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At the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press, groupthink on a Vikings stadium

To mix a sports metaphor, opposing taxpayer funding for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium is a fat pitch. So why won’t Twin Cities daily journalists take a swing?

The Star Tribune editorial page, sports columnist Sid Hartman and Pioneer Press columnist Bob Sansevere have all but painted their faces purple. Strib sports guys Jim Souhan and Pat Reusse have docked the Vikings some style points, but merely quibble over stadium details, as do PiPressers Tom Powers and Joe Soucheray.

The most recent Vikings dreamscape
ROMA Design Group
The most recent Vikings dreamscape

When it comes to stadium wars, Star Tribune news columnist Jon Tevlin is a militant non-combatant; colleague Gail Rosenblum and the Pioneer Press editorial page are also on the sidelines.

The only current daily employee in sync with the 75 percent of the public that opposes more than half a billion in taxpayer subsidies? The Pioneer Press’s Ruben Rosario … more than a year ago.

Former Strib opinion columnist Nick Coleman took a hefty cut at the piñata in April 2010 — but he left in December after bosses cut his weekly column to twice a month. Now a blogger, Coleman asks, “Who will speak for the public?”

The public’s protests occasionally appear in letters to the editor, but Strib editorial page editor Scott Gillespie says his paper hasn’t printed an anti-stadium op-ed in nearly a year. (April 25, 2010, when state Sen. John Marty’s objection was paired with Mpls.St.Paul magazine executive editor Adam Platt’s pro-subsidy piece.)

Notes Gillespie, “We haven’t received any proposed commentaries or counterpoints (pro or con) in this most recent flurry of stadium news — even though we’ve done a couple of pro-stadium editorials.”

Perhaps stadium opponents have given up on the Strib — which could receive tens of millions of dollars for its land if the Vikings build there. However, Pioneer Press editorial page editor Mike Burbach couldn’t immediately recall the last anti-stadium piece there, either.

There’s no doubt the Vikings drive an enormous amount of traffic to local news sites, so all of us media types have a conflict on some level.  

Tevlin bluntly explains why he’s not leading an anti-stadium charge:

“I used to be an opponent of public money for stadiums, but no longer see it as directly correlating to robbing the kiddies of their milk. Otherwise I’d have to be against public money for arts groups and numerous other activities valuable to the community.”

He also notes the preciousness of some stadium critics: “I think the Twins stadium is a great addition; I note many of my ‘populist’ friends have season tickets.”

To be sure, the heavy cloud of inevitability hangs over this debate. The Vikings are the area’s most popular sports team, the Metrodome roof did collapse, and didn’t fuller-throated stadium battles end with the sports team winning?

Pioneer Press sports editor Mike Bass notes the trickiness of outright opposition. “Advocating no tax dollars for a stadium would in essence be saying it’s better for a team to leave than for taxpayers to spend one cent on a stadium. Whether you think the practice is right or wrong, the norm and expectation today is that taxpayer money helps build a new stadium, so if we won’t help pay for one, someone (and someplace) else will. The question comes down to: Do we want the Vikings to stay?”

Even a fiery opinion piece Coleman pointed to, by St. Cloud Times sportswriter Dave Deland, doesn’t so much rule out a taxpayer-supported Vikings stadium as rip the team for not reining in its demands. (In the Strib, Reusse wrote a similar if less outraged piece.)

Still, even if dogged opposition doesn’t stop a project, it can alter its trajectory in healthy ways. Without years of intense criticism, the Twins would’ve built a roofed riverfront monstrosity where the Guthrie Theater now stands.

Tevlin, anyway, is bored with the subject: “The topic in general, rehashed relentlessly over the decades, is not very interesting to me. I’m happy to let someone else own that, as I will with, say, abortion and other top five topics of talk radio.”

One benign reason for the lack of debate is that legislators still have not produced a bill to react to; perhaps then, the critics will storm the op-ed pages, fence-sitters will jump off, and even a few reluctant supporters will switch sides.

For now, lone opponent Rosario says, “I am surprised why the bulk of the local news media commentators  seem to be more cheerleaders than taking the majority of the public’s pulse on this stadium.  … I don’t believe anyone is adamantly opposed to a new stadium. They are just opposed as to who is going to pay the lion’s share of it — which is the taxpayer.”

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by John Olson on 03/07/2011 - 10:53 am.

    I tend to agree with Tevlin. Today’s stadium debate is essentially the same as it was 30 years ago. The obvious difference between then and now is that the Gophers and the Twins have their own places, so the Vikings are the only ones left.

    If Star-Tribune land is once again in play, many of us who followed the escapades of three decades ago have a pretty good idea of how the story ultimately ends.

  2. Submitted by frank watson on 03/07/2011 - 11:01 am.

    You would think that a 9 billion a year industry that is trying to decide how to split up the money would have some plan how to improve it’s own stadium funding. Instead all you hear is how much each side wants for itself.

    I’ve grown weary of every professional/college sports team wanting their own stadium. Do you know of any other city that has this type of step-up? The Wolves need to pair with the Wild and the Vikings with the Gophers. Of coarse the battle between St. Paul vs Mpls only ups the costs.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/07/2011 - 04:51 pm.

    I certainly know I think the Strib is irrelevant. By the way, has anyone else noticed the rightward lurch in recent weeks? This last weekend Sunday edition was hum dinger. There was a huge ridiculous article about bank overdraft protection and fees that was simply absurd.

  4. Submitted by Adam Minter on 03/08/2011 - 12:33 am.

    What I find really disagreeable about this column, and other attacks on TC sports journalists who support a new stadium, is that their support isn’t as genuine or well thought out – ie, “Groupthink” – as the opponents. And underlying this, I think, is an overwhelming presumption on the part of opponents that the pro-stadium faction is shilling for their employers, if not their beat/industry. What I’d really like to read, just once, is an interview where you or another opponent ask Jim Souhan or Pat Reusse if they’ve ever received (or felt) pressure to favor the stadium from the Strib, or favored it out of fear for the future of their beat. Anybody can predict the answer, I suppose, but at least they’ll be on record speaking directly (hopefully) to what so many condescendingly imply.

  5. Submitted by David Brauer on 03/08/2011 - 03:42 am.

    Adam —

    The idea for this column really has more to do with everyone thinking one way (the technical definition of “groupthink”) rather than saying everyone should think the other way.

    The impetus is that while the public has lined up on one side, journalists who are taking a stand are all on the other. That disconnect interested me, and would if it were the other way around. (I’d probably have said an all-opponent line-up was too easily falling into the demagogue pandering.)

    I don’t think asking journalists if they are bought off or commandeered is as interesting as you do. As you note, they’d say no, and frankly, I believe them. In this piece, Jon Tevlin spoke for them, I think, even though he is a lapsed opponent, and he makes good points.

    HOWEVER, it does concern me when a very valid debate – and we can at least concede there is a valid argument against the stadium – doesn’t happen in our local pages. That is, to my recollection, unprecedented. And as I note above, it could have bad effects on the outcome, however inevitable it seems.

    Has our local crowd lost all its populist fight?

    As for the inherent conflicts, I think the honest among us would acknowledge their presence, even if our integrity leads us to resist them.

    By the way, I’m one of those Target Center opponents with season tickets. So I stand here humbled. That said, no blank checks for sports team owners.

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