Monday, December 13, 2004

Media Bias, Blogs, and Minnesota 2006

John Fund wrote an interesting article on blogs, media bias, and elections at Opinion Journal this morning. It calls attention to South Dakota’s 2004 Daschle vs. Thune Senate race, noting the clash between South Dakota bloggers, and the impact they made on the traditional media establishment. It also notes a parallel situation in Minnesota, which is likely to receive similar blogger attention in the upcoming 2006 Senate election (he even plugs Gary’s Dayton v. Kennedy blog, to whom the hat tip goes for pointing out Fund's article this morning).

This is surely true, as far as it goes. But the media situation in Minnesota is a bit more complicated than that of South Dakota, and any campaign media strategy ought to keep this in mind.

First of all, unlike South Dakota, Minnesota has two large newspapers; the Minneapolis based Star Tribune, and the Saint Paul based Pioneer Press. The Star Tribune is the larger of the two in terms of circulation, but the Pioneer Press still retains a significant state-wide voice.

Much to the chagrin of Minnesota’s Republicans, the editorial boards of both newspapers have traditionally aligned themselves with the political left. A local joke has been that we don’t have a left and a right perspective between the papers. We have only left and lefter (the Star-Trib is “lefter” if you were wondering).

Yet there are intriguing signs that this might be changing.

First of all, while the Star Tribune continues to reliably endorse Democrats for major office (once in a while they might back a lefty Republican for lower office as proof of their “objectivity,” but they never allow that to intrude upon their endorsements for more senior offices, like President or Senator), the Pioneer Press has surprised many by beginning to endorse Republicans for major office. They recently endorsed the re-election of President Bush, and backed Norm Coleman over Walter Mondale for Senate in 2002.

Another interesting development at the Pioneer Press has been noted at Fraters Libertas among other local blogs:

“Over the past year or so, there have been signs of an ideological change [at
the Pioneer Press] coming. Most prominently, the hiring of Mark Yost on the
editorial board and Craig Westover as an editorial contributor. I've been
hesitant to declare the Pioneer Press as a legitimate alternative to the Star
Tribune. They still have a dominant hard left influence on their editorial board
and their news coverage, … But some of their editorials, the work of Westover
and usually unattributed work of Yost, have been outstanding.”

Not to project my own wishes too strongly on these developments, but there is at least the possibility that the strong left-bias of the Star Tribune might face a challenge from a media organization of the traditional sort, above and beyond any it faces from the blogosphere.

Another interesting difference between Minnesota and South Dakota is the blogosphere itself. As Fund’s article noted, the blogs opposing Daschle were more or less start-up operations that had to invent themselves as they went along. In contrast, Minnesota is home to some of the largest and most influential blogs anywhere on earth. Minnesota based Powerline (2 of the 3 writers anyway), Captain’s Quarters, and James Lileks’ (occasionally political) Bleat, are sites with daily readership rivaling that of many newspapers (albeit drawing a national, rather than local audience). They are already well established and influential, and likely to be even moreso by 2006. The role such powerhouses of the blogosphere might be able to play in a local rather than national election was perhaps only hinted at in South Dakota.

This in mind, it should also be noted that Minnesota is not nearly as conservative as South Dakota. It is, however, no longer reliably Democratic either. It is a state that has come to embody the “50/50” nation. Exactly half the members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation are Democrats, while the other half are Republicans. Democrats control the State Senate, while Republicans control the House. Republican Tim Pawlenty currently holds the governorship, but won it in an election where former Democratic Representative Tim Penny ran as a third Party candidate, perhaps splitting off a significant number of votes which would otherwise have gone to Democratic candidate Roger Moe.

In this environment simply exposing a candidate’s liberalism is no assurance of victory. Unlike South Dakota, a sizable number of Minnesotans will enthusiastically support a strongly liberal Senator.

All this makes for a very different equation than the 2004 South Dakota race. One element they surely hold in common is that blogs will be crucial in fact-checking the local media. But beyond that, the 2006 Senate race in Minnesota is shaping up to be an even wilder ride.

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