing-in using Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Quran from the Library of Congress. That should have been a front-page headline for the Tribune. Instead, Ellison got two paragraphs at the end of Klobuchar’s article.

This can’t have been accidental. When I was researching Ellison immediately after his victory, the St. Paul Pioneer Press–picked up mostly by readers in District 4, rather than Minneapolis’s District 5–had more coverage on Ellison than did the Star Tribune. In fact, the Tribune ran only a bar graph showing how many votes Ellison received in comparison with his opponents.

Sure, they’d given him lots of pre-election coverage. Most of it was digging up dirt about his checkered past–and if you want to talk about checkered pasts, Ellison’s got one. There’s this big hullaballoo about Obama trying cocaine, which was a bad decision on his part, but Ellison was part of an anti-Semitic group for a few years, which was a bad decision. Ellison claimed he didn’t realize that the group had anti-Semitic beliefs, he apologized, and it obviously didn’t cost him a victory. But still.

I’m still piqued by what I see as a slight to Ellison. Maybe–to give the paper the benefit of the doubt–they’re trying to downplay his religion, which is what Ellison’s been trying to do. Throughout his campaign, he was consistent in saying that “there are people in a better position to speak on all things Muslim than [he],” and when some of his supporters began to yell “Allah Akbar” at Ellison’s victory party, he looked almost uncomfortable. A very religious man he’s not. This is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, and yet we have other politicians warning their constituents that if immigration isn’t tightened, there will be “many more Muslims elected to office” (Ellison shook his hand and invited him to coffee). And on top of it all, the Trib’s virtually ignoring the man. (Today, the fourth story in the politics section mentions Ellison, but you wouldn’t get that if you were skimming, like most readers do.) And still they’re getting slammed from the right.

Yeah. Newspapers can’t win.

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