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Ex-Star Tribune editor McGuire tells Sarah Palin to lighten up

Tim McGuire, now an Arizona State journalism professor, is the parent of a 31-year-old son with Down syndrome.

Prior to joining MinnPost, one of my regular niches was doing magazine profiles of Star Tribune editors. One of them was Tim McGuire, who succeeded my current boss, Joel Kramer and preceded Anders Gyllenhaal.

McGuire was not an uncontroversial figure in his newsroom. Some of his hardest-hitting reporters felt his regime weakened tough stories; while such complaints are not unprecedented (they came up again when I profiled Gyllenhaal), a chunk of my story was spent discussing McGuire’s relationships with prominent Twin Citians and his notions of journalistic fairness. While many of the critics wouldn’t go on the record, McGuire helped his cause by being open to pretty much anything I threw at him.

One of the interesting things about the reporting was that even Stribbers who had the biggest beefs about McGuire would have melted a bit had they witnessed his relationship with his son, Jason, who has Down syndrome.

I recalled all this yesterday when a McGuire blog post popped up in my RSS reader: “Sarah Palin and the media need to chill out about Down syndrome.” 

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McGuire, now an Arizona State journalism professor, writes, “I have been vaguely concerned for months that Sarah Palin is using her son as a blunt instrument against her critics” and goes on to give a typically blunt, wonderfully demystifying review of Down parenting and our personal and professional reactions to it. There’s even praise for “Family Guy,” which took a mild poke at Palin but did a lot more good by including a character with the syndrome who is mean and domineering, McGuire observes:

I must confess that malarkey about all Down syndrome people being sweeter and more loving than others makes me madder than, well, Sarah Palin. That’s just Horsefeathers. I have met more than a few Down Syndrome people who are what most of us would call “snots.” Jason is sweet and affectionate because he has been taught well, but I assure you he is one angry guy. He is mighty ticked off that he is different. He would desperately like to be normal. If Family Guy successfully burst that prejudiced view of Down syndrome folks, God love ‘em.

If Sarah Palin wants to be an active advocate on Down syndrome issues she should be analyzing the entire episode of Family Guy and not just the small gratuitous shot at her. That particular comment was a “fly-by’ unworthy of her attention.

…And for her sake, I pray Sarah Palin can pull back just a little and realize that every time Down syndrome is mentioned in popular media it is not, per se, bad. Humor, satire and popular media are among the best ways to generate progress. I will never forget the power of the early 90’s TV show, Life Goes On. It legitimized high achieving Down syndrome young adults like nothing else could. And it was not without controversy. Few things with good outcomes are. 

There’s a lot more there than this, so check out the whole piece. It feels honest and bracing, and I’ll bet even McGuire’s old antagonists will be impressed.