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January 13, 2005

Nick Coleman's Long Lost Child

What can I say about the City Pages?

Pro: Their graphics people are as cool as ever:

Illustration: City Pages

And when they stick to reporting the facts, they do some great journalism. That's a fact.

Con: When they swerve into opinion, anything goes.

For example, this piece by Mike Mosedale, which purports to tell the story of TCF's withdrawal of advertising from the Strib. The article fumbles so many key pieces of simple fact-checking, it might has well have been written by Coleman himself.

Hmmmm...

(Via Swanblog and Fraters)

This appeared in last week's 'Pages:

Last week, Bill Cooper, the chief executive of TCF Bank, fired off an angry letter in which he vowed that "TCF will never spend another dollar on advertising in the Star Tribune as long as I am chairman." Of course, Cooper, the former head of the state Republican Party, is known as something of a hothead. Last year, he spent about $10,000 to overturn a ticket he was issued for speeding on a snowmobile on Lake Minnetonka. [Objection: Relevance?]

Still, what could have rendered him so indignant that he would find it necessary to divorce one of the state's largest financial institutions from its biggest newspaper? Two words: Nick Coleman. More specifically, a December 29 piece in which the Strib columnist assailed as "extreme" the local bloggers who are behind Time magazine's blog of the year, Power Line.

For the past month or so, the unreconstructed Minnesota liberal Coleman has been engaged in a mutual shin-kicking contest with the neo-cons at Power Line. In various posts, the Power Line bloggers have called Coleman "the Star Tribune's worst columnist," "a partisan hack," and "a prevaricating scoundrel."

Mosedale omits, of course, that Powerline (and the whole Northern Alliance) have backed up those claims over and over and over and over again this past year. A reasonable person might look at the evidence, which blogs present, and the Star Tribune and City Pages won't, and realize there's a reason we keep piling on the man.

But a reasonable person reading the City Pages and who does not read blogs only has Mosedale's account to go by - and it's a misleading account, indeed.

The shin-kicking has been going on for years, with occasional fits and starts; it peaked last summer, with Strib editor Jim Boyd's imfamous article defaming Powerline, followed in the early autumn by Coleman dismissing with contempt the very bloggers he so viciously (and desperately) attacked last month.

Perhaps Mosedale needs to read a blog or two?

When the feud spilled into the vast right-wing echo chamber known as the blogosphere [You gonna take that, New Patriot?], the tone became even nastier. (David Strom, president of the Taxpayers League, set the bar lowest, declaring on his blog that Coleman "is a prick. An asshole. A shitty writer.")

In his end-of-the-year column, Coleman produced some vitriol of his own.

Mosedale makes this sound like a tit-for-tat pissing match. Perhaps Coleman thinks it is - my exchange with him in December related to an abortive attempt to book him on the Northern Alliance Radio Network show makes it sound like he thinks it's personal.

It's not. We, the Northern Alliance as a group, have been attacking Coleman for years, now, for his myopic presentation of Minnesota political issues, his ludicrously hamfisted depiction of Republicans and conservatives, his high-handed arrogance in dealing with anyone who disagrees with him, and his shoddy writing.

Above all, oh lordy, the shoddy writing.

After all that, really, I doubt if any of us cares to get personal.

Mosedale starts to swerve toward the story...:

Noting that one of the Power Line bloggers, a St. Paul lawyer named Scott Johnson, works for TCF, Coleman implied that Johnson's superiors at TCF might be bankrolling Power Line.
...without actually hitting it. Coleman implied that Powerline was on the take from prominent Republicans, and not reporting it. Blog readers probably know this, as well as Powerline's other charges against Coleman; Mosedale's readers don't get to learn this.
Near the end of the column, Coleman mused on the possibility of withdrawing piles of money from TCF.

That pushed Cooper over the edge. "To suggest that customers of TCF Bank should move their money because of a TCF employee's blogging activities (an exercise of free speech) is just wrong," Cooper harrumphed in his letter to the Strib.

So is it right for TCF to financially punish the Strib when Nick Coleman exercises his free speech?

Is it right? It's their money! The Strib has to earn its advertisers!

Free speech is speech free of government censorship; it does not mean that it is free of consequence, as long as that consequence is within the bounds of the law. Sponsorship is not an entitlement, it's a voluntary contract!

Let's try to keep this straight:

  • Scott Johnson was writing in his capacity as a private citizen. Not an agent of TCF.
  • Nick Coleman was writing in his capacity as a Strib employee - their star columnist.
  • Nick Coleman was calling on people to boycott TCF, an entity completely unrelated to Scott Johnson or Powerline.
  • Asking people to boycott TCF because of the unrelated speech of Nick Coleman would be like me telling people to drop the Strib because Nick Coleman cut me off in traffic at 2AM; it would really have nothing to do with the Strib; the Strib would be well within their rights to pull their ads from Shot In The Dark, if they had any.
Is it "right" to expect TCF to keep giving money to a company that has (by extension) called for people to pull their money out?Before you DFLers answer that, think; your pensions may well have some TCF stock salted away. Nick Coleman is attacking your future; it's Bill Cooper's job to protect it.

Mike Mosedale seems ignorant of all this.

Yes, in Cooper's view. "What Nick Coleman said about TCF isn't true. We don't have anything to do with that [Power Line]." Cooper asserted that he'd never even heard of the Power Line blog before the honor from Time. "I still haven't read it. So why am I drawn into this thing? Why is TCF brought into it?"
Mosedale doesn't answer this. I'd like to know what he thinks about this. If you're a City Pages staffer, please convey to Mr. Mosedale my invitation to answer the question.
If you believe media gossip, the yanked TCF ads will cost the Strib some $250,000. Cooper said he doesn't know the precise dollar figure. Strib editor Anders Gyllenhaal declined to answer financial questions.

Meanwhile, the Power Line blogger known as Big Trunk--TCF's Scott Johnson--has posted a five-point demand that Coleman retract his "false and defamatory" statements. Then, perhaps in the hope that Cooper might one day start reading Power Line, the Big Trunk affixed his lips to the boss's ass. "Bill Cooper," he wrote in a post excoriating Coleman, "is one of my heroes."

Trunk "...affixed his lips..."?

Mike; are you auditioning for Coleman's job? Do you know something we don't?

Bill Cooper's story is an inspiring one, if you can put your "bosses versus the proletariat" stereotypes aside for a moment...oh, I know that's a big "if" for some of you, isn't it? Clinker is, I've seen Scott Johnson relate the story, and I know something you don't; Johnson's admiration for Cooper is genuine.

Which is more than we can say for most of Mike Mosedale's story.

Wow. If only the City Pages were a blog...

Posted by Mitch at January 13, 2005 06:32 PM | TrackBack
Comments

I'm *almost* tired of this whole thing, but not yet. :-)

1) Scott Johnson was writing while at TCF - we've agreed on this one.

2) Nick Coleman is not calling on people to boycott TCF! Can you read?

"If I had the money they think I do, I'd put it all in TCF. Then I'd pull it out."

3) If I was a TCF investor, I would seriously question Cooper's business judgement. He angrily pulled advertising out of the state's biggest newspaper because of some petty squabble with an editorial writer? That's no way to manage your investor's money.

Posted by: Chuck Olsen at January 13, 2005 07:28 PM

"I'm *almost* tired of this whole thing, but not yet. :-)

1) Scott Johnson was writing while at TCF - we've agreed on this one."

Apparently not, since it is of *no* bearing on the issue. None. Zip, zilch, nada, nichevo, keine.

"2) Nick Coleman is not calling on people to boycott TCF! Can you read?

"If I had the money they think I do, I'd put it all in TCF. Then I'd pull it out."

Can I read? Apparently better than you, Chuck; calling that anything other than a call to boycott can be nothing but deliberately obtuse.

"3) If I was a TCF investor, I would seriously question Cooper's business judgement."

As, indeed, the board and shareholders would be placed to do, if he did anything wrong. As Cooper knows.

"He angrily pulled..."

Angrily? You're clairvoyant?

" ...advertising out of the state's biggest newspaper because of some petty squabble with an editorial writer? That's no way to manage your investor's money."

Or maybe it is. The Strib has been losing readership; it'd be the last place I'd put my advertising bucks, unless I was trying to sell to people who remember fireside chats on the radio.

Chuck! You gotta spend some time in mersh media someday! You could learn sumfin!

Posted by: mitch at January 13, 2005 07:42 PM

I guess we're not going to agree on a whole lot... not surprising. Amazing we can share a beer, no?

1) Scott Johnson blogging on the clock is of zero significance? Umm, TCF pulled it's advertising because Nick Coleman called him on just that. Is that an elephant in your living room, Mitch? Your shrink ray isn't working on it.

2) I stand by my statement. Nick Coleman is not calling for a boycott in his column. Maybe you should consult a document expert? If you want a see what a call to boycott TCF looks like, try Norwegianity. Which I'm sure you already have.

3) True, they probably don't need the Strib since TCF just posted double-digit profit gains and gave each executive $6000/day.

mersh media?

Posted by: Chuck Olsen at January 13, 2005 09:40 PM

OK. Once more, from the top.

"1) Scott Johnson blogging on the clock is of zero significance? Umm, TCF pulled it's advertising because Nick Coleman called him on just that."

First, Chuck: The UN banned the theatrical "Ummm" from blog comments in 2002. I'll notify the authorities next time. You've been warned.

Second: *where* and *when* Scott Johnson blogs is of no consequence to anyone, since a) it has NOTHING to do with the blog, and b) Johnson's performance is a matter of review by the TCF board, which (it stands to reason, since it's a matter of fiduciary interest) is probably a lot more strenuous than most job reviews.

Third; To my recollection, the Cooper letter was more concerned about Coleman's defamatory statements (of which the "paneled office" slander was the least important) and the "take your money out of TCF" reference.

"Is that an elephant in your living room, Mitch? Your shrink ray isn't working on it."

Huh?

Is that a metaphor with hernia in your vocabulary? Because it's going to need a chain mail truss.

"2) I stand by my statement. Nick Coleman is not calling for a boycott in his column. Maybe you should consult a document expert?"

Everyone I've shown that column to has said it looked like a "subtle" call to boycott. That includes Democrats, Republicans, Disinteresteds, USBank customers...

" If you want a see what a call to boycott TCF looks like, try Norwegianity. Which I'm sure you already have."

On my list of priorities, reading "Norwegianity" comes somewhere below sandblasting my scrotum. I read it twice a year, to go "there but for the grace of God..."

"3) True, they probably don't need the Strib since TCF just posted double-digit profit gains and gave each executive $6000/day. "

It's all that Iraqi oil.

Posted by: mitch at January 13, 2005 10:17 PM

Mersh = "Commercial".

As in "non-Public"

Posted by: mitch at January 13, 2005 10:18 PM

Strib's Sunday circ is up, albeit a small amount, but better up than down. Daily numbers are apparently more difficult, since they've changed however they arrive at the numbers - but it seems as if this year and last are virtually indistinguishable. It's not circling the drain, in any case.

Posted by: Lileks at January 13, 2005 10:35 PM

Ahhh mersh. That's so mersh.
Hey I'm out of the public sector baby.
Read to cash in. Or something.

Here's his letter:

While I have disagreed with the Star Tribune on many issues, I respect with all my heart your right of freedom of the press and free speech. Apparently Nick Coleman does not share these values.

To suggest that customers of TCF Bank should move their money because of a TCF employee's blogging activities (an exercise of free speech) is just wrong. To suggest that an employer of an individual who exercises free speech rights should be punished is, I am sure, a violation of journalistic ethics and perhaps a legal issue.

Just for the record, the first time I ever heard of Power Line (which I have never read) was when I read about it in Time Magazine. To suggest that TCF or I am somehow the creator or supporter of Power Line is simply not true. Incidentally, Mr. Coleman never contacted me to ask if I was behind it (another example of great journalism!).

One thing I can assure you of is that if your columnists can suggest that people stop banking at TCF because of the political activities of one of its employees, TCF will never spend another dollar on advertising in the Star Tribune as long as I am Chairman.

---

See, so much of this is open to interpretation and exaggeration of shadows of insinuations.

Is Nick Coleman suggesting a TCF boycott? Not explicitly, no. A "subtle" call to a boycott, because everyone does what Nick hypothetically does? Sure, you could think that.

Regardless of the significance of Scott blogging on the TCF clock, he does it and Nick called him on it. I think it has significance - I think Cooper agrees with Scott's political views and turns a blind eye to it. If it's of no consequence, then why is TCF so pissed off seeing it in print?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go wash the image of you sandblasting your scrotum out of my brain. The third glass of wine should do the trick... please God, let it do the trick.

Posted by: Chuck Olsen at January 13, 2005 11:58 PM

Thanks for posting the letter, Chuck:

"While I have disagreed with the Star Tribune on many issues, I respect with all my heart your right of freedom of the press and free speech. Apparently Nick Coleman does not share these values."

Arguably a stretchy inference. The only one, by my count.

"To suggest that customers of TCF Bank should move their money because of a TCF employee's blogging activities (an exercise of free speech) is just wrong."

In this, Cooper is absolutely correct. Coleman's linking of Johnson's job to his blogging was cowardly, puerile, the work of a dismal, pathetic little character.

" To suggest that an employer of an individual who exercises free speech rights should be punished is, I am sure, a violation of journalistic ethics and perhaps a legal issue."

Cooper was very nearly right.

"Just for the record, the first time I ever heard of Power Line (which I have never read) was when I read about it in Time Magazine. To suggest that TCF or I am somehow the creator or supporter of Power Line is simply not true. Incidentally, Mr. Coleman never contacted me to ask if I was behind it (another example of great journalism!)."

Cooper is correct on both counts.

"One thing I can assure you of is that if your columnists can suggest that people stop banking at TCF because of the political activities of one of its employees, TCF will never spend another dollar on advertising in the Star Tribune as long as I am Chairman."

And even though I've never had an account at TCF, I'm tempted to put some money in there just for the pure principal of it all. And, by the way, if the bank prez had been a Wellstonian hamster, I'd say the same exact thing.

"See, so much of this is open to interpretation and exaggeration of shadows of insinuations."

In the same way that a cold slap on the face is "open to interpretation";

"Is Nick Coleman suggesting a TCF boycott? Not explicitly, no. A "subtle" call to a boycott, because everyone does what Nick hypothetically does? Sure, you could think that."

I can't comprehend the obtusion necessary to see Coleman's statement as anything but a whack at TCF for employing Johnson.

"Regardless of the significance of Scott blogging on the TCF clock, he does it and Nick called him on it. I think it has significance - I think Cooper agrees with Scott's political views and turns a blind eye to it. If it's of no consequence, then why is TCF so pissed off seeing it in print?"

Good question. What would you say if a big baaad republican fired a liberal Veep for blogging?

"Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go wash the image of you sandblasting your scrotum out of my brain. The third glass of wine should do the trick... please God, let it do the trick."

Dunno, dude. I've been trying to drink the notion of Mark Gisleson attacking a tank with his gonads off my mind for over a year now. The whisky ain't workin'.

Posted by: mitch at January 14, 2005 01:19 AM

I've read Powerline a number of times, it is my stop between Fraters and here, and I've never read anything that Big Trunk is getting paid by TCF for the hours he spends blogging. I am not going to pretend to know how he is paid, but referring to his blogging as "on the clock" is wrong without having knowledge of his contract and behavior.

The notion that, because Scott Johnson works at TCF the chairman has the same opinion, is just about the greatest step away from reality one can take. Cooper has the same opinions of everyone of the TCF employees?

Cooper is right, if one of the columnists for the paper does little to no research when accusing his business of secretive political support, the money gets pulled. It's called "biting the hand that feeds" and has been referred to a long time.

The Strib is driven by the advertisers and not the readership, when the advertisers go away they'll have to start up the journalism machine again.

Posted by: Matt at January 14, 2005 09:44 AM

“I've read Powerline a number of times, it is my stop between Fraters and here, and I've never read anything that Big Trunk is getting paid by TCF for the hours he spends blogging. I am not going to pretend to know how he is paid, but referring to his blogging as "on the clock" is wrong without having knowledge of his contract and behavior.”

I agree, I’m assuming that Big Trunk as a VP is probably salaried (as am I) and there really isn’t such a thing as “on the clock” since you’re almost always work a lot more than a 40 hour week. If Johnson is anything like the Veeps I work with, he’s probably more likely to work 8-8 than 9-5 plus take work home with him (as well as taking phone calls) in the evenings, on the weekends, and what is laughably referred to as a “vacation.”

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