Sunday, October 28, 2012

Matt Schmit's DWI and media credibility

In 2010, a fellow named Tom Emmer was the Republican nominee for Governor of Minnesota. Tom had plenty of flaws as a candidate, and one that the media loved to dredge up was his history of drunk driving. Emmer had been arrested in both 1981 and 1991 (29 and 19 years before his run for governor) and charged with DWI.

A cursory Internet search shows that Emmer's DWI history was mentioned at least half a dozen times in the Rochester Post-Bulletin, and a number of times in the Winona Daily News. The Post-Bulletin even made the decades-old arrests part of its Emmer profile 10 days before the election.

I single out those papers because they are the two daily newspaper that cover Senate District 21 here in southeastern Minnesota, where we currently have a race between incumbent Sen. John Howe and challenger Matt Schmit. (Full disclosure: I have volunteered for, and made a contribution to, the Howe campaign.)

Regular readers will remember this post from a few weeks ago, when we discussed Schmit's DWI arrest and the Red Wing Republican-Eagle's refusal to mention it. Much like the R-E, the Post-Bulletin and Winona Daily News have yet to write anything regarding Schmit's DWI.

The problem for them is that this weekend, thousands and thousands of their readers learned about Schmit's DWI when a mailer arrived in their mailboxes, courtesy of the Republican Party of Minnesota. The party made an independent expenditure on behalf of Sen. Howe that contains Schmit's mug shot and details of his arrest, which happened just four years ago.

A reasonable person might ask the question: Why was Tom Emmer's decades-old DWI arrest considered news by the Rochester and Winona newspapers, and Matt Schmit's recent DWI arrest isn't? Why haven't either Heather Carlson of the Post-Bulletin or Mary Juhl of the Winona Daily News - the two reporters who have written the most about this race - bothered to include this in the stories they've written about Schmit? Both of them certainly know about it. Carlson and I discussed the arrest - and Schmit's other credibility issues regarding his residence and employment history several weeks ago, and a web site - - has been publicizing Schmit's various problems for the last month or so. So why haven't they written about it?

One pretty simple explanation: Emmer is a Republican, and Schmit is a DFLer.

That's the logical conclusion that thousands of southeastern Minnesota residents can now draw when they read the mailer about Schmit and realize that their local newspaper has been keeping this information from them.

As I've written before, the newspaper business is in trouble for a variety of reasons, one of which is that people simply don't find them credible anymore. Years and years of media bias on behalf of liberal candidates and causes have drained media credibility to the point where this study by Pew Research shows it cratering. And incidents such as this just help continue moving newspapers down the road to irrelevance.

In the spirit of fairness, I've reached out to Heather and Mary and offered them a chance to explain why Emmer's DWI was newsworthy and Schmit's DWI isn't. I'll be happy to pass along their thoughts.

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