Long-time readers -- especially those who go back to the early days of Polinaut and/or the "blogs" from the conventions in 2004 -- know that I'm a big fan of transparency in the media. I generally think it's a good thing if people know the secrets of those in a journalism organization. The fact that you may not know the existence of bias, doesn't mean there isn't any. Armed with the knowledge, you can detect whether it creeps into news stories. Truth is: Journalists -- most journalists -- vote and have opinions, just like everyone else. So what's the big deal?
I've come to understand how insanely naive that notion is.
A shudder went through the Minnesota Public Radio newsroom yesterday afternoon: Garrison Keillor went all DFL. Again.
Keillor wrote a fundraising letter on behalf of the DFL challenger to Rep. Michele Bachmann:
Thirty years ago, when I started telling stories about Lake Wobegon, I put it smack in the middle of Minnesota -- in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, in fact -- where staunch Republicans and loyal Democrats know how to live together without yelling at each other and do what needs to be done to work out our problems.
It's embarrassing to me and a great many Minnesotans that Michele Bachmann, a politician who is so busy grandstanding and giving interviews on Fox News that she doesn't have time to serve the people who elected her, represents the 6th District in Washington.
(Update 12:37 p.m. : Bachmann spokesman Sergio Gor says, "The quota on comedy in Minnesota has been reached with the election of Al Franken. Garrison Keilor should stick to what he knows best, which is fabricating make believe stories. Instead of soliciting support from comics, Tarryl Clark should explain to voters why she voted for higher taxes and more useless government spending - every year. This is yet another sign of a desperate campaign.")
It was big news in Minnesota. "It's huge," WCCO political reporter Pat Kessler told a skeptical Dan Barreiro on KFAN yesterday afternoon. "People love him and where is Lake Wobegon? The 6th District."
He's right. It is big -- if predictable -- news. Lesser endorsements have made our news -- former state epidemiologist Mike Osterholm endorsing gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner comes to mind -- but you didn't read about Keillor's involvement here, or our political blog, or our Web site, or our newscasts or on any of our news programming.
Why not? Nobody, least of all me, wanted to touch it and open up the can of worms that is opened whenever Keillor talks politics in the news.
It's true that Keillor doesn't work for Minnesota Public Radio and it's obviously true that he doesn't work for MPR News. Even when he was based in our building, I never saw him converse with anyone from the newsroom unless it was on the air. He's his own boss at an office far away from MPR headquarters for his own company, which produces Prairie Home Companion.
He's not MPR. Except that the perception is that he is. And that's the problem. Perception.
Let's acknowledge that public radio has a long reputation among its detractors for being socialist bomb throwers. Most of it is undeserved. I've worked here for 18 years and even overhearing private conversations, I can't tell you the political leanings of most of the people who work in the newsroom. They work hard to provide a fair -- there's no such thing as objective -- portrayal of issues, although those who are looking for bias will find it, even when none actually exists. I also acknowledge that plenty of you don't believe a single word in this paragraph.
But Keillor's link to Minnesota Public Radio cannot be ignored based on the fact that he doesn't work for MPR. Let's face it: The joint is the network A Prairie Home Companion built. Even this Web site started as the Prairie Home Companion Web site. The fact that you can hear audio streams here has its origin in a gift to make it happen from the owner of a once-dominant Web browser company. He was a Prairie Home Companion fan.
Keillor is no stranger to politics anymore. His early battles with Jesse Ventura were legendary. As the person in charge of creating the MPR News Web site, I can admit they were also welcomed vehicles. Any story with both Ventura and Keillor in it was page-view gold, the currency of the digital age.
If Keillor's relationship with MPR hurt MPR's relations with Jesse Ventura, it didn't show. By the end of his term, MPR News was Ventura's favorite media haunt. He chose MPR's Midday as the place to announce he wouldn't run for re-election, proving that Gary Eichten's professionalism trumps Garrison Keillor's politics. (Incidentally, my colleague, Paul Tosto, notes that Keillor has not been above taking a few shots at liberals.)
He "came out" during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004. It coincided with the release of his book: Homegrown Democrat. He gave pep talks to Minnesota delegates (photo) and held fundraisers while in Boston. I covered that convention. I hadn't read his book. I was, to coin a phrase, embarrassed by the perception that followed. I attempted to interview Keillor for a story about mixing a media organization's reputation with politics, but he wouldn't return my calls. I like to think it's because he didn't want to further link two organizations that -- technically -- weren't linked. Still, it didn't make covering the Republicans in New York a week later any easier.
And that brings us back to my discredited theory of media transparency. It was a selfish notion. It failed to consider that the public is quick to transfer knowledge of one person's politics in a news organization, to everyone else in the organization.
In time, perhaps, people may come to disassociate Garrison Keillor with Minnesota Public Radio and, by extension, Minnesota Public Radio News. From the vantage point of the low-end of the food chain, it's hard to see how or when that happens.
Perhaps the reason that most journalists - as well as college professors - are accurately perceived as tending to be more liberal is because both professions involve gathering and disseminating facts. In addition, many journalists frequently come face to face with real human beings, and have an opportunity to exercise compassion. Neither facts nor compassion are basic tools of those who lean towards conservative political views.
//Neither facts nor compassion are basic tools of those who lean towards conservative political views.
So, let me test this a little more, even though it has nothing to do with the post. Let's take 9/11 as an example. All of the firefighters and police officers who went into two burning buildings that day were liberals? I would think compassion would be a basic tool of doing something like that with your life.
I don't see the big issue with what Keillor said in the first place. As an informed person, I already new Keillor's political leanings, and I also know that he is not a news person, he is an author and an entertainer. To think that the staff of MPR shutters when Keillor goes "all DFL" for fear of what your listeners might think is almost a little insulting. Have a little more faith in us please. For the record, I'm not a Dem or a Repub. I'm part of the largest growing political movement in the nation - neither.
Agreed, Andy. I've always thought of Keillor as an entertainer, an author and a person who has his own opinions on many subjects, politics being one of them, as evidenced by his op-ed pieces in the Strib. I don't cast him as a news person. The guy owns a bookstore, for Pete's sake. Hello!
Sounds like it's more of an issue for the MPR news personnel than anything else that they get defensive about it. Mirror, mirror on the wall.
It's not a listener consideration, it's a public consideration.It's about the perceptions in the world, not among MPR listeners, per se. Reporters want to be able to deal with candidates, for example, without a perception that they're either against -- or friendly to -- the candidate.
Our work quite often is distributed beyond the listener. We want that work respected and believable by those who consume, but aren't regular listeners.
As for the listeners, well, I recall the recent LRT controversy in which several listeners pulled their support for MPR because of it, even though the newsroom and the programming that probably led to that support in the first place, has nothing to do with decisions made elsewhere in the company. So I know the distinction that some people see as easy to make, isn't really that easy to make.
More often than not, Prairie Home is mistakenly linked to NPR more than MPR. People dont know American Public Media exists at all. They think its just NPR, so the blame usually gets put on NPR, GK is free to speak his mind, and it wont reflect on you. Remember that "Were All Republicans Now" routine he did? MPR didnt suffer through that, because people knew it was entertainment, not news. Bob, do you think there are some secret liberals at Fox News that people dont know abou/t
It's interesting that it would be linked to NPR since they have no affiliation at all. In fact, one of the great mistakes NPR ever made was intentionally deciding NOT to be the distributor of the program.
//Bob, do you think there are some secret liberals at Fox News that people dont know abou/t
You've demonstrated the problem with one sentence. You use FoxNews as the opposite universe. We know, of course, that "the media" is often identified as "the liberal media." So the question more appropriately would be do you think there are secret liberals at the Strib or PiPress, or NBC, or CBS,etc.
I really appreciate your transparency on this issue, Bob. I admit, I thought Keillor worked for MPR.
Are you saying Keillor misrepresents himself as part of MPR?-- let's be clear.
If not, isn't this post a bit hypocritical. I think your biases are showing through, Bob.
He's not a journalist-- he's a celebrity and a bona fide representative of Minnesota. He GETS to have an opinion and act as an agent of social change.
//Are you saying Keillor misrepresents himself as part of MPR?-- let's be clear. If not, isn't this post a bit hypocritical. I think your biases are showing through, Bob. He's not a journalist-- he's a celebrity and a bona fide representative of Minnesota. He GETS to have an opinion and act as an agent of social change.
I don't know of anybody who said otherwise. That's not the point. The point is whether there is unnecessary collateral damage?
If you agree with Keillor, and I suspect most of the comments here do, I can understand why you, well, don't understand.
Let's try another approach to the hazards of mixing politics with "business."
Target. Is there a right to an opinion? Yes. Do they get to be an agent of their version of social change? Yes. Has there been collateral damage because of it? Yes.
//He's not a journalist -- he's a celebrity and a bona fide representative of Minnesota. He GETS to have an opinion and act as an agent of social change.
Chad, I agree with you on this point regarding Keillor, but the whole point of this post is mainly that many people associate Keillor with MPR, because that's where they hear his weekly show, not because Keillor is presenting himself as an employee of MPR. Bob's bigger concern is that Keillor's remarks will further solidifiy the perception that MPR has a strong liberal bias. (In my opinion, it provides some of the most balanced and thoughtful reporting out there - reason #1 why I can't bear to turn anywhere else for political coverage.)
So, Jim, I assume from your own definition, you must be conservative. Sweeping statements like, Neither facts nor compassion are basic tools of those who lean towards conservative political views. clearly aren't rooted in either facts or compassion. I'd love to get back to that place where staunch Republicans and loyal Democrats know how to live together without yelling at each other and do what needs to be done to work out our problems. We do that better than most places, here in Minnesota (and I'd wager that's a good part of why Dayton's opened up such a significant lead in the governor's race). We can disagree and be civil. I can still like people, even if I think (or know) they're wrong, and people can be wrong even when they're using facts and have compassion.
Bob, I'm struggling to figure out the crux of your concern here. Is it that MPR News may be viewed as biased by MPR listeners? Or by candidates? Or outside of Minnesota? Or all of the above... Or is it that, ironically, MPR News' concern about not being tied to PHC leads to overcompensation that may have a negative impact (or leave a void) on news coverage? I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, just to figure this out.
On the listener front, (perhaps I'm grossly naive, but) it's difficult for me to imagine an MPR listener who wouldn't be able to separate an entertainment program from the news and understand that while MPR News informs PHC, PHC doesn't inform MPR News. My sense is that listeners who can't (or won't) make that separation are more likely to fall into the public radio = liberal media rant category anyway and are likely (unfortunately) unreachable.
Having lived in a number of other places, I can also attest that there is a common perception outside of Minnesota that PHC is an NPR production, which...maybe works in everyone's favor??? ;-)
\\In time, perhaps, people may come to disassociate Garrison Keillor with Minnesota Public Radio and, by extension, Minnesota Public Radio News.
I think most serious MPR listeners already have. Most of the uninformed never will. Their loss.
What I don't get is why this news. Keillor is a Democrat. Bachmann is an embarrassment. Shocking. In other breaking news: Sun rises in the east.
While I understand the concern, I find it hard to believe that there is anyone in this country who is "undecided" about public radio and television, and who will be swayed by this. They either already think public radio is a hotbed of socialist conspiracy, or they don't.
I think people do associate Keillor with MPR. And, I also think MPR has a slight leftward tilt, but it's something I detect with only some of the radio personalities and not with others. The interviews are where you would see this, e.g. the interview with former Australia PM John Howard, or a Tom Emmer interview from a few months ago. Never with Gary Eichten, that guy is a true professional. I cannot say I've ever detected a rightward tilt on MPR. I think the coverage is mostly fair. And thank goodness it's not the blatant "point of view" nanny-style journalism as practiced by Time Magazine, Fox, or MSNBC. BTW I do have friends who are journalists, including at the WSJ, and most privately count themselves as liberals, but I can't see it in their work product. Entertainers like Keillor, Charlton Heston, etc. have had their opinions but they are of little value to me.
At some point the product speaks for itself. Most people who watch Fox News do not watch for the News but for the commentary, same with MSNBC. The presence of the commentators and personality have obliterated the credibility of their newsrooms in the minds of those who lean in the opposite direction or are "none of the above" types. The Daily Show still pulls an audience because while the news is tilted it is done in many ways better than the real guys do it. MPR's news product has a long ways to go before Garrison can taint the product.
Those Car Talk guys are the next Glen Beck/Keith Olbermans though :-)
//Any story with both Ventura and Keillor in it was page-view gold, the currency of the digital age.
Judging by number of comments - Keillor and Bachmann are the new page-view gold:)
Bob, do you think the perception that MPR is biased has gotten worse since GK "outed" himself?
I tend to agree with the commenters that think most non-listeners minds are made up about the leanings of public radio and would call any public radio production "NPR" (it doesn't help that NPR and MPR sound so close).
I wonder if perpetuating the ideal that MPR is biased is just an easy way for conservative politicians to avoid "hard-hitting" questions while appealing to their base? (while liberal politicians come just come up with other excuses)
"Reality has a well-known liberal bias."
Noelle-- I agree that many media consumers associate Keillor with MPR and view MPR as having a liberal bias.
Isn't that MPR's problem, though? -- I just don't think it's really fair to blame Keillor for expressing an opinion-- especially when he's not an agent of MPR.
People have the perceptions they will. What matters is actuality. If it's MPR's reputation Bob is concerned with, I respectfully think his beef is with MPR and not Keillor.
//If it's MPR's reputation Bob is concerned with, I respectfully think his beef is with MPR and not Keillor
Nowhere in this post do I say I have a beef with Keillor.
I think what you're failing to understand is that while you're correct that what matters is "actuality," people view that through the prism of perception. That's the issue.
Let's look at it in micro. Let's suppose I work in the MPR newsroom, but I don't cover politics, or I don't write about politics.
Is it OK if I stick a Tom Emmer sign on my lawn? Would it reflect on the person whose job it is to cover politics?
I am a historian and the debate about transparency and bias inherent in the process of writing and researching the past is always present in the discipline. True, we are told to write with objectivity and remove ourselves from what we write, but it is a purely subjective process from how we formulate questions to which sources we choose to consult in the writing process. The "cult of objectivity" still dominates, though, and as I watch militarists spout hawkish rhetoric and labor historians march on strike picket lines claim that they are ideologically detached from their subjects it is abundantly clear that the cult is spoken but not lived.
Politicians, journalists, many academics in the social sciences/humanities (and many, many others) speak of transparency and objectivity regularly but rarely do you see in an introduction to a speech, article, or book saying directly what their ideological leanings are. Perhaps it stems from desiring a pubic perception of rationality, where the "right" decision or conclusion does not align with the author's beliefs but with what the facts or situations indicate is most correct. Few people in public positions (or producing things for public consumption) provide the transparency they so often demand, leaving them with the perpetual rallying cry to bring transparency to the forefront, possibly knowing that they are adding to the opacity of a field, process, or subject. A little off the Keillor/Bachmann discussion there, but the idea of objectivity and transparency is quite intriguing and usually a source of meaty debate.
So how about a parallel -- would Fox News employees be just as concerned if Simon Cowell (let's imagine he's a US citizen) or a lead on Glee came out against a certain candidate? Would they be concerned about being tainted? Sure, Fox entertainment execs might be concerned specifically about the show, but there seems to be enough separation between them and the news wing that I doubt messages would be mixed.
Whether it's there or not, detractors are going to find their bias in all the MPR/NPR/PRI programs if they go trying to find it, no matter how fair the program actually is (though I agree with a previous commenter, sometimes I notice overcompensation). I doubt GK is adding anything new this week.
I don't think FoxNews -- or TV for that matter -- makes a good comparison for a couple of reasons. One is that Keillor was a host on Minnesota Public Radio for many years. His association with MPR is much closer than some Hollywood production house is with Fox and, by association, Fox News (the fact they're on opposite coasts doesn't hurt).
Then, of course, there's the little matter of Fox News not being especially concerned whether you think they bring a particular slant to the news.
When you work for Minnesota Public Radio and you call other parts of the country -- especially places where people might be considered not likely to know anything about Minnesota -- they quite often respond because they know as as PHC.
Remember, too, that for many years, the signature audio logo at the beginning of PHC said, "From Minnesota Public Radio."
It may be hard for people to relate to the issue at hand because they agree with Keillor's view, which is why I bring up the LRT issue as an example.
Still operating under the assumption that people CAN make a distinction between people who are news at MPR and people who are something else -- entertainment or whatever -- when MPR -- the corporate side not the programming side -- made their comments known about the problems with light-rail, there was a pretty withering response. Some people who supported MPR because of its news programming, opted to discontinue that support, even though nobody in the newsroom or who has anything to do with the production of programming, had anything to do with the decision.
So, yes, while it might seem easy to distinguish all of the various elements, when you look at it in the micro, it's really not.
If you're a David Brauer fan -- and who isn't -- you'll note that he points out when MPR covers a light rail issue, it should always use the disclaimer that MPR is suing over light-rail.
There's a reason for that.
I'm not a big fan of the idea because I think it raises the suggestion that MPR News' coverage of light rail is influenced by MPR's business dealings on light rail. On the other hand, I see the value of the transparency, although I still think it invites people to say "don't pay any attention to the reporter's work on this story."
And I know people do that sort of thing because I've read the twitter comments whenever the Star Tribune writes a story about a new Vikings stadium. I know what they say whenever a Strib reporter goes off to work at left-leaning organization etc.
//A little off the Keillor/Bachmann discussion there, but the idea of objectivity and transparency is quite intriguing and usually a source of meaty debate.
That's an outstanding assessment you just provided.
Maybe a less astute question, Bob, but was it troubling for the newsroom when Horner decided to run for governor, given his recent connection to MPR? Or was that different because he was always introduced as 'Republican analyst Tom Horner'?
//Neither facts nor compassion are basic tools of those who lean towards conservative political views.
//So, let me test this a little more, even though it has nothing to do with the post. Let's take 9/11 as an example. All of the firefighters and police officers who went into two burning buildings that day were liberals? I would think compassion would be a basic tool of doing something like that with your life.//
Wow.That's quite a dramatic analogy there, Bob. And nice job of taking my unashamedly biased and confrontational comment out of the greater context of my point.( Sorry. I've lived out of the state long enough that the simultaneously infamous and cherished "Minnesota Nice" that Keillor so often alludes to has worn off.)
To answer your implied rhetorical question: of course, voters on both ends of the political spectrum can and do display both intelligence and compassion in their daily lives.
To answer your direct question ( again, wow, really dramatic), while many policemen and firefighters enter their careers out of a sense of strong compassion for others, in general the primary personality characteristic in the case of firemen is a strong desire/need for adrenalin.In the case of policemen, it's the need for power. ( Data from personality testing).
I wonder what the primary motivator is for a desk jockey journalist who sometimes fails to hide his own biases? :-)
//in general the primary personality characteristic in the case of firemen is a strong desire/need for adrenalin.In the case of policemen, it's the need for power. ( Data from personality testing)./
I know many police officers and firefighters (some of them are women, so I'll avoid the "men" suffix), and it is my understanding that compassion leads them to their work, sense of public service and duty keeps them going, and adrenaline is somewhere in the mix of keeping things interesting. I would really love to see the data to which you refer here. In the spirit of transparency, surely you wouldn't mind sharing.
Touche, Shannon. I'll try to be more careful in the future to use gender neutral terms for professions.
That said, in 2009, only 18% of uniformed officers with the NYPD were female, and less than 1% of the firefighters with the FDNY were female ( although 25% of the paramedics were female). (http://www.thechief-leader.com/news/2009-04-24/news/010.html) The number of women police officers and fire fighters has increased significantly since 9/11/ 2001 - the relevant date in context with the perhaps overheated banter between myself and Mr. Collins, the writer of the interesting original article.
Regarding compassion, I would argue - political correctness be damned - that levels of compassion in nearly all professions would probably increase with higher percentages of women in the field.
Regarding your totally appropriate request for sources of personality test findings for police officers and firefighters, I searched the internet unsuccessfully for the data. I did discover that perhaps not surprisingly, results of psychometric tests are held in confidentiality, for better or worse. My own hearsay source was a forensic psychologist who had administered MMPIs, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and the Strong Interest Inventory to cadets at police and fire academies more than 20 years ago. I won't divulge that person's name for the purpose of increasing my own credibility.
As I'm sure you know, psychological tests indicate drives that are often subconscious. How much credence or importance to place on these tests is debatable. They are used because they have been found to be significantly accurate predictors of future behavior.
I'm glad that in your experience with firefighters and police officers, "compassion leads them to their work, sense of public service and duty keeps them going, and adrenaline is somewhere in the mix of keeping things interesting."
Well said, and certainly a desirable goal, whether or not it is an entirely accurate description of the current reality, particularly in regards to male police officers.
The fact that so many comments use Fox as an example opposite to NPR shows an underlying acceptance that the networks are similar in operation but with opposing political agendas. This is precisely the bias that the original question regards.
Keillor is somewhat of an embodiment of public radio in Minnesota. When he advocates for political action, the reputations of NPR and MPR are drawn with the tide.