Fox9’s Jeff Passolt versus Clyde Bellecourt

With at least one local lefty likening Jeff Passolt to Bill O’Reilly, it’s time to check out the latest dust-up involving the Fox9 anchor’s newsmaker interviews.

It’s another get-out-the-popcorn moment for Passolt. Last month, I wrote about him grilling a small-town mayor who wanted to keep a library; one of the anchor’s presumptions about dwindling “big-city” library use was wrong. This time, you can enjoy the spectacle of a white man arguing with Native American activist Clyde Bellecourt about … immigration.

Yes, it’s the guy whose ancestors came over on a boat arguing with a guy whose ancestors got here first on a land bridge!

At one point during the discussion of Arizona’s controversial state immigration law, Bellecourt notes, “The only immigrants I know came across the water, and they came by the hundreds and thousands, and look at the genocide.”

It’s easy to see the O’Reilly resemblance: Passolt runs hot in these confrontations, and because his questions embrace conservative principles, comes off as having that agenda.

For example, Passolt characterizes Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recent support for English as the state’s official language as “English first,” a balmy way of describing a policy where state documents would only be printed in English. (Bellecourt, noting a history of white Americans suppressing Native languages, earlier said, “Even our governor here … would like to see only English spoken.”)

Like O’Reilly, Passolt is not afraid to invoke his personal history (at one noting his people came over on a boat, and reminding Bellecourt that Natives “scalped innocent women and children”), and even his compliments can feel patronizing. Not a smooth interviewer, he can be an interrupter (sometimes justifiably), and is prone to boiling down guests’ answers in an unfair and pejorative way.

Still, to me anyway, Passolt doesn’t seem as mean-spirited as O’Reilly, and I don’t think this is as disrespectful as much of talk radio. Besides, in all but extreme cases, I tend to give aggressive questioners a break regardless of their ideological stripe.

Frankly, this heart-on-the-sleeve approach, whatever its faults, produces six relatively interesting minutes of local TV news.

Those opposed to Arizona’s law may groan at Passolt’s viewpoints, but Bellecourt, for one, is grateful for the opportunity to mix it up. Yes, Bellecourt is one of the media’s “usual suspects,” but I think his responses were mostly thoughtful and, to some viewers anyway, not often heard.

I know rivals are watching for Fox9 to turn into Fox News (even as lefties say that’s KSTP’s bailiwick) and that six-minute interviews are as much about producing cheap as interesting content. As I’ve noted before about partisan TV news, local stations play with fire should they noticeably tilt one way (ask righties about Don Shelby). But maybe some news executives are crazy like a fox.

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Michael Hunt on 08/12/2010 - 12:45 pm.

    Passolt vs. Bellecourt….reminds me of the old saying “A Battle of Wits and they both came unarmed”.

  2. Submitted by Kimbers Cadieux on 08/12/2010 - 01:35 pm.

    “is prone to boiling down guests’ answers in an unfair and pejorative way.”

    Which has led me to wondering, on more than one occasion, if he had been conducting the interviews by reading the questions off a teleprompter and not really listening to his guest when they answered.

  3. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 08/12/2010 - 03:50 pm.

    Since Europeans taught Native Americans the art of scalping, Passolt strikes me as a bigot and not just a jerk. Crediting Native Americans with inventing scalping is just flat out ignorant.

    Mr. Radecki [comment deleted], how do Mr. Bellecourt’s words make Passolt’s bigotry OK?

    One last point. I grew up in Iowa. We were taught in public schools to respect Native American culture and history. I had to move to Minnesota to find out that anti Native American bigotry still flourishes in this country but since moving up here in 1988, I don’t think one single week has passed without my being reminded that some Minnesotans think they can be openly anti Native American because we “won” those wars.

  4. Submitted by Stan Daniels on 08/12/2010 - 04:49 pm.

    David you lost me on comparing Passolt and O’Reilly. Passolt is a new anchor and O’Reilly is a commentator. Big difference in the room I will give each person.

    I thought Passolt was out of bounds since he should try to maintain a neutral view. Ask the right questions and let the story tell itself.

    O’Reilly has an entirely different job. He is paid for viewpoints and people watch him for his personality. Fine if people love or hate O’Reilly, but he is really doing his job by having an opinion (as is Obberman on MSNBC).

    In the old days I remember when the flashed “editorial” on the screen when an anchor gave their feelings on a subject. That would have been more appropriate for Passolt.

  5. Submitted by Phil Hayden on 08/12/2010 - 06:52 pm.

    I watched the interview last night and thought Passolt did a magnificent job. He let Bellecourt have his say even as he went rambling off track and began criticizing our country. More impressively, Passolt was not afraid to question the absurdity of several of Bellecourt’s statements, while remaining polite and civil throughout the interview. This was one of the better pieces of local TV news journalism I have seen in a long, long time. It was refreshing to see both sides have a chance to say their piece in a civilized manner, agree to disagree, and walk away with respect for each other as both parties appeared to do last night. I wish more anchors would challenge the ideas of the news-makers as Passolt did, rather than just pushing the same old agenda at hand. . Well done, Fox9 and bravo, Jeff Passolt.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/12/2010 - 07:48 pm.

    I have no problem with Passolt’s interview. And I don’t think he comes close to Bill O.

  7. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 08/12/2010 - 08:47 pm.

    WHAT?!!! Indians killed innocent whites?!
    Wow, white people never did anything like that, Mr Passolt, did they?
    Just ask any of the 20 million Indians in this country!
    Oops. I mean TWO million Indians. Now.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/13/2010 - 08:31 am.

    I think it may not be appropriate to conclude that Passolt was expressing his own views. He was conducting an interview in a conversational manor, and the points he made are standard fare amongst many Americans, this wasn’t the first time Bellecourt ( or I ) heard these specious arguments.

    The benefit of presenting these arguments is it gave Bellecourt a chance to respond. Seriously, let’s not pretend we’re not a nation full of bigots who know nothing about Indian people (note Bellecourt did not use the term “Native Americans”). All you have to do is look at the fights white MN’s fight over casinos, fishing rights, the four oaks over at Hiawatha, etc. to see that not far below the surface lurks considerable sympathy with Passolts arguments. Had Passolt not made these comments, the interview would have come across as simply providing Bellecourt a platform. Even if Passolt was expressing his own views, he wouldn’t be alone, and those views need to be confronted not ignored.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/13/2010 - 08:49 am.

    By the way, there is a difference between “migration” and “emigration”. When the Indians arrived via the land bridge (an historical theory that is by no means settled by the way) they did not confront, enslave, murder, or displace any existing human population. It’s not an insignificant difference. The European arrival in the Americas was essentially an invasion that cannot equated to the initial arrival of Indian people.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/13/2010 - 09:11 am.

    O.K., one last thing. Bellecourt tried to point out that this is not simply an argument about history, but an ongoing struggle for Indian people. With that in mind I refer you to a class over at the U of M taught my good friend Carter Meland. Here’s a link to one his projects:

    Poke around the website and look at the students projects if you find this interesting, it’s well worth it if your interested.

  11. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/13/2010 - 09:20 am.

    I saw this interview and have to say I was surprised to see Passolt challenge Clyde the way he did. His co-anchor of 14 years had just left her job to run for office as a liberal democrat and they always seemed to be so agreeable with each other. Who knew?

    I’ve known the Bellecourts since the 70s. I’m surprised that Clyde would say that “those people aren’t immigrants” because they’re all from the North America continent, implying that he doesn’t recognize the borders of sovereign nations, but most of his Indian activism has been based on the concept of their nation’s sovereignty rights.

    Every nation in the history of the world has had a native language. Even the Ojibwe nation. And to this day, he and his people lament that they allowed an outside force, another nation, to tell them which language they will speak. It seems to me that the Americans are simply trying to prevent the same thing from happening to them.

    If anyone should understand that it’s Bellecourt.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/13/2010 - 04:51 pm.

    //implying that he doesn’t recognize the borders of sovereign nations, but most of his Indian activism has been based on the concept of their nation’s sovereignty rights.

    Indian sovereignty issues today aren’t about borders, they’re about rights and culture.

    //It seems to me that the Americans are simply trying to prevent the same thing from happening to them.

    Undocumented immigrants are not invading our nation, enslaving Americans, or committing genocide. Any attempt to equate immigration illegal or otherwise with the European invasion of the Americas is completely inappropriate.

  13. Submitted by Mordecai Specktor on 08/13/2010 - 06:48 pm.

    Regarding scalping, following the US-Dakota War in 1862, Minnesota conducted a counter-insurgency operation and paid bounties on Dakota scalps. The payments are recorded in an offical state ledger that is available at the Minnesota History Center.

    Local TV news should allow more back and forth like this, even with ill-informed news readers like Passolt. Fox9 news also aired an interview with Waziyatawin, a local Dakota activist with the Take Down the Fort (Snelling) group. Other local TV news operations don’t seem to be inclined to get into these topics at any depth. They favor the lurid and sentimental stories, and consequently render viewers more stupid and fearful. International news coverage on the local stations is a total joke.

  14. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/13/2010 - 08:42 pm.

    “When the Indians arrived via the land bridge (an historical theory that is by no means settled by the way) they did not confront, enslave, murder, or displace any existing human population.”

    Oh please. Native tribes were fighting and killing each other over horses, women and hunting grounds and enslaving each other long before the europeans ever showed up. Battle Creek wasn’t named for a Sioux v. wasichu confrontation, it was Sioux v. Chippewa.

  15. Submitted by John Jordan on 08/14/2010 - 09:03 am.

    Bellecourt is a racist white hater whose views are all filtered through that bias. The fact is, no one cares what he thinks and only shows up occasionally when it suits his ego.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/14/2010 - 10:35 am.

    //Native tribes were fighting and killing each other over horses, women and hunting grounds and enslaving each other long before the europeans ever showed up.

    Thank you Dennis for proving Bellecourt’s point about American ignorance regarding Indian’s, and putting the lie to Passolt’s claim that Americans learn about Indian’s in School.

    First, there were no horses in the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Spanish introduced them. Second, the initial point was that the arrival of Indians in the Americas can in no way be compared to the arrival of Europeans; the idea that we’re all emigrants is a observation in search of a point.

    Now, if you want to talk about Indian cultures and history between the time of their arrival and the arrival of Europeans great, I encourage you study that. You will find however that the nature and scope of Indian conflicts never came close to those witnessed in Europe, or those between Europeans and Indians. Nothing in indigenous history comes close to the literal and cultural genocide unleashed by the Europeans, or it’s slave trade. Furthermore, many of the conflicts your probably referring to in North America were triggered by displacement caused by European colonization, they did not predate the invasion.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that “Indians” are not a monolithic entity. There were and are a multitude of tribes, languages, and cultures and one cannot meaningfully discuss what “Indians” were doing prior to the European invasion without understanding that complexity.

  17. Submitted by Chris Steller on 08/16/2010 - 08:58 am.

    Here’s the link to the Fort Snelling debate that Mordecai Specktor mentioned. Jeff Passolt moderated the segment during the regular Fox9 newscast … a rarity, and fairly freewheeling.

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