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Coverage of the 2009 Minneapolis Mayor's Race

(as noted on the Minneapolis e-democracy discussion list)


William McGaughey October 14, 2009 11:12 a.m.

Continuing a tradition of influencing and not merely reporting the news, a column by Jon Tevlin in today’s Star Tribune about some of the lesser known mayoral candidates might as well have been titled "Candidates challenging Mayor Rybak’s reelection bid are fruitcakes."

After taking a swipe at several of the candidates (me not included), the column focused on the whimsical campaign of Joey ("is awesome") Lombard, a 22-year-old musician. Much of the column concerned attitudes toward his running for Mayor by Lombard’s parents (who first thought it was a joke and then warmed up to the idea) and by his girl friend (who dumped him.) This was an amusing story from a certain point of view but not flattering to the group of this year's mayoral candidates, now painted with a broad brush.

On the other hand, I did appreciate Steve Brandt's article in the same paper about Rybak's ducking debates with the other candidates. (Admittedly, since the story tends to make Rybak look bad, it is to my advantage as one of his opponents.) I would say that this has been the main theme of this year's campaign for Minneapolis mayor has been the incumbent's nominally seeking reelection when he has his eye on another office. His attitude seems to be that he is so far above the other contenders that we hardly exist. The press also has followed that line.

Brandt's article brought out an interesting fact, not previously known to me: "Julie Hottinger, Rybak's campaign manager, said he plans to appear on Minnesota Public Radio with endorsed challengers, but that will be less than 24 hours before voters go to the polls."

Having successfully played hard to get, the incumbent mayor is in a good position to dictate terms. By a strict interpretation of "endorsed", Rybak’s opposition in the debate could be limited to one person - Papa John Kolstad, who has the endorsement of both the Republican and Independence parties. Rybak has the DFL endorsement, and the Green Party endorsed no one. By a broader interpretation, it might include the candidates of the Socialist Worker's Party, the Edgertonite National Party, and the New Dignity Party. Al Flowers, however, will be excluded. Is that a surprise?

If the debate is held less than 24 hours before the election, there will be limited time for the public to absorb the facts of the debate and reach a conclusion. I would suspect that this aspect, too, is carefully considered. Managing the image has been a Rybak specialty.


Carey Howell, October 15, 2009 7:06 a.m.

I really have to agree with Bill on this issue that there is no reason for a candidate not to have a free and open debate and in time for the folks who follow politics and elections to make an informed decision.

While I don't dislike Rybak in particular, I am not crazy about him either. I really don't like the field of other candidates we have. But in order for a voter to be informed you need more than sound bites, or silence and you need less than lectures. Given that opportunity to hear and see all the candidates at one time (at least) a person could have a clearer picture of who all the players are and make a more well thought out decision. This would give the voter a chance to look at candidates without the filter of other peoples' opinions.


Bill Dooley October 15, 2009 8:31 a.m.

Is this a column or regular news story? My understanding is that it is a columnist's job to shape the news.


Bill McGaughey, October 15, 2009 12:21 p.m.

Thank you for agreeing with me, Carey Joe Howell. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

With respect to Bill Dooley's comment that a columnist's job is to shape the news, my understanding is that it is to report a particular situation from the columnist's personal perspective. The columnist's comments will, of course, influence public perception of the person or situation being reported. I doubt that columnists associated with reputable commercial newspapers or news syndicates would admit to producing materials intended to help or hurt particular candidates - i.e., shape the news. That is rather the function of public-relations operatives associated with the candidates or political parties.

In this case, we have at least three different parts of the Star Tribune operation: 1. the news reporting, 2. the editorial writing, 3. writing columns. So far, there has been little news reporting of the mayor's race - perhaps because Rybak is considered to be so far ahead. There have not yet been editorials. When we have a column such as Tevlin’s devoted solely to the "minor" candidates which ridicules those candidates, that is the only image which readers will have of their campaigns. People will think these people are buffoons - and they won't bother to differentiate one candidate from another on that level. We're all in the same (buffoon) boat.

I'd like to see the news media get back to a more balanced type of reporting, one which is less judgmental and more factual. As it is, we have too often a consistently negative type of coverage of disfavored political candidates: (1) Silence: the candidate is ignored, (2) Ridicule: the candidate is declared to be unworthy of serious attention, (3) Demonization: the candidate is declared to be evil, someone who needs to be actively opposed. Seldom is there a public discussion of why candidates should be treated this way. The punishment is simply applied.

My own campaign for mayor is based on the assumption that I will never graduate to a place beyond those three categories. To the greatest extent possible, I am relying on techniques of communicating directly with voters - lawn signs, literature drops, public-access television - while hoping that the hurricane-force winds associated with the mass media will bypass my campaign and focus their energies elsewhere.

Let me say that I am not just talking about the Star Tribune. We have not had adequate coverage of the Minneapolis mayor's race from other media such as the commercial radio and television stations, City Pages, the Daily Planet, or MinnPost. has been a notable exception. KFAI did give each of the mayoral candidates two minutes of air time, but I notice that an hour-long program ("Truth to Tell") that aired yesterday on KFAI, which was titled "City Elections 2009", said nothing about the actual races for city offices. Instead, the program was about Ranked Choice Voting and the proposal to abolish the BET. Former Minneapolis mayor Don Fraser was a guest on the program but none of this year’s mayoral candidates. If this type of political coverage is intended to permit informed voting in the 2009 election, the voters will be disappointed.


Joe Nathan October 18, 2009 5:54 p.m.

William wrote in part, On Oct 15 2009, wrote:

" The columnist's comments will, of course, influence public perception of the person or situation being reported. I doubt that columnists associated with reputable commercial newspapers or news syndicates would admit to producing materials intended to help or hurt particular candidates - i.e., shape the news."

- - - - - - - - -

Having written weekly columns for the Pioneer Press from 1989 to 2004, and weekly columns for about 18 rural and suburban papers since 2005, I can tell you that many papers DO like to see a columnist be provocative - including writing a column about why one candidate or another is the wisest person to elect.

Fair-minded papers would run columns that advocate for different candidates - so all of the columns aren't recommending one person.
And sometimes (but not always) newspapers will run editorials that endorse certain candidates.

But newspapers are looking for columns (and columnists) that will "help shape the news." They publish columns that stimulate/challenge/provoke/encourage action by their readers.