"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

St. Luke's Hospital vs. Duluth News-Tribune

Ken Browall is publisher of the Duluth News Tribune. (Image from "the podunk blog")
 

You may be aware that the Duluth newspaper is being sued by St. Luke's Hospital. Lawsuits are never fun and regardless of how this one turns out, there will be some lost sleep.
A little dose of humility might be good for the company that owns the Duluth paper. It's the same company that owns our Morris and Hancock papers.
But I would suggest there's another reason why the Duluth paper should be taken to the woodshed. A year ago at this time the Duluth News Tribune (DNT) got on its high horse and decided we needed a good ol' tea partier representing Minnesota's Eighth Congressional District.
We will hear less of the tea party as time goes by. It's a political fashion that will run its course in a manner like Jesse Ventura. That's because, we all favor responsible government. No one advocates for recklessness, so it's just a matter of how to proceed.
Right now some very conscientious government leaders in Minnesota feel a high-speed rail project is a responsible and forward-looking, even grand, proposal.
But Chip Cravaack, the man who slayed Jim Oberstar, says "no."
Northern Lights Express high-speed rail would connect Duluth and the Twin Cities. The Federal government is expected to cover up to 80 percent of the project's expense.
Cravaack's party, the Republicans, thought it fine to fight wars and not pay for them. But in regard to the high-speed rail proposal, the neophyte congressman says he "doesn't support spending money on a venture that can't pay for itself," according to MPR.
Oberstar was totally behind the venture.
I have a first cousin who lives in the Duluth area and he can tell you how to deal with bears. The point here is that Duluth is somewhat remote and thus can benefit from grand government-funded projects. This one has a pricetag of about $750 million.
How fast is high-speed? The trains would go up to 110 MPH. The one-way trip would zip by in about two hours.
The world is getting smaller all the time if we let progress take its course. But the Duluth News Tribune endorsed Chip Cravaack last October in an editorial that a City Pages opinion writer called "a big wet kiss."
I could almost cry when reading the actual endorsement piece because it included: "There's no denying the enormous, life-changing and positive impacts U.S. Representative Jim Oberstar has had on Northeastern Minnesota."
The historically right-leaning company that owns the DNT couldn't just say "OK, let's keep him there."
The upstart Cravaack got the nod of Duluth's dead-tree media product because "the brake pedal of fiscal responsibility is needed in Washington," the DNT asserted.
Does the Dakotas-style of conservatism really have a place in Minnesota? The Duluth News Tribune is owned by Forum Communications which has its roots in Fargo, North Dakota. It fancied itself an empire of sorts for a time, but I'm not sure any newspaper company today can be described with the grandiose term "empire."
If it doesn't like throwing its weight around, why does it endorse candidates? Forum executives dictate endorsements (to their properties) in statewide races. They denied giving direct instructions for the Cravaack endorsement. Cynics can smile and realize we all know what side our bread is buttered on.
In situations where The Forum does endorse Democrats, I would suggest it's in races that aren't real pivotal or where polls indicate the outcome is obvious anyway (as with Amy Klobuchar).
Do people really want the tea party? Its rhetoric is so enticing for many. But when tea partiers roll up their sleeves and do what they say they'll do, the reaction might be "wait a minute."
Only two months had passed before the Duluth newspaper seemed to be saying "wait a minute" in regard to ol' Chipper.
"The DNT is shocked, just shocked," Hart Van Denberg wrote on the City Pages site.
Cravaack was showing skepticism about the city's request for Federal funds for airport improvements. He asked "Can we afford it?"
The DNT bristled, arguing the funds in question weren't "pork."
It's never pork when it benefits you, is it.
It was suggested that the DNT's reaction represented "buyer's remorse."
Oberstar was an 18-term Democratic congressman and household name. He was a visionary. He saw the high-speed rail project as a no-brainer that would benefit Minnesota. Cravaack has reasoned the money would be better spent fixing roads and bridges.
I would suggest those roads and bridges will be maintained even if it's not at an absolutely optimal timetable. But when you have a chance to grab a Federal "goody" like the exciting high-speed rail, you take it and beat your chest over it. We're Minnesota and we think big.
Maybe in the Dakotas it's OK to lay back, be complacent and just ensure people aren't taxed too much. That's OK if it's your thing. Fargo has the Red Hawks, we have the Minnesota Twins.
The Federal government has been moving as if high-speed rail will get the nod here. A $5 million grant has been awarded for engineering studies. The Federal Railroad Administration has approved a route. So everyone, let's get on this bandwagon.
Let's get on it the way our Republican administration wanted us all to get on the bandwagon for the Iraq war. It's not so simple, though, when so many of us are incapable of recognizing a good thing.
Moving ahead with high-speed rail would be an exhibit of America's greatness.
The tea party is regressive and not as widespread as might be generally believed. Is it largely a media creation pushed by moneyed right-wing interests whose agenda is to put President Obama and the Democrats on the defensive? To intimidate them into not really enacting many of the populist type of principles they might be inclined toward?
So they push "fiscal responsibility" as if any of us are actually against that.
Oberstar said "the Fargo Forum owns the Duluth newspaper." Of the endorsement he said "they have dictated this outcome. It is one that fits their philosophy. It does not represent that of the Northland."
These quotes appeared in David Brauer's column on Minnpost.
A friend once said to me about a young athlete he saw as too cocky: "Maybe he should have one of his (testicles) taken off. Maybe he'd appreciate the other one."
This I hope will be the effect on The Forum, of the lawsuit from St. Luke's Hospital. It's a defamation action resulting from the DNT fancying itself an "investigative" reporting crusader in the mold of the 1970s Washington Post.
It's tremendously ironic because The Forum is a very risk-averse media business. I would argue it's a cookie cutter chain newspaper company. Its agenda is to rake in as much revenue from legacy advertisers as possible while newspapers retain some semblance of viability. The line on the graph is downward and we hear whistling in the graveyard.
Yes, papers can prop themselves up by making cuts. Businessmen who are Republicans are especially proficient at this. And then when they look at the burgeoning ranks of the unemployed, they say "These people don't have the skills we're looking for."
No wonder Michael Moore has such a big and growing following.
Screw the tea party.
I found an offending DNT article online but had difficulty trying to read it because a "log in" panel kept popping up.
"Join now for free access," I read.
Well if it's free, why do I have to log in? That makes about as much sense as "save a pretzel for the gas jets" (from the "bad lip-reading" website).
Consider the following headline and tell me if it's reasonable, restrained and fair: "As Duluth hospital reaped millions, surgeon racked up complaints."
Is there any doubt the headline writer was screaming "expose?" A chimpanzee could see this. A chimpanzee wearing sunglasses.
Problem is, there are systems of accountability built into our health care system. There are proper channels, which is the way it should be. Heaven help us if we need Woodward and Bernstein-style reporters.
The surgeon in question is a neurosurgeon. I imagine his work is vastly more difficult and risky than helping someone with a sore throat.
I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on TV, but let me offer some advice to Duluth's medical community: Don't let a stupid newspaper sow seeds of friction or discouragement in your community. Use the proper channels for ensuring accountability in medicine, for surely these are reliable.
Might it be that St. Luke's Hospital wasn't spending as much on advertising as it might have? This is a possible motive.
Again I'm astonished that a plain vanilla company like The Forum would do such edgy work. I'll also make a little wager that the newspaper principals who were involved in this won't be there a year from now.
And that includes Publisher Ken Browall who pronounced in reaction to the St. Luke's suit: "The stories portrayed what is unquestionably a matter of public safety and concern. We look forward to proceeding to court and the dismissal of this unwarranted complaint."
No one questions that the subject matter involves public safety and concern. It's how you approach that, that is at the crux of this.
Browall didn't make the most obvious and expected rebuttal statement, which would have been "we stand totally behind our stories and our reporters."
You at the DNT have become an annoying gadfly to a vital health care institution for the Duluth area.
Browall said "we look forward to proceeding to court."
Yeah, and save some pretzels for the gas jets.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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