So MinnPost is getting ripped for running another non-adversarial Q-and-A between conservative columnist Michael J. Bonafield and a conservative firebrand. Two weeks ago, it was Strib columnist Katherine Kersten; today, it’s Michele Bachmann.
With the caveats that a) I work here and b) I’m one of MinnPost’s many liberals, this is an impossible topic for a media critic to resist. (Especially when an editor needs to justify the story to readers.) So here goes:
The Bonafield pieces have problems that transcend ideology.
First — and this is a MinnPost problem that transcends him — there just wasn’t much new in either Q-and-A. (Did you know Bachmann grew up in a house full of Democrats?) MinnPost won’t justify its existence by providing subjects’ “mostly unfiltered” views (as co-managing editor Roger Buoen wrote this morning) but by providing actual news and fresh insight.
Second, stenography. Look, I’m a big fan of Mark Ritchie, but I’d sooner scoop out my eyeballs than unquestioningly extol the DFL Secretary of State’s virtues. You can be a simpatico journalist, praising what you like, and still probe. Bonafield — and our editors — gave Bachmann some ludicrous passes. Her quote — “I’m a lovable little fuzz ball! I have no idea what [liberals] would have to fear” — is objectively laughable, given Bachmann’s conscious and effective firebrand strategy. Unasked follow-up: “Do you really believe that?”
Yes, we’ve done uncritical Q-and-As with liberal pols, not that lefties complained. Consider this interview with DFL gubernatorial candidate John Marty: with one exception, the questions are non-challenging. That’s not optimal, and as we liberals think about what we didn’t like in Bonafield’s pieces, we need to examine our own double standards. However, the piece at least dives into the details of a policy that hasn’t gotten much coverage — that’s a uniqueness factor.
I’m not asking Bonafield (who I don’t know and have never met) to change his ideology or conduct the same interview I would. But I do think MinnPost editors need to encourage him (and any writer) to go beyond the bromides. I know conservatives (here and in D.C.) who regard Kersten and Bachmann as mixed blessings — in part because their rhetoric can outpace logic, consistency or facts. Both interviews would have been more interesting had our conservative writer delved into those intramural concerns with sophistication.
And yes, folks, we are overcompensating. MinnPost’s writing corps is imbalanced ideologically, and Republicans are working the refs. That’s their job; ours is to listen but not compromise defensible standards. Bonafield sits alone at one end of the teeter-totter; to counterbalance the gaggle at the other end, we apparently let him go further out. Personally, I love the idea of a staffer “with contacts and credibility among conservatives” but that credibility must be built on something other than cheerleading.
I think it’s fine to hear a smart case for Kersten or Bachmann. One of our regular conservative readers, responding to liberal complaints that Black should have interviewed Kersten, commented, “Don’t do it until you get some conservatives interviewing all the liberals that are featured in MinnPost. Fair is fair.”
That’s a great idea. Our editors should encourage Bonafield, an experienced journalist, to grill more liberals. That’s good for us, and the body politic.
But it’s also important to note that Black has tried — many times — to talk to Bachmann when he’s reporting on the congresswoman, only to be stiffed. (Other critical media, like City Pages, only get email interviews of problematic authorship.) From an organizational and journalistic point of view, it sucks that we let Bachmann so freely choose her MinnPost interlocutors.
As with any valid criticism, though, critics can overshoot the mark. In the “fair is fair” category, City Pages’ Kevin Hoffman has grilled our softness as crisply as I’ve grilled his sensationalism. On this subject, I’ve found myself nodding my head at a lot of what he’s written, but his gibe that MinnPost is becoming “the Fox News of Minnesota” is entertainingly ludicrous. At worst, Bonafield is the Colmes to our Hannity. We need fewer patsies of any stripe around here.