When the Duluth News-Tribune editorial board bypassed 18-term Democratic Congressman Jim Oberstar and endorsed his GOP challenger Chip Cravaack, Oberstar was quick to fight back. “The Fargo Forum owns the Duluth newspaper. They have dictated this outcome. It is one that fits their philosophy. It does not represent that of the Northland,” Oberstar told TheUptake.org.
I’ve written many times about Forum Communications, and how Fargo executives do dictate statewide endorsements. It’s always struck me as strange to override local prerogatives at papers marketing themselves as especially in tune with their communities, but power politics can alter agendas. Still, when it comes to Congress-level endorsements, Forum, which purchased the Duluth paper in 2006, gives its local properties autonomy.
“They never talked to me,” News-Tribune editorial page editor Chuck Frederick says. “I know that they lean right; Forum Communications has long been Republican supporters. They did dictate who to support in the Presidential race. But they did not dictate this one, directly or indirectly.”
I know cynics will say Frederick merely responded to his master’s voice, even if the master didn’t have to utter a sound. After all, the Duluth editorial board consists of publisher Ken Browall, hired by Fargo, and Frederick, whose job depends on Browall. From there, it’s a bit different, including an employee representative and two citizens who rotate every six months. The citizen reps are liberal activist Beth Hanson and Tea Party organizer Bob Hansen. It’s not hard to get a Cravaack majority, if you look at it that way.
Frederick — a veteran reporter before he was moved over to the editorial page two years ago — calls himself a centrist. For those not convinced, he notes his page has endorsed 17 DFLers, two Republicans and two Independence Party members. Cynics would note in the highest-profile races (governor, dictated by Fargo to be Tom Horner, and Congress) somehow bypassed the DFL super-majority.
Says Frederick, “We met three times before came to a decision, the conversation was heated, and in end, decisions are not unanimous,” adding that Browall did not impose an endorsement, as publishers sometimes do.
Oberstar also complained that he did not have a face-to-face sit-down with the News-Tribune editorial board, which instead opted for a public forum that by all accounts was packed with raucous Cravaack supporters. “That was not a typical editorial board thoughtful discussion and exchange of views, probing deeply into how my service in Congress affects the area that this paper serves,” Oberstar told The Uptake.
Frederick defends this approach. “It was a departure. We’ve done other candidate forums. We usually don’t do it in a such a public setting, but we thought doing it more publicly was a good idea. We’ve met one-on-one with Oberstar in the past, and we know what he’s thinking.”
Frederick says the editorial board did not discuss the race until after the debate, adding, “We didn’t go into that forum to make Oberstar look bad.”