By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Stop us if you're heard this one before: A conservative talk-show host believes the media is guilty of liberal bias. That's pretty much the operating philosophy behind all right-wing radio. But California-based talk-show host and blog evangelist Hugh Hewitt has become obsessed with one specific mainstream-media outlet: the Star Tribune.
"The worst major newspaper in terms of bias and chronic inaccuracy and axe-grinding is of course the Los Angeles Times," Hewitt wrote on his blog last week. "But among the second tier papers, the Minneapolis Star Tribune is as rotten a combination of no-talent tenured editorialists, biased reporters, and make-it-up-pollsters as anywhere in the United States."
Hewitt, whose show is heard locally on the Patriot (AM-1280), then announced that he has reserved the web site www.swarmingthestrib.com. As laid out on his blog and during his radio show last week, Hewitt intends to turn the site into a running critique of Minnesota's largest daily newspaper. The idea is apparently to recruit right-wing volunteers to monitor every political reporter on a daily basis and then detail their perceived sins of liberal bias.
The animus directed at the Strib from conservative corners is nothing new.
Local blogs such as Bogus Gold and Shot In the Dark are filled with frothing denunciations of the newspaper. The Taxpayers League of Minnesota now gives away "Mr. Yuck" bumper stickers to highlight the newspaper's purported bias.
But in the past, these folks have generally reserved their attacks on the Strib for columnist Nick Coleman and the paper's left-leaning editorial board. Now, apparently, Hewitt wants them to start barking at the paper's beat reporters. (The conservative pundit did not respond to a phone call and an e-mail seeking a comment. In last week's post, not surprisingly, he failed to point out a single instance of the newspaper's biased news reporting.)
The attack on the Strib seems strangely misguided for a couple of reasons. For starters, D.J. Tice, an unabashed conservative and former Pioneer Press columnist, oversees the paper's political coverage. The notion of him somehow purposefully skewing the news to the left is laughable. Then there's the fact that one of Hewitt's regular weekly guests is none other than Strib columnist (and blogosphere icon) James Lileks.
The "Backfence" author isn't completely dismissive of the proposed Strib watchdog website, however. "If people go into this with the assumption that the Star Tribune is trying to manipulate information according to our daily instructions from Lenin's brain, they're going to look like fools," he says. "The issue of bias in journalism is a little more complex than that."
So does Lileks believe that his newspaper skews news to the left? "Do I think that people are writing from the DFL playbook? No," he says. "But people bring biases to this business and it affects sometimes how they frame issues."
Strib editor Anders Gyllenhaal doesn't seem particularly worried about the ankle-biting by Hewitt and his excitable listeners. "The paper has been around for 140 years," he notes. "In that time there have been a long list of people who haven't for all sorts of reasons liked what's in the newspaper. We welcome feedback of any kind."