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Why did the Star Tribune let Matt Birk talk while ignoring Chris Kluwe?

The paper, while downplaying coverage of the Vikings’ punter’s pro-gay-marriage stand, published an ex-Vikings’ response on Sunday.

Matt Birk
Matt Birk

Given that half the state’s population – and almost all the major media outlets – obsess about the Vikings, is it that surprising that football players have emerged as spokesfolk for the state Constitutional amendment campaigns?

It’s not just pro-gay marriage punter Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who bludgeoned his way into the local debate with a foul-mouthed rant against a censorious Maryland legislator. Sunday, former teammate and local guy Matt Birk responded in the Strib opinion section, arguing that married gay parents endangered society. Even Benchwarmer Bob Lurtsema has cut a video touting Photo I.D.!

(As it turns out, Birk also supports Photo I.D. Your move, Kluwe.)

Several people in my social networks fume that the Strib displayed bad news judgment on the Kluwe story, which started in Deadspin Sept. 7 and quickly advanced to the punter’s Pioneer Press blog. (By the way, kudos to whoever had the foresight to arrange that deal.)

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Though Strib sports blogger Michael Rand – who hoovers up pop culture — flicked at the comments right away, the paper all but ignored the ensuing firestorm for nearly a week, until Vikings beat writer Dan Wiederer gingerly mentioned it on his blog.

It took until Sept. 17 – long after the controversy had made it through the wash cycle – for the political reporter Baird Helgeson to mention it in print; a forced-seeming, glancing reference in a story about gay marriage voting’s generational split.

The Associated Press’s Pat Condon showed what a professional reporter could do with the topic Sept. 15; like most AP stories, the Strib put it on its website (comments turned off!) but I don’t think it appeared in print. (Update: Former AP editor Dave Pyle says it appeared on page B2.)

At this point, gay marriage fans might want to be careful what they wish for. I’ve given money to the Vote No campaign, think Kluwe’s a quality writer, and lapped up the ensuing discussion. But (nothing personal, Chris), there’s a celebrity aspect here, and do we really want to stamp our feet and demand Pavlovian coverage?

Chris Kluwe
Chris Kluwe

Then again, if you look at the Strib’s obsessive coverage of the stadium issue, it’s odd that it wouldn’t at least glom on to the page view hook to funnel people’s attention to the deeper issues, instead waiting eight days for Condon and AP.

For the record, I queried Strib managing editor Rene Sanchez Sept. 11 about the Strib’s muted response and got silence in return. Editors probably had Helgeson’s story in the works, and the Strib – much more transparent in recent years – is most opaque on its political-coverage decisions.

Although most Strib readers are likely well-versed on Kluwe’s feelings, editors’ decision to downplay his story may have some scratching their heads about what Birk was responding to over in the opinion section. (The two sections are managed separately.)

Since I’m left to speculate here, I believe Strib let competitive juices get the better of their news judgment. Kluwe is still campaigning in the Pioneer Press’ pages, and that’s not a plus at the downtown Minneapolis paper that prides itself – often justifiably – on enterprise stories.

I simply don’t think this is a case of the Strib opposing gay marriage. The paper has repeatedly opined against the amendment, and board chair Mike Sweeney has personally donated $10,000 to Vote No.

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[Hat tip: Michael Fleming, Mike McIntee]