Star Tribune debuts new poliblog: Hot Dish Politics

When the Strib elevated political reporter Pat Lopez to politics/government editor in July, it also promised a reconfigured web presence. On Wednesday, a new blog, Hot Dish Politics debuted, replacing The Big Question.

Hot Dish (and boy, aren’t you glad you don’t have to name these things?), opened with Tim Pawlenty refusing Michele Bachmann’s demands for a special ACORN prosecutor. The second item: Al Franken getting “testy over statistics.”

The latter item points up a potential risk of any blog, no matter the name: superficiality.

Franken’s testiness came during a committee hearing on his bill to bar federal contractors from forcing raped employees to submit to arbitration, rather than getting their day in court. The senator’s specific target: Halliburton, the defense contractor once run by Dick Cheney. Franken’s pin cushion: Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Council for Employment Law Equity, who purported that employees fared better under arbitration than they did in front of judge and jury.

I watched the testimony yesterday, and was struck by how Franken badgered the witness, Strib D.C. reporter Eric Roper’s point of emphasis. To me, Franken made a tactical mistake — de Bernardo clearly couldn’t define what constituted employee “success” in arbitration, and the senator didn’t really need to box him into yes or no answers.

But here’s the thing: the face-off was secondary to the fundamental issue at hand. As of this writing, the Strib has produced zero print or web stories on Franken’s legislation, which passed the Senate 68-30.

As the leftblog Think Progress notes:

In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. She was detained in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.” (Jones was not an isolated case.) Jones was prevented from bringing charges in court against KBR because her employment contract stipulated that sexual assault allegations would only be heard in private arbitration.

That’s what motivated Franken’s amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations Act.

A political attack? That’s what the GOP charged. But that 30 Republicans opposed a rape victim’s right to go to court is at least as noteworthy as, say, ACORN pimps and hos, which has received no small amount of ink in the Strib and elsewhere.

(The PiPress didn’t cover Franken’s legislation either, but they don’t have a Washington bureau.)

Even though I thought Franken needlessly squandered the high ground in his committee questioning, he later delivered a stirring speech on the Senate floor. That’s at least as worthy of a Hot Dish post as the badgering.

You could argue Jones isn’t a Minnesotan, and the Strib can’t write about everything. (Then again, the next victim might be from here.) I asked managing editor Rene Sanchez if a story might be coming, but he was understandably reluctant to speak about future coverage.

Still, if the Strib can find space in the paper for Minnesota Republican John Kline’s non-Minnesota-specific criticism of the National Endowment for the Arts, they can find room for a quicker-hit video link and analysis of a new Senator’s successful fight to end an outrageous practice.

Here’s hoping future Hot Dishes include meatier fare.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Aaron Landry on 10/08/2009 - 11:11 am.

    Did they just ignore the fact that Hot Dish is the City Pages’ food blog?

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/08/2009 - 11:16 am.

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for meatier fair form the Strib. I’ve been waiting for 30 years, and that was they were supposed to be a liberal new outlet.

  3. Submitted by karl karlson on 10/08/2009 - 12:24 pm.

    what’s wrong with badgering a witness who won’t answer the question?

  4. Submitted by Terry Hayes on 10/08/2009 - 01:01 pm.

    Thanks for the warning, David.
    No Hot Dish for me. Check out the comments, too. Blechhhh.

  5. Submitted by David Brauer on 10/08/2009 - 01:46 pm.

    Terry –

    For heaven’s sake, I wouldn’t abandon Hot Dish after two posts. I’m just urging them to get better. My perspective is constructive criticism, not nuclear annihilation at this point.

    Karl –

    Franken never gave the witness a chance to answer the initial question. I would’ve asked it in a more expansive way – what’s the definition of success? – and perhaps then drilled in to actual amounts.

    The yes-or-no right off the bat was unnecessary and made Franken look like he didn’t want an answer, he just wanted to badger. I wouldn’t have let the witness obfuscate, but not everything is yes-or-no. I don’t like it when Republicans do it, nor Dems.

  6. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/08/2009 - 02:41 pm.

    The witness’ testimony was given the lie as Franken clearly focussed the issue and exposed de Bernardo’s lack of fundamental knowledge in the specific subject matter at hand: what exactly is it to “prevail”, anyway? After all, surely the guy who’s telling us that employees “prevail” in arbitration so much of the time can tell us what it means, in terms of the settlements. But no, he can’t. Or perhaps won’t.

    Franken’s line of questioning merely swept all this bull**** off the table and onto the floor. Good job.

  7. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 10/08/2009 - 03:22 pm.

    I have to agree with Mr. Titterud. Arbitration is a fraud perpetuated by corporations on their employees and customers. There have been exposes on how gamed the arbitration system is and I for one would never knowingly consent to having any issue resolved by arbitration.

    More to the point, de Bernardo is a partner at Jackson Lewis, an infamous law firm that specializes in union busting.

    I think Mr. De Bernardo got exactly the reception he deserved.

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