My quicker take on Brian Lambert’s take on Katherine Kersten’s departure from the Strib: He’s irredeemably wrong, for reasons that are largely due to personal and vocational myopia.
I told you it’d be quick.
But that’s not all that satisfying, is it?
A couple of points, just as background.
- I used to be a reporter. I was a decent writer, and could cover a story, but I never really had the urge to immerse myself in making it in the field. My career began and ended as a freelancer, in between radio jobs. I was perfectly fine with that then, and even moreso now.
- Most “journalists” honestly believe that they are objective, or at least detached. With that in mind, they also believe that the organizations for which they work, individually and institutionally, are too.
- Many “journalists” also believe that they are part of a higher calling. The journalist’s trade has a collective mythology about it, studded with catchphrases like “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” and “Woodward and Bernstein” and “keeping an eye on the powerful”, and “fairness, clarity and balance”.
- These catchphrases animate a lot of “journalists” through the lean years of what is, for most reporters, a lean, niggling, awful career that, even when times were good, usually didn’t pay all that well or lead to any particular distinction. The attitude is the same one that drives people in a lot of spartan, tenuous careers – religious monks and policemen jump to mind. All fo them voluntarily immerse themselves in a spartan, aescetic life in pursuit of what they see as a greater good. Few people get rich in any of the fields; most careers are nasty, brutish and brutish and, while monks and cops can retire from the field, reporters rarely do.
- With that immersion comes a sense of exceptionalism. With exceptionalism comes an “us against them” attitude. With “Journalists”, that attitude is expressed via a belief that journalists are “high priests of knowledge”; that only a trained, qualified journalist can really tell a story clearly, truthfully and effectively.
And a couple more:
- An aphorism for you: From Sacramento, Boise is “way out east”.
- Keeping the above in mind: if a conservative orders a pizza in the woods, and a “sacramento” liberal is there to hear it, the liberal will hear “racism”, “whining”, “extremism” and “hate”. Among other things. Simultaneously.
- Oh, yeah; the latest meme: No matter what their tone (to say nothing of facts), a conservative pointing out any anti-conservative institutional bias is always “whining”.
Now, it’s been over twenty years since anyone mistook Brian Lambert for fair, balanced or non-partisan. For years, he carried water for the DFL as the Pioneer Press‘ broadcasting columnist, until he went to work (very briefly) as then-Senator Mark Dayton’s short-lived re-election campaign. He’s been bouncing among the Twin Cities’ online publications (and a stint as the liberal point to Sarah Janecek’s counterpoint on a short-lived KTLK-FM afternoon drive show). He’d be one of those “from Sacramento, Boise is far east” liberals; from his perspective, the Star/Tribune probably does seem stodgy, establishment and “conservative”.
And like most Twin Cities’ lefties, he’s happy to see Katherine Kersten leaving the Strib. Like most journalists, he probably figured the Strib was pretty fair and balanced before all those meddling
kids conservatives showed up.
In this case, the Powerguys:
The “boys”, Scott Johnson, John Hinderaker and Paul Mirengoff are worth mentioning here because they have played a critical role in this latest episode of self-abasement by Minnesota’s largest news organization
Editorial balance is “Self-Abasement”, when a conservative is involved.
While the Strib has always been attacked by right-wingers, usually for not adequately parroting the same talking points read off by Jason Lewis, Hugh Hewitt and the rest, the Power Line trio, Hinderaker and Johnson in particular, put a snake rattle in Anders Gyllenhaal’s head.
You can chalk that statement up to any number of things; I’ll chalk it up to Lambert being in “Sacramento” while Anders Gyllenhall is in “Boise” (as I sit in my office in Pittsburgh talking to most Americans, who are somewhere between Des Moines and Chicago). But I keep trying to ask left-ish media types – can you show me where the Strib’s editorial/op-ed pages have ever been fair, to say nothing of sympathetic, to any of the principles of the center-right? Forget about the hot-button issues like abortion and gun control; can you remember ever the Strib’s editorial board presenting a balanced view of, say, social security reform? Government growth? Local Aid to Government? Cutting deficits by cutting spending rather than raising taxes? School choice vs. the untrammelled power of the teachers’ union? Parental notification?
Can you remember the Strib doing a hatchet-job that benefitted anyone but a DFLer?
Get back to us on that one.
And when you do, tell us how that “balance” would actually be “parroting Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt and Jason Lewis”.
Their legalistic, grad-school punditry, high standing among echo chamber “base” Republicans, combined with Time magazine declaring them “Blog of the Year” after their assault on Dan Rather…
“Assault on Dan Rather”.
You read that right.
Pay no attention to the forged dox, the impossible scenario, the implausible backstory; Dan Rather was the victim, says Brian Lambert, on his way to his inevitable (indeed, boilerplate) conclusion that conservatives are whining.
Now, it has never been proven that it was Power Line specifically who pushed Gyllenhaal to commit himself to a conservative “counter balance” to Nick Coleman, but Coleman himself aside, I’ve yet to hear anyone at the Strib doubt that that’s the way it went down.
What if it’s true? Indeed, it should be true; it was Nick Coleman’s gutless, factually-vacant assault on Scott Johnson that brought the issue to a head; it was the sheer feckless factlessness of it all, one might think, that convinced Gyllenhall, the Strib‘s former editor, that he had a real problem on his hands.
There are idiot ranters who don’t give a damn about facts and fairness. They can be ignored. And then there are well-educated, well-connected ranters who craft cleverly parsed, fact-like assertions and make demons out of those who show them no respect. Those are more difficult to ignore.
Question: Why would one “ignore” the case that Powerline built against the Strib? Over the course of almost seven years of writing, and countless articles detailing with lawyerly precision the crimes of Jim Boyd, Anders Gyllenhaal, Doug Grow, Lori Sturdevant and Nick Coleman against truth (to say nothing of balance and fairness), what’s to ignore?
Oh, yeah. “They’re not journalists”.
That may not be exactly how Lambert would put it – “it has never been proven that Brian Lambert thinks only journalists are qualified to criticize journalism”, to paraphase Lambert – but really, what else could be behind it?
The point here is that Power Line in effect created the conflict that required the Strib to hire a Katherine Kersten and then pretty much delivered Kersten herself as the solution.
Powerline created decades of institutional bias? They “created” the arrogance and incompetence that led Jim Boyd to slander them? That led Nick Coleman to take a personal, defamatory (not remotely factual, certainly not “journalistically valid or ethical”) swipe at Scott Johnson?
Remember – Lambert is one of those lefty pundits that accuses conservatives of playing the victim.
Let’s go back to the background points: Journalists often see themselves as a class above and beyond the hoi polloi; they have a higher calling; they “paid their dues” in the “trenches” of the field, telling the truth when nobody else can; they often see themselves as being in the world, but not of it.
I use the term “high priests of knowledge”. Any given reporter may dispute that term, but it’s usually a difference of degree, not accuracy.
Kersten’s big problem, other than conservatism itself?
She’d never taken those same monastic vows:
Her arrival on the metro pages sent a clear message. Here was a purely partisan pundit with no reporting experience whatsoever. Moreover she was being set in place, with instant equal standing to a couple old dogs who had spent decades covering every imaginable facet of local culture…
Nick Coleman spent decades covering city council meetings and one-car accidents, learning (let’s be charitable) to write clearly and effectively, just like every “journalist” does when “paying his dues”.
And then, he became a columnist. Someone who markets not fact, but observation, “insight”, and opinion. One whose opinions led him to get a job as a talk show host on the local Air America affiliate, Lambert doesn’t trouble to add (he was a regular guest on Coleman’s abortive trainwreck of a morning show).
One has the right to ignore Coleman’s immense ideological baggage, and focus myopically on his “old dog”-ness as more of a qualification than Kersten’s background (academia and punditry).
But you’ll wait in vain for a defense that goes into greater depth than “because he’s a journalist, dammit”.
Kersten became the ying-to-Coleman’s-yang, the quid pro quo, the internal countershot.That’s another way of saying that Nick saw Kersten for what she was, and for who and what she represented, (right-wing journalism haters and Power Line, who to be clear, delight in vilifying Coleman) and Nick rose to the fight, caution be damned. (Nick is Irish. He can’t help it. It’s an ethnic curse.)
Part of that ethnic curse, perhaps, is that our Scandinavian anscestors used to loot, pillage and dominate Coleman and Lambert’s Irish anscestors with little more trouble than Johnson and Hinderaker chewing up Coleman’s writing.
Here’s the big finish:
As I tried to get across in the Rake piece and in countless blogs since, I had no quarrel at all with the Strib hiring a conservative metro columnist. They needed one. The problem was hiring a conservative columnist who was first, foremost and solely a partisan voice. Had they found someone on staff or around town who had the breadth and depth of experience Nick Coleman and Doug Grow had acquired from years of covering the full spectrum of culture;
And now we’re into the interesting stuff.
Several questions, Brian Lambert:
- Given the relentless “progressive” nature of the field of Journalism, where would a conservative candidate come from? Countless surveys show that less than 15% of reporters vote to the right of center.
- Most editors – certainly most Strib editors – aren’t all that far to the right of Brian Lambert. They’re “Boise” to his “Sacramento”. Which of them is going to promote a “Chicago” to the opinion page?
- Given the dearth of conservatives in newsrooms that proceed to “old dog”-itude, where does one find conservatives to serve in that role that you, yourself, acknowledge above was needed?
- Why do you assume that only an “old dog” reporter can tell a story?
Lambert is – consciously? – echoing Nick Coleman’s infamous, pedantic, supremely arrogant justification for his own position and status
But that’s my defense: I show my face in public. I have been a reporter longer than most bloggers have been alive, which makes me, at 54, ready for the ash heap. But here’s what really makes bloggers mad: I know stuff.
I covered Minneapolis City Hall, back when Republicans controlled the City Council. I have reported from almost every county in the state, I have covered murders, floods, tornadoes, World Series and six governors.
In other words, I didn’t just blog this stuff up at midnight.
Nick Coleman “knows stuff” – because he was a reporter.
Top-flight lawyers? Economists? Career guys and keen observers? Divorced guys on their third careers? Ivy-league trained thinkers?
If they didn’t spend thirty years sitting in City Council meetings (or writing about TV shows, apparently), then they are not of the order.
It’s not the ability to observe, to build a case, to tell the story, to make sense. It’s that thirty years of ticket punching that really counts.
I don’t think anyone outside “the order” buys that anymore.
All that said, it is a giant, groaning pity Gyllenhaal’s successors chose to wipe both Kersten and Coleman off the company ledger. But then it’s break-up-the-furniture-for-fuel time at the Strib. The only thing that’ll add loud, resonating insult to injury to this move is if Avista Capital Partners’ newsroom managers keep … a gossip columnist in place instead of two people who, say what you will, waded into serious, relevant issues and provoked constant reader reaction.
Well, I never said that Lambert was always wrong.