|[The bike lobby takes on the newspapers.]|
Here’s the thing that progressive Minneapolis voters should remember when reading these endorsements: the Star Tribune is now clearly a conservative, Republican-owned, Republican-leaning paper.
This challenges the paper’s reputation. I'm often out chatting with people, and occasionally a semi-talk-radio type will refer to it as "The Red Star", as if the Star Tribune is some sort of left-wing journalistic bastion.
(For the record, the star is clearly green.)
Journalism fans, don't get me wrong! The Strib is a great paper. I am super-duper glad that it's thriving, and that so many good reporters are paid a decent wage (I hope!) to cover local, regional, and state stories and politics. We should not take that for granted, and especially in this age of media attrition. As a Saint Paulite, and someone who has watched our paper get "harvested" until almost every reporter is under the age of 25, I am extremely happy the Star Tribune has maintained its excellence seventeen years into the 21st century.
(Maybe local ownership has something to do with that? I don't know. That's certainly NOT true for locally-owned KSTP.)
But the "rep" that the Star Tribune has built up over years as having a center-left editorial stance? That's not really the case any more.
Here's some evidence supporting my claim.
Who Owns the Strib?
|[The owner of the Strib.]|
The paper has had a long history of being more center than left. They endorsed Meg Tuthill in 2013 against DFL-endorsed Lisa Bender, for example. But they also endorsed Betsy Hodges, calling on her to do a few big things: support transit, follow through with her “Cradle-to-K Cabinet” proposal, and work for equity. They called for a “fully developed transit system, a birth-to-graduation emphasis on academic achievement for all youths, and housing and job opportunities for young and old, regardless of the color of their skin or the neighborhood in which they live.”
Well, it’s important for everyone to know that in mid-2014, Glen Taylor bought the Star Tribune.
Who is Glen Taylor? He’s a billionaire business owner,
who made his fortune with the Fastenal company, a big Minnesota corporation that makes something to do with plastic shipping stuff.
[Ed. Whoopsies! Something completely wrong in there. Turns out I was thinking about a different 80s Minnesota Republican, Bob Kierlin. Taylor Corp has something to do with printing, and is like the biggest company in Mankato.] (Dunno!)
Anyway, he also owns the Timberwolves and Lynx. And he’s also a former Republican state senator who served as Minority Leader of the Republican caucus in the 1980s. The rightward lurch of the paper post-2014 becomes clearer when you know who owns it.
The Strib loves stadium subsidies
|[Totally not falling apart already!]|
This sort of makes sense once you consider the fact that sports are one the few remaining cash cows in the media sphere. The Vikings stadium, which is still killing birds at the very same time that it's falling apart, is a great example.
Ironically enough, the one the thing that didn’t change when the Star Tribune was purchased by a billionaire sports team owner was the paper’s stance on subsidizing stadiums for privately-owned sports teams. The Star Tribune has supported that for years. They opined in favor of the Vikings stadium deal more than a few times.
It’s clear that at least one of their motivations was that the Star Tribune itself stood to gain from the deal, as part of their land sale. And that’s exactly what happened.
That’s not the only stadium subsidy the Strib has supported. They also thought that giving tax-exempt status to a new soccer stadium - part owned by Glen Taylor, of course - was a great idea in 2015.
(Of course, the United stadium, which has no actual tax dollars invested in it, is a far better deal than the Vikings, Timberwolves, or even Twin stadium... But the point remains.)
The Strib’s pro-business stance is also anti-working class
|[City Hall when it was new.]|
The story that came out today about how the Downtown Council and Minneapolis business interests are trying hard to influence the City Council races is a great example of this point. Since Taylor bought the paper, the Star Tribune has come out against nearly every piece of progress for working people that the City has made in the last four years. In a Trump age, when cities are one of the only places where progressive policy can happen, that's a big deal. And on no set of issues is the Strib's editorial stance clearer than on Minneapolis' efforts to support working families.
Let's look at some examples. The paper came out hard against the local minimum wage. They advocated for watering down the minimum wage ordinance, if we had to have one. That included advocating for a tip penalty (which was, thankfully, not included in the final ordinance), and for the definition of “large business” to be 250 employees or more. (The definition the Council adopted was 100.)
The Star Tribune editorial page then called on the Legislature to preempt all local action on wages and employees’ rights generally, to kill not just the City’s recent pro-worker ordinances but any it could adopt in the future. They vehemently opposed all aspects of the Working Families Agenda, including calling for the Fair Scheduling ordinance to be “buried.” They took a strong position against adopting the Earned Sick and Safe Time ordinance which passed the Council unanimously.
And as with the correlation between direct financial benefit to the Star Tribune from the stadium deals its editorial board supports, it’s clear that at least some of their opposition to bettering the lives of Minneapolis workers stemmed directly from their own self-interest. Nowhere was this clearer than with the letter the Publisher and CEO sent opposing the Earned Sick and Safe Time ordinance. It’s worth a read. They opposed an Earned Sick and Safe Time ordinance because they don’t want to give sick and safe time benefits to their employees.
They’ve come out against a lot of other progress
|[Tumblebags in Minneapolis: one of the city symbols.]|
The list of conservative positions taken by the Star Tribune editorial board extends well beyond workplace policies. They’ve staked out conservative, “law and order” positions on public safety. They came out against repealing low-level “livability” crimes like “lurking” and spitting (this effort passed the Council 12-1). They publicly defended Mike Freeman’s decision not to charge the officers who killed Jamar Clark.
They took a mostly positive view of the purely symbolic move to cut the property tax levy in 2014, dubbed the “latte levy”, because it would save the average Minneapolis property taxpayer enough to buy one cup of coffee per year. They noted without comment that the levy reduction was accomplished by “cutting funds for a neighborhood organizing program, the city’s convention center, its new Clean Energy Initiative, a disparity study planned for the Civil Rights Department, and on counseling and outreach programs for new homeowners.” And the paper positively glowed about $1 million in new funding for Bob Kroll's MPD.
On the environment, their stances have called for the City to apply the brakes. “Proceed with caution” was their ambiguously unsupportive advice on single-use disposable bags. They were clearer about energy: Xcel and Centerpoint are fine, leave this issue alone. And when Council Members started the process to try to hold Wells Fargo accountable for supporting pipelines and taking advantage of customers, the Star Tribune predictably came to the big bank’s aid.
They have a pattern of supporting conservative candidates and positions
|[A vote for Mills was a vote for Trump.]|
The Star Tribune endorsed Republican Stuart Mills over Rick Nolan in 2014. Oh, and Republican John Kline. And Republicans Tom Emmer and Erik Paulsen in 2016. If you think that Republican control of the House of Representatives is a good thing, than this shouldn't bother you... (Also, you should move to Wisconsin.)
And then there are the columnists. All of the above examples are of formal positions by the Star Tribune Editorial Board itself. There are also the regular columnists like Jon Tevlin, for example, who really likes criticizing bike lanes, and does it often. And need I even mention Katherine Kersten?
(My own mother asked me about her the other day. I had to sigh audibly, and attempt to apologize for my favorite newspaper.)
Three key takeaways:
- This isn’t the Star Tribune you remember. Since it was purchased by wealthy Republican sports-team owner Glen Taylor, its positions have lurched to the right.
The Star Tribune takes editorial opinions connected to the perceived economic best interest of the company itself and its owners. The clearest examples are the Vikings stadium deal and opposition to protections for their own employees.a [I updated and rephrased this a bit below.]
- If you support any of the progress the City of Minneapolis has made over the last four years, you should know that the Star Tribune probably disagrees with you on that policy. More likely than not, they opposed it.
|[Rybak, c. 1985, the downtown development reporter.]|
It used to be that wasn't a huge deal, as someone like R.T. Rybak perfectly illustrates. Former Star Tribune reporter becomes Downtown Council media guy becomes popular centrist liberal mayor. (And then pushes the Vikings stadium deal.) He's really the perfect example of how those three worlds and roles overlap and in many ways are sides of the same coin.
But these days, cities and city politics have become the new battle ground. The case in point is pre-emption bills, like the recent state plastic bag ban ban. (Surprisingly powerful lobby right there: the Progressive Bag Alliance.) That's the tip of a larger anti-urban power grab that, if the right-wing had their druthers, might ban just about every progressive urban movement.
Anyways... I saw this on Twitter and absolutely believe it:
Point is that the "interests of the paper" are almost always more vague than specific. The two recent exceptions were the actual ownership of the parking lot land next to the Vikings stadium, which was an obvious case of private interest, and the sick-time situation. But that aside, typically the "interests" are a lot less tangible, and more about reinforcing the interests of the city's general business class. In that way, it's almost exactly like the Chamber of Commerce. Thus the stance against sick time referenced above.
Then there's sports. The Star Tribune editorial board is and was always going to be in favor of a Vikings stadium and in fact every stadium because #1) it's the perfect local oriented pro-business subsidy, and #2) as I said, sports are pretty much the one revenue stream that local media has going for it that hasn't sort-of collapsed. E.g., if things continue as-is, the Pioneer Press will eventually just be a sports page, crossword puzzle, and the "bulletin board," with an occasional auto-generated Soucheray column ranting about straws on the top. Let's hope we can avoid that fate!