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New owner Glen Taylor: less liberal Star Tribune ahead

Taylor answers “yes” when asked if the Strib’s perceived liberalism will change under his ownership — but says the move away has been ongoing, and would happen without him.

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Editor’s note: On Tuesday, MinnPost’s Britt Robson sat down with new Star Tribune owner Glen Taylor to talk about the purchase. Robson has interviewed Taylor many times over the years about the Minnesota Timberwolves, Taylor’s NBA team, often getting remarkably candid responses. This piece is no different; Taylor, a former state senator, says the Star Tribune, which fellow Republicans criticize as liberal, will “have better balance,” aided by veteran staffers retiring though the shift has been ongoing and would’ve happened even if he hadn’t bought the paper.

A new owner acknowledging political changes at the state’s largest daily will likely send tremors through Minnesota’s political and journalistic establishment (including the Strib’s newsroom), and for that reason we have not edited Taylor’s remarks, however lengthy.

One change we did make is splitting the interview into two parts. The second will run Thursday, and cover the backstory of how Taylor’s solo purchase came to be.

MinnPost: I know I always bring this up when we talk, but you once said that your primary training to be owner of the Timberwolves came not from your other businesses but from your time in politics as a state senator at the Legislature. Is the Star Tribune purchase and the media business similar in that sense, that it is a high-profile field?

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GT: Yes, this is definitely high profile. So when I looked at buying the paper and I wrote down the good and the bad, one of the bad things was the same thing I know about politics: You have to take a stand sometimes. And the media takes a stand. Sometimes the story being reported — though true, and though accurate — is not very favorable to a group of people or a company or something like that. So all of a sudden, I find myself in that position.

Let’s just use the example of some corporation and it does something that is unfavorable. And a story gets written about it. Well, I’m sure the corporation would say, “Well, Glen Taylor, keep the gol-darned story out of the paper.”

And my answer — and it gets back to what you were just saying, in a way — is that you never can keep something quiet in politics.

But I look at this at some point in time and I know that Glen is the owner, not the publisher, he’s not on the board. Probably he is going to make a phone call at some point to somebody who is relevant in this state. And Glen is going to have to tell them, “The story is out there. It is going to be done. If we don’t do it somebody else will. But I am going to make sure that the story is done accurately.”

I mean, I do have that responsibility in the ownership that it is accurate. And somebody else from out of state might not care so much if it is accurate; they might care that it is a little more sensational. 

MP: But what you are saying, and I agree with you, is that you will probably be in a position at some point where you are going to have to injure your friends.

GT: But it is going to happen to them anyway. Somebody will do the story.

MP: Okay. Another topic. You are a bedrock Republican.

GT: No. 

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MP: Less so now?

GT [quietly]: I am a Republican. I don’t know about bedrock.

MP: Well maybe I am dating myself with that description. By the old standards, you used to be a fundamental, old-school Republican. 

GT: I have always said that I am a moderate Republican. I think I was then, when I was in the Legislature, and I think I am today.

MP: Fair enough. But even moderate Republicans will occasionally kvetch about the ‘liberal media.’

GT: Yep.

MP: The Star Tribune is regarded as a liberal newspaper, rightly or wrongly, and probably less so now than ten years ago. Will that change under you in any way shape or form?

GT: I think the answer is yes. But I think the answer is yes whether I buy it or don’t buy it. Everything changes, and some people are going to say, “Well it is, because you bought it, that it changed.”

I would say back to them, “No. You are going to have new hires. You are going to have new people. There are going to be changes in seniority. You have got to be responsible to your readership.” And I think it has already been changing, and I have been a longtime reader of the paper.

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Will it change because of the ownership of Glen Taylor? Yeah. To say it won’t wouldn’t be accurate. But it isn’t like Glen Taylor is going to come in there on day one and say, “I’m going to fire people” and do all sorts of things. I am going to say — and I have already told them this — that first of all it has got to be fair and it has got to be accurate.

I think it is important in the paper — and this is where I don’t know for sure, I think the paper is responsible for reporting both sides. I don’t think you can say if you are the news — and I think the news does this too much — that “this happened, but we are only going to show you the picture from this side. There is another picture from this side but we choose not to tell you about that.”

I think that’s an inaccurate picture. And it is my expectation that we be accurate.

I think that you divide that down. The news part has to be accurate, fair, consistent, and show this and that. [Taylor holds his hands up to indicate “both sides.”] I don’t know that they always do that. I don’t know that any media does. But I would challenge them to do the best job.

Now, there is another part called the editorial. I was asked this question, and it was probably like “Are you going to read every editorial?” and this kind of stuff. And I said, “No, I don’t expect that I am going to agree with every editorial that comes out of the paper. But I want good thought put into it, I want accuracy put into it, and I want a position stated. It doesn’t have to be my position. But it has to be logical and put together well.”

Now I can kind of say that, and where that will take us, and if it changes, I guess we will see. But I don’t plan on going in and firing and that kind of stuff. I just think we’ll have good discussions on this. Do we do that now, are we doing that?

I’ve seen some of the new reporters and I think there is a little bit more of a balance. But I think traditionally, some of the reporters that have been hired and they have been there for a long time, I don’t know how you are ever going to change those people and what they write, but through time itself, some of those people will retire.

And that’s where the decision is made, who are the people you hire to replace those people? And if that person is from the old school and thinks that my job is to make or show one viewpoint, well then whose else do you have on the paper that is giving the other side?

There are a number of ways to balance it. Individuals can say I want to give you both sides, or you can have the pros and cons [each giving their side]. My thought is that you are more likely to find two different reporters, one not seeing it from one side and the other not seeing it from the other side, and both of them reporting.

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[It is similar to] when we talk about politics; there are two ways of coming up with a solution. Now, if you recall my way in politics — I never thought that, say, [former Senate Majority Leader] Roger Moe, was a Democrat who was evil and had evil principles. I just saw that Roger represented an environment as he saw it and the group of people who elected him saw it.

We both wanted better education and to take care of the disadvantaged. But now, how you do that [is the issue]. I might have said let the education decisions be made by the school board. I like that philosophy. I just think having those decisions closer to home is better, because people are going to keep track of them and throw members of the school board out. And maybe Roger thought that was too inconsistent having each school board make the decisions and so let’s [set policy] at the state level and we’ll have more consistency.

Now, is there a right and a wrong in there? Well, there are different ways of doing it, but I don’t know if that is right or wrong. But it is my principle and as a Republican I am going to say that I like having people closer to the situation making the decisions. It is just my philosophy that the further away people get the more they think they are supreme and can do better.

So I don’t know if that answers where you were going.

MP: Now what about conflicts of interest, which are going to be inevitable? You are a player in this state, and what you do makes news.

GT: Give me an example of what you mean?

MP: A business decision that you would rather keep private is uncovered by one of your reporters at the Star Tribune and the reporter wants to write about it.

GT: Okay. Ah, I think I have thought about that, and I don’t think that I, just knowing Glen Taylor, is going to tell that reporter to stop. If the leadership at the [Star] Tribune tells that person not to do it because they got the information wrongly or in confidence — like, “How did you learn about that?” “Well, I was at a meeting and Glen Taylor said it.” “Well, were you there as a reporter or as an employee?” — that type of stuff.

My sense is that — see, I’m not going to change with the sports guys at all. They’ve got their job to do and they are going to tell me that we crapped up.

MP: With the Timberwolves you are used to that.

GT [with a polite laugh]: Yeah, I am used to that. I don’t think I would change [opinion or behavior on the example], but that is a good question. I think I should never say never. Because I have a tendency wherever I’m at, don’t just do it if it is hurtful to a person. It is like saying that somebody stole something within the company — boy you better know where you are getting that and why you want [to report] it.

So I think your question is a good one, and I think my answer has to be that I have to let society go on and the bad stuff has to be in there with the good stuff. I knew that before I bought the paper and that is just the way it is going to be. But I have to be a little cautious because I don’t know what kind of situation might [come up].

MP: Well they are tough uncomfortable decisions. Let’s say some branch of Taylor Corporation, or maybe even a supplier, is doing something wrong. And you are already in the process of fixing that, of making that right again. And the Star Tribune finds out about the wrongdoing and wants to report on that. Now if you don’t let the paper do its work, isn’t that a double standard that prevents you from reporting on any other corporation?

GT: I think I know the answer to that. I think if you do something wrong, you do try and keep it from the media — I always do. But once the media finds out, I have learned that you never try and stop it. So I am pretty sure here that I would let it go. Now people might say, “Why, because you are just a good guy?” No. It is because I think I have learned that you can’t really stop the media.

MP: The cover up is always worse than the crime?

GT: That’s right. I am pretty clear at that. I know that I am aware of things that my company and other companies have done wrong that have never gotten to the surface. They were cleaned up and put away and nobody ever got harmed, but when it came out, we would have to explain it.

I don’t think I am going to change that way. I am not going to try and get it out there. But on the other hand, I think I have learned if it is going to come out, that maybe the best you can do is say to the reporter, “You might give me 24 hours notice so that I can prepare a response.”

I have always said to my employees, “If you make a mistake, if you want to be a leader, lead them on an honest path.” People know that leaders will make mistakes. If the leader stands up and says, “I have made a mistake. I am taking us down the wrong road. We are going to backtrack a little bit and go down a different road,” the people will accept this because they know they are being led by an honest human being and they like being led by a human being who knows he is not perfect. So I always felt like you should never let your pride get in the way of admitting that you have made a mistake.

So I think I know how I would handle it. If I did it, I did it. I would like time to respond but if I don’t get it, I just have to move faster.