I’ll be the first to acknowledge that any time a Senate staffer is ushered out of the office by Capitol police, it’s a story the state’s biggest daily should cover. But on the front page? When the facts prove the staffer’s main complaint bogus?
The quick-and-dirty from reporter Kevin Diaz’s story: Sen. Al Franken’s farm-policy aide, Mark Wilson, got upset somebody else got to write a speech. Wilson has unspecified Minnesota ties, the speechwriter apparently doesn’t. Wilson resigned; his boss did a classy thing (“by all accounts, Franken called Wilson to soothe his nerves and wish him well”) but by the next morning, “the dispute ended with Capitol police ushering Wilson out of Franken’s office.”
Now, I certainly don’t blame Diaz for publicizing Wilson’s question, “If [Franken] is representing Minnesotans, why aren’t there Minnesotans there?” And I credit Diaz for noting 13 of 19 staffers do have “significant Minnesota ties, a ratio similar to that of the state’s senior U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar.” (In other words, Wilson is full of crap.) Diaz also provided the nice context that Wilson’s is Franken’s first staff departure in six months in office.
So what do you get with a discredited thesis? A bigger story that takes the thesis seriously!
Diaz relies on the last refuge of quote machines — polisci profs Larry Jacobs and Steve Schier (who just did a turn in Pat Doyle’s mental health story) — to discuss whether Franken has too many non-Minnesotans on his staff … even though the junior Senator apparently has no more than anyone else. This non-issue is an issue because Franken “left the state for decades” and Republicans attack him as a “liberal attack dog from Hollywood.”
It’s thoroughly superficial stuff, but then we get into whether Franken’s sponsored enough “Minnesota motherhood initiatives” — as if such uncontroversial headline-grabbers, often criticized as naked pandering, should be fervently desired. Who’s complaining? Diaz again trots out Schier to confirm this beef is “not just from Republicans.”
Again, the Franken story had the cops, and an aide who was willing to squawk, so I don’t deny its newsworthiness. But fireworks aside, is the significance ultimately that much more than other recent Congressional staff departures? When yet another Michele Bachmann chief of staff (not a junior aide) quit, the news rated four paragraphs in the Strib’s Hot Dish blog; when Amy Klobuchar’s third chief of staff stepped down, the same brief treatment.
Look, I love a good policy story more than the next guy, but lately, the Strib sure seems distracted by trashy subplots and emphemeral controversies. For the sake of an informed electorate, I hope political features soon find firmer footing.