The U of M journalism school renames itself for a Trump donor

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Stanley Hubbard has been generous in his support of the University... and of Republican candidates, including Donald Trump.

As a boy, Stanley Hubbard went with his father to University of Minnesota football games at the old Memorial Stadium. Later, Stanley dreamed of donning the maroon and gold of the Gophers hockey team.

Hubbard learned a lot in his college years, including that he wasn’t as good at hockey as he thought.

Instead, he followed his father’s footsteps into a media career, leading Hubbard Broadcasting, the pioneering radio and TV company, into the satellite and digital eras. He now owns more than 40 radio stations and a dozen TV outlets, including KSTP, plus the movie channel Reelz.

The family business has been good to Stanley. Forbes estimates his net worth at $2.3 billion, ranking him even with Ted Turner.

Now 84, Hubbard doesn’t make it back to campus for big games anymore. “I don’t like crowds,” he reports. Yet he was compelled to go a few weeks ago for a big event. He was the guest of honor.

On April 18, the University of Minnesota announced that its previously unnamed journalism school would be rechristened the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The honor recognized the Hubbard family’s contributions to journalism and to the U’s bottom line: The Hubbards have given $25 million through the years, including $10 million to the journalism school in 2000.

Stanley’s largesse extends beyond academia. He’s also one of the nation’s most generous Republican contributors.

Last election cycle, Hubbard dropped buckets of money on people like Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina... anyone who looked like they could stop Donald Trump. None did. By the spring, Hubbard’s principles had worn thin. “Anybody would be better than Clinton,” he said.

From May through September, Hubbard gave $125,000 to the Trump-allied “Great America Political Action Committee.” At the time, one of the major set pieces of Trump rallies was the moment he pointed to the penned-in pack of journalists, whom his supporters jeered lustily.

The announcement that the journalism school would be renamed for a Trump donor bothered and infuriated some alumni and faculty. You’ll have to take my word on that: Almost none want to badmouth the U or discourage Hubbard from giving it more money. After all, the list of people with a few billion dollars and an interest in journalism fits on a post-it note. 

The U changed the lives of a lot of journalists, including the late David Carr and this writer.

And Jack Ohman. Though he left a few credits short of graduating, Ohman has been honored by the university — and Pulitzer Prize judges — for his work as an editorial cartoonist.

Ohman chose his words carefully. “I think it’s somewhat oxymoronic that somebody who spent money trying to elect Donald Trump is sponsoring the journalism school.”

Since winning election, Trump has repeatedly called the media “enemies” of the American people. Stories the president didn’t like got the “failing” New York Times and “fake news” CNN barred from a group interview in the Oval Office. Trump has vowed to investigate and prosecute government employees who leak information he doesn’t like.

Isn’t it wrong to name a journalism school for someone who helped put that guy in the White House?

Hubbard says those grievances are “total nonsense, and what I call B.S.” Opponents of the naming honor are just “disgruntled liberals who will complain about everything.” He says his politics have nothing to do with the nightly news.

Not so, says Nick Coleman, a former Pioneer Press columnist who graduated from the U and later taught there. Coleman says Hubbard’s support for conservative politics — including climate science denial and “heavy-handed corporate lobbying” — has put a “[right] thumb on the scale of many stories.”

Hubbard’s hand is usually unseen. In 2014, after KSTP became the butt of national jokes for its “#pointergate” story, which suggested Mayor Betsy Hodges was flashing a gang sign in a photo with a young black supporter, Hubbard came to the station’s defense. Anyone criticizing the story just didn’t get it. He blamed criticism on “social media,” “the internet,” and Twitter “bots.”

Hubbard’s political affiliations don’t bother Burton Cohen, founder of MSP Communications (publishers of Mpls. St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Monthly) and a university alumnus. Cohen describes Hubbard as “a friend,” and recognizes the “staggering financial and other kinds of assistance that he’s given to the university over decades.”

But Cohen admits Trump’s antagonism of the press and lack of transparency “concern me terribly, and I think all Americans should be concerned.”

Stan Hubbard isn’t. He recently read an article about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “war” on the press, and writes off our current president’s threats as merely bad manners. Trump has “as much right to be a jerk as any other citizen does,” Hubbard says, but insists that nothing Trump says puts the First Amendment in danger.

“What can he do to me or to you as media?” Hubbard asks.

We might be about to find out. Trump said he’d “open up” libel laws and target news outlets that publish “purposely negative and horrible and false articles” about him, threatening to “sue them and win lots of money.” This past Sunday, Trump’s chief of staff Reince Preibus confirmed team Trump had “looked at” weakening protections for the press.

If he does, let’s hope Stan Hubbard is ready to reach into his deep pockets and sue the president he helped elect. Think of it as another donation to the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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