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‘I just want a level playing field’: Power Line’s Scott Johnson on liberals, laziness and bias in the media

MinnPost photo by Brian Lambert
Scott Johnson: "The thing that provoked me into [starting Power Line] was seeing things with my own eyes and ears in the newspaper that were contrary with what I knew to be the case.”

A regular complaint, one that has reached a new pitch in this post-election period, is that hardened partisan camps have even less contact with each other than before. We’ve recently learned that Facebook’s mysterious algorithm is designed to feed us “news” of the sort we’ve shown we prefer to consume, keeping us entrenched where we stand. Never mind that some of the most popular globs of it are patently fake.

Liberal partisans are quick to roll Power Line, the 14year-old blog that’s become a staple of conservative opinion-shapers, into the same dissolute pool as those trumpeting the pope’s endorsement of, well, Donald Trump and Trump’s victory in the popular vote. Started in the Twin Cities by two attorneys, John Hinderaker and Scott Johnson, Power Line still sees its founders collaborate, multiple times daily, with Paul Mirengoff, a retired attorney living in Washington D.C., and Steven Hayward, a Ph.D.-holder in American Studies currently attached to U-C Berkeley. And while you can draw a pretty direct line from supermarket tabloids to some conservative sites, Power Line is much more a descendant of the William F. Buckley school of partisan perspective and rhetoric. 

The site’s crowning moment was its role in the unmasking of a fake documents that all but completely undermined CBS’s 2004 election-eve report on George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service. Shortly after the report’s airing, Power Line and other prominent bloggers were arguing that the documents were fake, based on an analysis of the typewriter fonts in use. The speed of this assertion, supposedly based on a television viewing, continues to be viewed with suspicion by liberal partisans, for whom the underlying veracity of CBS’ report — that Bush received favored treatment to get in the Guard during the Vietnam-era and then went AWOL — remains accepted history.

Nevertheless, the blowback created by Power Line and the other blogs proved effective in ending Dan Rather’s career, dramatically damaging CBS News’ reputation and adding to the familiar conservative view that the so-called “mainstream” media is riddled with “liberal bias.” (Here is what for many, on the other side of the spectrum, is the essential piece of reporting on the matter, a story by​ Joe Hagan for Texas Monthly. Johnson laid out his case in a piece​ for The Weekly Standard.)

Johnson and Hinderaker, who earlier this year took over as president of the Center of the American Experiment, are frequent critics of our local media, the Star Tribune in particular. A war of words and invective between Power Line and former Strib columnist Nick Coleman ended only when the paper essentially removed itself from the boisterous business of opinionated partisan metro columnists and Coleman, after an ugly siege of internal politics, took a buyout and departed.

Of the two local Power Line writers, Hinderaker is more of a shall we say, acquired taste, for anyone less than fully committed to the modern conservative agenda. Johnson, on the other hand, while determinedly conservative in every imaginable way, proceeds with the instincts of a good student/attorney researching his arguments and shoring up weak spots in his logic. (Not that he isn’t up for a good, nasty public feud, as was on display in his wrangles with Coleman.)

Among other targets, he has brought this academic/legalistic/journalistic approach to a long-running series of attacks on Rep. Keith Ellison; the radicalized elements of the local Somali community (abetted, he says, by the Strib’s liberal bias); the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR); and, most recently, the first Somali-American woman to be elected in the United States: state Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Johnson’s arguments, while eye-rolling to siloed liberals, have at minimum the benefit of being based on more than just a passing semblance of factual data and presented in a manner several degrees of adulthood warmer than the usual caps-locking, semi-literate name-callers.

A polite and fastidious man by all appearances, Johnson, 65, was initially reluctant to sit for an interview. Post-election, he agreed, mentioning he felt the need for “a reality check.” We met at his suburban St. Paul home and talked in his basement office, stocked with hundreds of books sent him by publishers eager for a Power Line imprimatur, and overseen by a photo of Johnson and his wife (they have three grown daughters) and … Dick and Lynne Cheney.

MinnPost: ​One of your persistent themes is the built-in bias of the traditional media. Why do you think that is? How do you explain how it happens and how it persists?

Scott Johnson: ​I think the reporters and editors who go into the work are partisans of the left. And I have to say that with the impending ascent of Keith Ellison you can point out the complete futility of my work over the past 10 years. But on this point, I started writing Power Line with John Hinderaker in May of 2002. At that point we had been writing columns and magazine articles for ten years for the hard copy newspapers and magazines. And this was on top of a law practice, which was time-consuming to begin with.

But the thing that provoked me into doing it was seeing things with my own eyes and ears in the newspaper that were contrary with what I knew to be the case. And the thing that comes to mind, for example, was the Star Tribune’s advocacy through its reporters and analysts of the state of Minnesota’s welfare state. That and downplaying its role as a magnet for immigrants from other states to Minneapolis.

I would get and read the reports that the Star Tribune was purportedly reporting on and see that if you got past the executive summary it contradicted what was in the newspaper. So one of the first long things I wrote was a comparison of Minnesota and Wisconsin’s welfare systems, on the point of attraction to immigrants. 

And I have to say the guy who provoked me into spending a year of my life doing that, researching it and writing about it, at the end of the day said I had done a good job.

MP: ​This was a Star Tribune ​reporter?

SJ: I can’t remember his name. But he went on to be a spokesman for Amy Klobuchar. He just made the jump from reporter/columnist to the office of a prominent Democrat. But he was really a gentleman. He went out of his way to say I had done a good job.

[The writer in question was Dave Hage, who at the time was writing for the Star Tribune’s opinion pages, not the news section. Hage, now an editor of the paper’s science team, says, “I like Scott personally, and I respect his intellect. But I was not persuaded by his argument.”]

MP:​ Well, without getting too deep into the woods on the study you’re talking about, why do you think the Star Tribune and their reporting took one direction while yours took another?

SJ: Well, I hate to say this, and I don’t direct this comment to anyone in particular. But having dealt with reporters over the years on subjects they’re writing about or subjects I’ve been writing about I think it’s a combination of laziness and politics. That’s my perception. You don’t have to go very far to out-work a reporter on his beat, and if you do you’ll do better if you have an open mind. I think I have an open mind, and treat the subjects fairly.

MP:​ Well, one of the perils of the trade is the general assignment reporter who is given orders to produce a story by the end of the day. They’re not specialists. But you’re talking about true beat reporters you believe are or should be well-versed in the subject matter, right?

SJ: ​Well, on that subject the answer is yes. I’m also thinking of the reporter who was assigned to the Keith Ellison beat in 2006. I remember talking with her at the time and experiencing great frustration with the limits of her reportage on Ellison.

MP:​ This is the Farrakhan business? The parking tickets? 

SJ: ​Everything. I was working on Ellison’s checkered past as he worked his way up in Minneapolis after law school from the time he first ran for office in 1998 and was speaking on behalf of Sarah Jane Olson/Kathleen Soliah in 2000 at a National Lawyers Guild fundraiser. I thought the reportage obscured more than it revealed. And in fact many prominent Democrats came to me with information because they were frustrated with the limits of the Star Tribune’s coverage of Ellison. Prominent Democrats who did not want Ellison to be the face of the Democratic Party. 

MP: ​The phrase “many prominent Democrats” is one of those vague umbrella-like descriptors we’ve heard a lot of this past election. But on the point of Katharine Kersten, ​who I’ve met and is clearly intelligent, why do you think someone like that doesn’t go into journalism, as a reporter, or doesn’t succeed if they do? It’s a question for her. But have you talked to her about the frustrations she had dealing with the mainstream and the Star Tribune? I mean, it’s an open call. Supposedly if you’ve got the talent you can get hired at a place like that. 

SJ: ​I’m available.

MP:​ Have you ​asked to be employed? On the editorial board or as some kind of regular contributor?

SJ: No. 

MP: ​Would you want to be? 

SJ: Sure. I was a huge fan of Kathy when she was the metro columnist for the Star Tribune. But my impression is that she was treated like a foreign body that needed to be expelled.

MinnPost:​ My thoughts on her don’t matter much. I’m here to talk to you. But she always struck me as an odd response to a perceived problem. The paper knew it needed a conservative voice, and they could see where this under-served demographic was, in the exurbs and out-state, where they needed additional readership. But Kersten was this wonky think-tanker, who wasn’t exactly using the vernacular of our huntin’, snow-mobilin’ pals in the Sixth District and elsewhere. What she was doing though was infuriating liberals, daily. Which I thought was a good thing. If you actually want a robust discussion, with lots of comments and interaction, there she was, along with Nick Coleman. But the paper really didn’t want either one of them. Too much “robust,” if you know what I mean.

SJ: The thing about Kathy is that she was breaking news stories that were otherwise ignored by the Star Tribune. I just admired her work greatly. I think they really lost something important when they let her and Nick go.

MinnPost:​ “and Nick?”

SJ: ​Nick I really have the utmost contempt for; I have nothing good to say about him. He devoted an entire column to trying to get me fired from my job at TCF. I thought it was a low, dishonest, very nasty piece of work.

MP: ​I’m well aware of the conflict there. But back to the point about Kersten or someone like her, someone who applies to the paper with clear conservative sensibilities. Do you really think they are weeded out, on that basis, by the people making the hiring decisions?

SJ: I really can’t say. I don’t know.

MP: ​Of course, I am asking for conjecture. But what else do you think would account for so few of the kind of people you’re talking about, people who would moderate the bias you see, from being employed at major daily newspapers? 

SJ: It seems like an interest in the media is an adjunct of people who are interested in liberal politics. Why that is I can’t say. Perhaps they’re pursuing the cause by other means. Reporters and editors at the papers tend to be liberal. I think a conservative record makes it harder for a person to be hired. But I don’t know. I haven’t had that experience. I pursued this as an avocation on the side of an active law practice for the past twenty years. I retired from practicing two years ago and I’m doing this full-time now. I was doing it with John for fun. But I always thought there was an opportunity there because of the lack of opportunity for folks like us on the inside at papers like the Star Tribune. 

MinnPost: ​Well, that’s interesting. Because, at least in terms of the opinion page, the [Star Tribune] people I’ve talked to over the years routinely complain about the difficulty in getting ​reliable conservative voices into the paper, and that they want them. But are you saying that in terms of reporting, you think the people making hires look at some applicant’s work and rule them out if they detect a trend of conservative thinking?

SJ: As I say, I just don’t know. But I think the people who go into it tend to be liberal. 

MP: ​OK. But do you think the media model is breaking down? Do you think there are venues now opening up for conservative ​reporters? We’ve had FoxNews now for a generation. We’ve had Drudge. We now have Breitbart as the most famous or most notorious of the new breed. Are these indications that what you might describe as legitimate conservative-based ​reporting is becoming widely available to the general public?

SJ: Not being in the profession myself, it’s awfully hard for me to have an intelligent comment about that. But I have a daughter who is a professional journalist and her work is not opinion-based, but she specializes in reporting on Republicans, the Republican Party and the conservative movement. And I would say the quality of her work has opened doors for her. [She just finished a two-year term as Washington editor for The National Review, says Johnson, and was recruited away to work for Politico.] So to a limited extent I think what you’re saying is true. I think The New York Times has the fort secured pretty tightly. 

MP: ​In terms of what?

SJ: Of having reportage that is pretty reliably liberal, by reporters who are certifiably liberal. As you can tell from the copy.

MP: ​Really? “Certifiably”? How would you characterize that word if you were in court?

SJ: How would you characterize it?

MP: ​Probably as “hyperbole.”

SJ: ​[Laughs] ​​Well then let’s just say I’m the certifier.

MP: ​Who do you read that you trust? 

SJ: I read The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

MP: ​So do you​ trust The New York Times?

SJ: I look at the reporters. I don’t trust the New York Times. But they have standards. They run corrections. The only problem with the corrections is that they imply everything else they got right. But they do hold themselves to reporting facts they hold out to a standard of truthfulness. That is not necessarily the case around the web.

MP:​ They are the foremost news organization in the country, do you agree?

SJ: Yes, and they set the table for the rest of the media, just as the Star Tribune does in Minnesota, and roughly from the same political perspective as the Star Tribune, which I also read. And I check your column out every morning. I think they’re all important news sources.

MP:​ Well, I’ll point out to my handlers that you mention the Times and me in the same breath. But you mention the Wall Street Journal, a Rupert Murdoch property. Do you think they have a conservative undertone in their reporting?

SJ: No. And I think the reporters are not any more conservative than the reporters at the New York Times. But they have some great reporters. Like Jay Solomon on the Iran beat. The Times has great reporters on their foreign beats, like Dexter Filkins. He’s now at The New Yorker. And John Burns from London. He’s a great reporter.

MP: ​Shifting gears a bit, there’s been a lot of conversation over the past couple weeks about the torrent of so-called “fake news” being passed around via Facebook and other social media platforms. Have you followed this?

SJ: ​I’ve heard the term, I have not caught up with the story.

MP:​ Well, the classic case was a bunch of teenagers in Macedonia who gamed Facebook’s ad system by concocting ridiculously inaccurate stories, like the pope endorsing Donald Trump, which were shared hundreds of thousands of times in the last weeks of the campaign. A couple people in local journalism I spoke with about it consider the rise of fake news one of if not ​the most critical problem facing journalism today. It’s potent because it plays to confirmation bias. Do you have any thoughts about that?

SJ: ​It seems to me that the challenges to mainstream journalism are financial. But I just haven’t caught up with that story. I shouldn’t say anything.

[Hours later, Johnson e-mailed to add, “The only fake news I’m personally familiar with is in the New York Times.”]

MP: ​Well, I know you’re up to speed on Keith Ellison and his possible rise to head of the Democratic National Committee. You’ve been his ​bete noir for years. But here’s my point. There are all sorts of people in public life who have messy pasts. Maybe more than not. Do you think his youthful indiscretions, if we can call them that, with Louis Farrakhan and such, deserves a permanent cloud of indictment hanging over him? You’ve been unrelenting.

SJ: When you use the term ​bete noir, what do you mean? 

MP: ​Well, I think if I asked Ellison about the people he sees as avowed adversaries, even enemies, he’d probably mention you at some point. 

SJ: ​The only time I’ve seen a reference to me from him is when he called something I’d written “bigoted,” a column in the Star Tribuneon his memoir, “My Country Tis of Thee.” It ran and he promptly sent out a fundraising letter so he could “fight the bigotry” that my column represented. Although he didn’t challenge any of the facts my column set forth.

You say I’ve been “unrelenting” but I’ve continued writing about him to make the facts widely known so that people who might care would know what they are. I think there’s limited dissemination of the facts about him. And in his case also suppression of the facts, as well as his denial of the facts. My work makes me feel I’ve served a purpose in trying to get the word out, as unsuccessful as I may have been.

I think he’s done really bad things. In the primary in September of 2006, he sent a letter that was extremely misleading to the Jewish Community Relations Council regarding his past association and activities on behalf of the Nation of Islam.

MP:​ Such things have often been described as a “youthful indiscretion.” 

SJ: He described his activities as “limited in time” and “limited in nature” and lied about them. One can easily view the documents.I put them on Power Line! Activities that in my view include the promotion of bigotry, anti-semitism and racism on behalf of a bigoted, anti-semitic and racist organization for a period of time from his graduation from law school through the year 2000. If he had ever accounted for, explained or apologized for those activities, or acknowledged them, your question would really be more difficult than it is. But until then I’ll do everything I can to get the word out about him.

MP:​ So do you believe he is anti-Semitic?

SJ: ​I think the things he said and did were anti-Semitic. 

MP: ​Is there a difference?

SJ: I can’t look into his heart. I don’t know if he’s renounced it, or changed his views. So judging him by his past words and deeds the answer is ‘yes.’ But I’d like to know what you think? Do you think I’ve been too hard on him? 

MP: ​Well, my basic attitude is that culture works best with a balance of cogent thinking. As long as zealous opponents like you are making a fact-based case, people like Ellison and other politicians, who are not defenseless, can argue back at it. More to the point, his supporters, which today includes many in the local Jewish community, are not defenseless. It’s the hysterical name-calling that serves no purpose. On the other hand, has this stuff you’re continuing to object to stopped since he’s become a full adult? And is it or was it really more egregious than other people in public office?

SJ: My perception of him is that he’s been very calculating about making a name for himself …

MP:​ There’s a lot of that in politics.

SJ: ​… and changing his line when it suits his purposes. In my view, it’s important to hold him to account for the things he’s said and done along the way.

MP: ​You’ve been a persistent adversary of Keith Ellison’s. You’ve written often and critically about [the Council on American-Islamic Relations], about radicalized local Somalis and Ilhan Omar. You run the risk of being accused by people who are not your supporters of promoting racism. What do you say to that? Is it a concern to you that such a focus on Muslims paints you into such a position?

SJ: ​One of the reasons I wanted to meet with you is to get some sense of how other people see me. Because I have no idea. I respond to people who ask me questions, and I speak when I’m asked to speak. I’m not a bigot. I hold no grudge against anyone for their religious beliefs. If somebody attributes bigotry to me, I’d ask them to show me anything I’ve written that would warrant that inference. In the case of Omar, I’ve asked questions based on other people’s reporting. I’ve asked her questions myself. They were questions of fact, not of religious …

MP: ​​I thought your questions were fair​.

SJ: ​As for Ellison, I’ve written about him because of my own concerns about bigotry and anti-Semitism and racism. Because Keith Ellison has been a foremost local proponent of that, through his activities with the Nation of Islam. So I absolutely deny that anything I’ve written or the tenor of anything I’ve written is bigoted.

MP:​ On the topic of anti-Semitism, do you have any concerns about Steve Bannon [the CEO of Breitbart News who was recently named to be Donald Trump’s senior White House strategist] who comes with a lot of anti-Semitic baggage? 

SJ: ​I don’t see that. I haven’t seen it. I got to know Andrew Breitbart on a trip to Israel in the summer of 2007. I spent a week with Andrew. I loved Andrew. I think the imputations of anti-Semitism, I just haven’t seen it. I think it’s a handy weapon to change the subject when someone like Keith Ellison is emerging on the scene.

MP:​Do you interact much with the Democratic side of the local Jewish community? People like Sam Kaplan?

SJ: ​We’ve crossed paths.

MP:​ Have you ever got together with him? Ever argued things out?

SJ: ​I only know Sam from a distance. I have slight acquaintance with him. I respect him. He’s friends with cousins of mine. But I really don’t know him well, nor have I ever sat down to argue with him. I don’t think I’d get anywhere with him or him with me. 

MP:​ Might be interesting.

SJ: :​Well, I’m game. 

MP:​ Well, maybe MinnPost can set something up. A fundraiser.

SJ: I just want a level playing field.

Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/28/2016 - 04:07 pm.

    Ah, Nick Coleman

    was never better than middling, as I recall. Helped lead Strib down the mediocrity chute, as I recall.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 12/01/2016 - 08:18 am.

      Nick Coleman

      As I recall, the media columnist and later an opinion writer.

      Hardly the leader of any great movement in our local newsprint factory.

      Speaking of which, what’s so bad about the Strib anyway? It has accompanied me on my morning constitutional for over 50 years with faithful and reliable service.

  2. Submitted by Janice Gepner on 11/28/2016 - 06:27 pm.

    Johnson’s daughter

    Eliana, is Washington Editor for National Review. She has been on NPR as a Republican pundit.

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/28/2016 - 06:34 pm.

    Does Mr. Johnson Realize

    that he is incapable of seeing whether a “playing field” is level,…

    and that, if he were in building trades, he would find that every straight line or square he trusted himself to “eyeball,”…

    would turn out to be at least 20 degrees or more out of plumb,…

    and that every building he built,…

    though it might look perfectly level and square to him,…

    would by REAL, VERIFIABLE measures of distance, level, size, shape, etc…

    look as much like a straight, square, well-built building,…

    as a painting by Salvador Dali or Pablo Picasso looks like a photograph of the same subject?

    There is a reason why a realistic and accurate view of science, logic,…

    and the actual psychological functioning of other humans,…

    are useful in commenting on what’s going wrong and what’s going right in society.

    Even in politics, trusting yourself just to “eyeball” everything,…

    and mistaking your skewed perceptions for reality,…

    as Mr. Johnson and Katherine Kerstin so often do,…

    is NEVER sufficient to allow you to suggest policies and law that would produce the results you desire.

    You simply can’t see what’s in your blind spots,…

    especially when you delude yourself into thinking you don’t have any,…

    that what you see is the totality of reality,…

    and that the only problem with other people is that they aren’t sufficiently like you believe yourself to be,…

    (especially when you’re probably wrong about that, too).

    • Submitted by Luke Soiseth on 11/29/2016 - 01:16 pm.

      needs to get out more

      An interesting article, he makes some interesting points, but when he talked about not being aware of any fake news but the New York Times, here and no post Trump election and 20 years into the Internet, I realized just how out of touch he is with the reality the rest of us are not only aware of but immersed in. That, and that he doesn’t believe WSJ has a conservative bias. Of course they do and the NYT skews liberal, but both do a good job of policing themselves. I also think he’s unaware of opportunity bias because he’s on the inside looking out.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/28/2016 - 08:10 pm.

    Power Line

    I’ve only been an occasional reader of Power Line pieces for the past year or so. That said, while Johnson and Hinderaker are decent writers, nothing I’ve seen on the site suggests that all its two most prominent writers want is “…a level playing field.” What I’ve read there is simple advocacy, though of a viewpoint that doesn’t fly very well in the society as a whole. That may be because they have far fewer readers than do more mainstream publications, and that raises the proverbial “chicken and egg” conundrum. Mr. Johnson’s concept of a “level playing field” is one that tilts decidedly to the right. Nothing wrong with that, but he should stop pretending that he wants evenhandedness – unless he and Mr. Hinderaker intend to be as hard on Mr. Trump’s presidency as they have been on Obama’s. THAT would be a genuine surprise.

    • Submitted by Robert Owen on 11/29/2016 - 10:14 am.

      Far fewer visitors and doesn’t fly very well

      Ray, do you know the volume of traffic at the Powerlineblog web site? I was not able to find any statistics. Any idea of how it would compare to, for example, Minnpost?

    • Submitted by Cameron Parkhurst on 11/29/2016 - 10:18 am.

      Exactly. Will they examine Mr. Trump with the same level…

      level of scrutiny as Keith Ellison? I too was struck by the tone that Mr. Johnson is absolutely certain that he is correct in all that he writes. To be truly balanced he examine individuals from both sides of the aisle. Or at least own up in the interview to the fact that his interest is only in exposing liberals. I don’t have a problem with that, but own it.

      • Submitted by Robert Owen on 11/29/2016 - 11:23 am.

        How critical?

        The Powerlineblog guys (or “boys” in Brian’s vernacular) will likely be only slightly more critical of Trump as Daily Kos or Huffington Post were of Hillary Clinton.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/29/2016 - 01:40 pm.


          Have you ever read Daily Kos or Huffington Post on Hillary Clinton?

          One of the two at Powerline felt he was in the presence of greatness when George W. Bush entered the room. Sure, they will be merciless in their criticism of Trump.

  5. Submitted by Doug Daniels on 11/28/2016 - 08:21 pm.

    Exceptional discussion

    Thank you both for a genuinely informative discussion. Or should I say, genuine argument in the best sense.

    Can’t wait for Chapter Two!

  6. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 11/28/2016 - 09:01 pm.

    Liberal bias in media

    As much as I hate to do so, I have to credit Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hinderaker with helping to expose the Killian memos as forgeries in 2004. But I can’t buy their argument (or at least Mr. Johnson’s) that Rather and Mapes being taken in by these forgeries makes their case for “liberal bias in the media.” Rather and Mapes made a mistake and received a fairly harsh, if not fair, punishment for it. This punishment was based upon their failure to adhere to journalistic standards, standards which required them to corroborate the authenticity of the documents. If anything, Rathergate vindicated the mainstream media for at least having standards and a commiment for at least seeking objectivity and truth.

    Not so much can be said for the right wing media which Powerline has helped to create and shape. Rather and Mapes did not set out to smear George W. Bush as did the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” to 2004 Presidential candidate John Kerry. The Swift Boat campaign, which was generously assisted by the right wing echo chamber was later discredited as having been based on lies and half truths. Even when challenged with the facts by a liberal critic Eric Boehlert, Powerline never admitted any error in its assessment of the Swift Boat campaign.

    I think journalist Glenn Greewald said all there is to say about Powerline back in 2006 after its cheerleading for the War in Iraq had been exposed.

    “If there were any intellectual honesty in our political dialogue, people like Hinderaker and Peters and Hanson would be disgraced into silence. The falsity of their factual claims and the monumental error of their judgments are tantamount to a surgeon who removes the wrong organ, or a lawyer who sleeps through a murder trial, or a journalist who invents facts for his stories. Certain errors are so fundamental, embarrassing and reflective of a deficiency in judgment and an lack of trustworthiness that they stay with those individuals as an albatross around their necks for many years — and rightfully so, because they are so credibility-destroying.”

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/29/2016 - 09:50 am.

    Anyone in the media who worries about bias…

    Doesn’t understand the nature of integrity and information. You don’t “balance” bias with counter bias, you compensate for bias with integrity and reliable information. Those who are devoid of intellectual integrity will only provide “reliable” information when it suits them. If you think a single expose’ that ended Dan Rather’s career somehow “balances” years and decades of misinformation and intellectual rot, you need to go back to the drawing table of critical thinking.

    Kersten is a partisan hack, a debate gamer pretending to be an intellectual. She produces no peer reviewed research of her own (nor does the Center for The American Experiment) and as often as not she and her colleagues distort research they report on or use in their own “arguments”. I suspect Kersten isn’t a reporter because as such she’d have an editor that would enforce some minimum expectations of integrity, as a columnist for the Strib those expectations were minimal to completely absent.

    Speaking of integrity, why spend so much time banging away on Kieth Ellison when one could ask a guy who “admires” Kersten and the CFTAE about all the false claim they’ve made about voter fraud over the last few years? Or are false claims just a way balancing someone else’s bias?

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 11/29/2016 - 11:13 am.


      “Or are false claims just a way balancing someone else’s bias?”

      Trump is the ultimate revenge for 30 years of “Clinton Truth Trimming” where the facts are essentially correct; but, arranged and presented in a manner that sheds the Clintons in the best possible light.

      To hell with arranging and presenting, Trump simply decided to make the facts up to suit his needs.

      Remember Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

      “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”

      Trump has proven this wrong. He was/is entitled to his own facts and his supporters much prefer lies they agree with to truth that they find repulsive (or even mildly disagreeable).

      And Karl Rove, not a Trump fan, provided the grease from Clinton Truth Trimming to Trump flat out lying:

      “The aide (Karl Rove) said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

      The media made this mess in their coverage of these political entertainers and they are the ones that need to fix it. And the fix is the truth: “” and “Politifact” on super steroids where the truth is so clearly and plainly presented that to disagree with it makes one certifiably crazy. Unfortunately, this corrective action must start with the President-Elect.

    • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 11/29/2016 - 05:17 pm.

      Agreed about Kersten

      “But Kersten was this wonky think-tanker, who wasn’t exactly using the vernacular of our huntin’, snow-mobilin’ pals in the Sixth District and elsewhere.”


      I specifically recall a Kersten piece from Feb. 26, 2014, ‘Antibullying bill raises troubling questions – This top-down, statewide measure stems from political correctness — not protection.’

      Kersten wrote, ‘Why doesn’t it protect all children equally, instead of singling out for favored treatment children of “protected classes,” such as race, sexual orientation, and “gender identity and expression”? Why are traditional victims of bullying, like kids who are timid or viewed as nerds, invisible in this bill?”

      If you didn’t bother looking at the actual text of the bill you’d get the impression that maybe Kersten had a point–that is, if you accept the assumed premise that some kids don’t deserve protection from bullying if they happen to be gender non-conforming, gay or lesbian, or non-white.

      Note carefully what Kersten singled out: race, sexual orientation, and “gender identity and expression. Now, below is the actual text of the bill from that date, which Kersten had almost a year to read and report on accurately:

      “(f) “Prohibited conduct” means bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, or intimidation as defined under this subdivision, retaliation for asserting or alleging such conduct, perpetuating such conduct by transmitting hurtful or demeaning material, or engaging in speech that will materially disrupt a student’s learning environment. Prohibited conduct includes discriminatory conduct based on a person’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, marital status, familial status, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, academic status, disability, or status with regard to public assistance, age, or any additional characteristic defined in chapter 363A, as well as association with a person or group of persons with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics; however, prohibited conduct need not be based on any particular characteristic defined in this paragraph or chapter 363A.”

      It then becomes perfectly clear what Kersten was attempting to do: Blow a dog whistle to the people who harbor discomfort or animus against LGBT people and people of color. Kersten lied blatantly and hoped that her readers wouldn’t bother consulting the bill’s text to discover her chicanery. Her intent was clear: Whip up irrational hysteria against the LGBT community. A low move indeed, but apparently we need this kind of “balance” in our main paper of record.

      • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 11/29/2016 - 09:20 pm.

        This bill actually became law didn’t it?

        “(f) “Prohibited conduct” means bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, or intimidation as defined under this subdivision, retaliation for asserting or alleging such conduct, perpetuating such conduct by transmitting hurtful or demeaning material, or engaging in speech that will materially disrupt a student’s learning environment. Prohibited conduct includes discriminatory conduct based on a person’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, marital status, familial status, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, academic status, disability, or status with regard to public assistance, age, or any additional characteristic defined in chapter 363A, as well as association with a person or group of persons with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics; however, prohibited conduct need not be based on any particular characteristic defined in this paragraph or chapter 363A.”

        This is absolutely terrifying. Prohibited conduct apparently is whatever we say it is and we’ll let you know when we decide what it is. Way back in the old days there were plenty of fellow students who
        “materially disrupt a student’s learning environment” by arguing with the teacher, passing notes, shooting spitballs, etc. There wouldn’t have been many people left in the class after one week.

        And we also knew that bullying was wrong. Apparently that is not the case any more…

        • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 11/30/2016 - 09:46 am.

          What is your concern here?

          What do you find terrifying?

          “Prohibited conduct apparently is whatever we say it is and we’ll let you know when we decide what it is.”

          How is this law different than any other? You realize, I trust, that laws and contracts normally specify details at this level?

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/30/2016 - 10:16 am.


          The expectation that students treat each other with dignity and respect is “terrifying”? And yea, this actually became law… Like so many other hysterical reactionary fantasies we passed a law and the world didn’t crash to end. When we legalized abortion it was a matter of months before old people would be rounded up and euthanized. This outrageous expectation of

          This was just white privilege complaining about having to act like adults again, oh the oppression!

  8. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 11/29/2016 - 10:46 am.

    I’ve read Power Line

    I don’t think lawyer Johnson would recognize fair journalism if it bit him in the Hinderaker.

  9. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 11/29/2016 - 01:35 pm.

    The only fake news story

    I know is the New York Times. That is what Johnson said. Not an informed or accurate statement.

    From a media critic who isn’t aware of “fake news.” Sounds like Trump – he knows what he knows and cannot comprehend anything that contradicts his narrow world view.

    Powerline is not news, but commentary. Take their proudest achievement. Taking down Dan Rather. Documents were produced that were found on closer expansion to be fake. Did Powerline reveal who had created them? Perhaps it was liberals out to get Bush or perhaps crafty conservatives who wanted to discredit all allegations about how George W Bush avoided Vietnam and how he may have been AWOL when fulfilling his military obligation. Powerline wasn’t interested in the full truth, just in stopping the discussion and punishing those who brought it up.

    Johnson has a lot of nerve calling others of media bias, as all he does is inject conservative media bias into the discussion – to gain power. Good advice in dealing with a powerline. Don’t touch!

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/29/2016 - 01:42 pm.

      The Rather Story

      Note that it was just this one report that was discredited. That is a long way from saying that GWB fulfilled his duties with the National Guard.

      • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 11/30/2016 - 11:57 am.

        Yup, the facts were otherwise well established

        from sound evidence. The undertaking to discredit Rather’s method was to deflect attention from the underlying substantive matter, and it was completely successful at doing so.

  10. Submitted by John Edwards on 11/29/2016 - 02:09 pm.

    A hopeless mission

    Scott Johnson is in a noble effort, but he is unlikely to succeed in ending the demonstrable liberal bias at the Star-Tribune that stretches back half a century. I first became aware of it in 1969 when the newspaper infamously refused to run a poll showing law-and-order mayoral candidate Charles Stenvig beating the newspaper-endorsed DFL candidate. Stenvig did. Lesson unlearned, a decade later the newspaper had to discontinue in disgrace its Minnesota Poll for several years after it was caught manipulating the final results to predict a gubernatorial victory for DFLer Rudy Perpich. Republican Al Quie won.

    It continued through the equally infamous case of the news room failing to protect a source when it betrayed Dan Cohen after the heat became too intense over his information exposing the shoplifting arrest record of Lt. Gov. DFL candidate Marlene Johnson. Cohen took his case to the U. S. Supreme court. He won. If you read his book “Anonymous Sources” it reveals the hideous double standards applied to non-liberals employed by the Star-Tribune news room. Elliot Rothenberg’s “Taming of the Press” Cohen v. Cowles Media Company does the same. That specifically refers to the suspension of columnist Jim Klobuchar (father of Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy) for secretly writing speeches for his Iron Range friend Gov. Perpich. Such familial relationships are not uncommon. The father of Johnson’s adversary Nick Coleman was married to former Minneapolis Star editor Deborah Howell.

    Johnson’s other specific adversary Dave Hage is not alone in making the short trip from the Star-Tribune to Democratic politics. Former reporter Roberta Walbrun was a legislative aide to far-left Sen. Paul Wellstone. Today, Lori Sturdevant, a former “political reporter,” is a reliably left-wing opinion columnist for the newspaper, cranking out the opposite of Kathy Kersten. Not to be forgotten is R. T. Rybak, a Star-Tribune reporter, who became the very liberal DFL mayor of Minneapolis.

    Then, of course, there is former Star-Tribune publisher Joel Kramer who started MinnPost and a couple of think tanks that are staunch purveyors of liberalism. Right at home in such an environment are former Strib political reporter Dane Smith and reporter Conrad deFiebre among others. Ensconced at Kramer’s MinnPost are former S&T employees Eric Black, Doug Grow and other left-wing hardliners no longer cloaking their advocacy.

    Yes, I realize that none of this ever affected the news coverage. Tee hee.

    My best wishes to Mr. Johnson and his quixotic mission.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 11/29/2016 - 02:58 pm.

      Well, not exactly…

      And how does your Iron Curtain of liberal bias stand up to the one person who absolutely has the last word on what happens at the Strib:

      That would be Glen Taylor, R Mankato, former Republican Minority Leader of the MN State Senate and current owner of the Star Tribune.

      The local far right loves to attack their hated Star and Sickle, yet it is owned by a sane and moderate Republican who, at last appearance, does keep track of the businesses he owns.

  11. Submitted by Mike Downing on 11/29/2016 - 02:42 pm.

    Very interesting article!

    Thanks for an interesting article!

    I tend to ask simple questions in order to gain knowledge. Perhaps MinnPost can pursue answering this qiestion:

    Can MSM be unbiased if MSM gave 96% to Hillary Clinton and only 4% to Donald Trump?

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/29/2016 - 04:16 pm.

      Perhaps Those 96% of the Media Have Been Around

      long enough to be able to recognize the swirling crapnado that we’re about to walk into,…

      as a nation,…

      and they wanted the US to still be whole and strong,…

      and the climate to be survivable,…

      for their grandchildren,…

      and judged that the likelihood of those two things being true was far HIGHER,…

      with a second President Clinton,…

      than they would be with a President Trump.

      I.E. 96% giving to Hillary was only expressing their best judgment,…

      based on verifiable facts and information,…

      while ignoring the “fake news” of “conservative” media.

  12. Submitted by Ellen Hoerle on 11/29/2016 - 05:44 pm.

    Johnson’s obsession

    This article really does expose just how pointless and lame the ‘conservative agenda’ is and how people who adhere to it so tightly show signs of obsessive compulsive behavior, combined with distorted perceptions about what really matters and what types of issues are worth beating into the ground.
    Johnson’s obsession with Minnesota’s welfare state began from a perception that it was too generous and therefore attracting immigrants. Who cares? So a few more pennies of my tax dollars go to families so they can live a little easier, get their act together, become productive in society again. Maybe I’d rather they have food and shelter so they can have the energy to look for a job rather than have to look for the next place their going to sleep each night or be on the constant lookout for the source of their next meal.
    But to conservatives, those few extra pennies are anathema. Those pennies are their pennies. That they earned. Because they work hard. That is the fundamental foundation of conservative thought: No one else deserves my pennies more than me; No public policy should be based by establishing a threshold that will allow people to be more productive, secure, safe. No, welfare payments must always be established at the lowest possible level because the richest country in the world “cannot afford” otherwise. So if the neighboring state is ‘getting by’ with lower payments to welfare recipients, this alone is justification to claim that Minnesota’s payments are too high. Period. No other aspect needs to be considered. Not the human element. Not the societal element. Not the moral element. Nope. Just the opinion of conservatives like Johnson, who fundamentally resent ‘getting taken’ by overly generous public policies because to them, it’s personal. It’s money being taken directly out of their pocket that could be lower if only liberals were less generous with his money. That he has earned. Because he works hard, remember? That he therefore deserves to spend how he wants to. And what he doesn’t want to do is to spend it on immigrants coming to Minnesota because the welfare payments are higher than Wisconsin’s.
    I’m not going to investigate Brian Lambert’s blog but the statement: “liberal partisans are quick to roll Power Line into the same dissolute pool as those trumpeting the pope’s endorsement of Donald Trump” is an absurd statement and exposes the lack of objectivity of the author.
    Liberals don’t assign crass motives to everyone else in society. Liberals understand that life is complex, individuals make choices within the context of their environment–their peers, their culture, their family, their church. Liberals assume that most people will make good choices when given the opportunity to do so, will work hard, and will do what they have the capacity to do when they need to do it. Liberals don’t consider themselves victims by having to share this nation, this planet, with others. Of course, there are the exceptions, but we don’t base our entire life philosophy on the idea that the exceptions are the rule.
    Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to believe that everyone is constantly looking for the easy way out, constantly in search of some state or nation that will give them generous welfare benefits and free access to health care and education. Yeah, that’s why the U.S. is the most productive nation on earth. Yeah, that’s what all those Mexican immigrants are coming over here for–welfare, free education, free health care. No, actually I think it’s jobs and a way to support their families.
    Donald Trump and his minions are just the natural extension of what conservatism has been about since Reagan–1) mischaracterization of the motives and character of everyone else 2) perception that the needs of everyone else impinge on ‘my’ freedoms, that ‘I’ am the victim 3) define injustice as ‘me’ having ‘reduced’ freedom because other people can’t get their act together and get a job and stop milking the government.
    Johnson is an obsessed individual. He’s obsessed about other people’s flaws, other people’s past. He cannot see other people for their whole selves. He might not be able to see them as human beings at all. He cannot acknowledge that Keith Ellison keeps winning because Keith Ellison does good things. Johnson will never be able to acknowledge this. This raging bitterness (“the only fake news I’m personally familiar with is the New York Times”) is destructive, to himself, to our state, to our nation. That is his legacy. That he helped usher in and normalize the destructive ideas that gave rise to Trump. He is proud of himself. If I was his mother, I would not be.

  13. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 11/29/2016 - 07:33 pm.

    I like him

    better when he called himself HindRocket, it sounded more honest. Just like when the Tea Party called themselves Tea Baggers. Maybe that’s why Conservative reality is so much different than actual reality. They’ve been lying to themselves for so long they can’t see what’s true and what’s not.

  14. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 11/30/2016 - 09:10 am.

    Ms. Hoerle

    Though your words seem only loosely related to the interview, I applaud your eloquence and righteousness.

    My own impression of Mr. Johnson is that he is just another of that personality type on the Right who purports to reasoned discourse but is really just about some arrested-development notion of “winning,” and will be disingenuous as necessary to get there (I can’t think of a better exemplar than Ms. Kersten). Despite his obsession with Keith Ellison’s supposed anti-semitism resting on something written 20 years ago, he claims not to have any awareness of the anti-semitism, racism and white supremacism to which Mr. Trump’s campaign was directed and that he is making central in his administration. It is hard to take him seriously after that.

    Otherwise, someone who purports to offer a media critique but believes it is meaningful to talk about a “liberal” media doesn’t have anything useful to say. The “liberal-conservative”media dichotomy is an incoherent frame maintained to deflect awareness of the establishment interests the mainstream media serve, and to manage the social discourse within the boundaries that don’t threaten the existing distribution of wealth and power. The notion that because more reporters identify as Democrats, the mainstream media must be out there afflicting the comfortable and rocking the world for the radical left, isn’t plausible as a hypothesis and must ignore all that is observable in the actual world.

  15. Submitted by Jon Lord on 12/01/2016 - 05:31 pm.


    this Johnson dude doesn’t seem to know much about what he talks about unless he likes it and he doesn’t like liberals period.

    Doesn’t know anything about Steve Bannon, or even Breitbart other than he liked the guy, but is okay with them! This guy Johnson does what now? Something akin to some type of ‘reporting’?…wow. He’s clearly not ‘fair and balanced’ although he thinks he is even though he doesn’t know much about reality as it happens, or happened even. Seems about right for the right. They hear what they want, not what is happening when it’s actually happening. Didn’t he listen to the news these last few months?

    Well like one of my ‘Trump voting friends’ said, they heard about ‘the wall’, liked it, and didn’t listen any more after that…and then they voted. They’ll rue it even if Johnson doesn’t.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/04/2016 - 09:48 am.

      Yeah, it’s about integrity

      On a basic level intellectual integrity is about caring whether your actually right or wrong or knowing what your talking about or conveying reliable information.

      Those who merely clamber for attention by producing palatable content for a select audience aren’t striving for level playing fields or fairly balanced coverage, they’re just striving for attention. Those who patronize such “news” outlets aren’t interested in being informed, they’re looking for entertaining confirmation of existing opinions, comfort information that “fits” their mentality. Both are devoid of intellectual integrity.

      Now Johnson is absolutely correct when he points out the fact that reporting sometimes/frequently doesn’t match reality on the ground, we’ve all seen that but it’s not a “liberal” bias, it’s an establishment bias that caters to power regardless of party affiliation. Anyone who’s really taken the time to observe, study, and analyze media “bias” knows this; so when Johnson blames liberalism he’s either a poor observer or dishonest. It’s impossible to take someone with his level experience seriously when they make such claims. He’s building a response to a false claim.

      Now the the liberal observation is accurate, it just doesn’t produce the bias guys like Johnson like to complain about. This is going to sound snooty but certain professions are just more concerned about integrity and reliable investigation; academia and journalism being among those. Intellectual integrity is a core feature of the liberal intellectual tradition so you get self selected groupings here and there. So yes, the New York Times and the BBC are “more” liberal than FOX, but they’re also far more reliable most of the time because folks like Dan Rather, while not perfect, have far more integrity than FOX contributors like Carl Rove, or stars like Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh, or locally Kersten and CFTAE. Those guy make more false claims in a week than Rather did in his entire career. Those false claims don’t emerge from “bias”, they emerge from a disinterest in integrity.

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