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Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe quits Pioneer Press blog after marriage amendment editorial

Reporter Tom Webb also criticizes paper for straining-at-the-leash marriage amendment support.

Saturday, the St. Paul Pioneer Press became the first Minnesota paper to editorialize for “Vote Yes” on Minnesota’s marriage amendment.

Oh, sure, the editorial states “The Pioneer Press is not endorsing one way or another,” but that’s a fig leaf. The editorial essentially prosecutes the case to Constitutionally prohibit same-sex marriage — arguing gays want to redefine marriage but don’t really want to get married, that amendment foes alone are guilty of intimidation, and that business-climate concerns are specious. 

Anti-amendment arguments are “telling” and “misguided.” Pro-amendment arguments are merely stated. I defy you to read it and come away with a neutral or Vote No impression.

Don’t take my word for it? (I’m a Vote No voter and donor.) How about two bylined Pioneer Pressers — blogger Chris Kluwe and perhaps more boldly, business reporter Tom Webb?

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Saturday, Kluwe — whose “Out of Bounds” blog has occasionally brought six-figure page views — announced via Twitter:

“Sent my email to the @PioneerPress informing them I will no longer contribute to their blog network. It will be my last post on the site. I will not be associated with any organization that tries to pull some bullshit like that. Have the strength of your convictionsWill post my last piece after walk through, and then it’s time for Seattle. I’ll look for a new blog site Monday and let you all know.”

Webb, also via Twitter:

“The Pioneer Press I know values fairness and honesty. Its marriage editorial slights those values, and is unworthy of a fine newspaper.”

I almost feel bad about calling attention to Webb’s tweet — it was only eight years ago that two Pioneer Press reporters, Chuck Laszewski and Rick Linsk, were suspended for attending a Bruce Springsteen/R.E.M. concert benefiting pro-Democratic registration group Vote for Change. Over at the Strib, journalists have been warned not to express political opinions generally and on social networks in particular.

But especially given the Pioneer Press’s passive-aggressive editorial advocacy, Webb’s boldness is that much more newsworthy. Whether editor Mike Burbach reprises 2004’s discipline is a story to watch, though it should be noted that unlike his predecessors, he runs the newsroom and sits on the editorial board. Given the lack of news-opinion divide at the top, Burbach will be in a tougher position to discipline a reporter for straddling the divide.

[Update: PiPress managing editor Chris Clonts has very publicly distanced the newsroom from the editorial, via Twitter: “I understand reaction 2 marriage editorial. Please know it in no way represents the newsroom or indiv. journalists.”

Update 2: Clonts tweeted later: “There is no reason for @TomWebbMn to face judgment or sanction for the sentiment he shared earlier.”

Update 3: Editor Mike Burbach has written a “we-a culpa” of sorts.

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Update 4: Kluwe’s farewell column.]

I obviously disagree with the PiPress’s “view,” so factor that in accordingly, but this editorial makes clear their no-endorsement policy is a journalistic botch. They’ve replaced clarity with disingenuousness, principles with passive-aggression. The paper’s mascot is a bulldog, but here is straining at the leash.

I understand the humility in not telling readers what to do — I’ve never told you what to vote for, while making clear what I’ll vote for. Still, the Pioneer Press can’t even do that. Would it be so hard to write, “We support the amendment”?

If you believe the PiPress doesn’t come right out and say “yes” because it’s worried about a Target-like boycott decried in its editorial, that’s probably a losing strategy, too. I’ve already seen subscription-cancellation threats; I’d expect the same had the paper taken a “Vote No” stance in the shadow of John Nienstedt’s Cathedral.

Newspapers are emotional investments, and the marriage amendment is one of the most emotional issues this state has recently seen, so pulling one’s money seems logical. Still, I’d encourage my Vote No compatriots to remember that the Pioneer Press also employs reporters like Webb, and dozens of other quality journalists who may or may not share his views. In my opinion, it’s more important to support them than punish their leaders.