No one denies that the Star Tribune has a liberal bias on its editorial page, the place where newspapers traditionally quarantine commentary. But the Strib says a firm wall exists between its liberal editorial page commentary and it’s objective news page coverage.
To be sure, individuals, organizations and causes of all ideological stripes regularly get lit up on the Strib’s news pages. For those who doubt that liberals get torched, see the charred remains of their top standard bearer (Former ubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch), top rising stars (Former Speaker Matt Entenza and Former State Auditor Judy Dutcher), and top legislative priority (property-income tax swap proposal).
Still, like the swallows return to Capitstrano, we can count on conservative shrieks of bias and victimhood whenever someone from their club gets scrutinized on the news pages. The so-called “Red Star” is the target of nearly as many as bizarre conservative conspiracy theories as the Tri-lateral Commission, ATF and Tinky Winky combined.
But there’s one thing that fuels legitimate reader confusion and mistrust about The Wall of Separation. News columnists. The Strib and other papers have long allowed news columnists such as Doug Growe, Katherine Kirsten, Nick Coleman, Dennis Anderson, Ron Schara and others to express red hot personal opinions about policy issues…on the news page side of The Wall.
While the highly sophisticated Rowdy Crowd understands the difference between the role of news columnists and news reporters, I submit that it is confusing as hell to more casual readers. You can’t blame folks for questioning objectivity on the news pages, when a substantial hunk of the news pages are dedicated to biased, incendiary commentary.
I’m not saying these columnists shouldn’t exist. I’m saying they belong on the editorial pages, clearly labeled. If the Strib wants to cut down on the commentary v. news confusion, it has a lot of options. It could put all the commentary in one place. It could more clearly label it. It could even use a different color, masthead, layout, font, and/or format (e.g. magazine style insert). Perhaps those who so frequently call for better disclosure from the public sector should themselves do a better job disclosing.
Of course this won’t stop the complaints. There is no FDA-approved cure for persecution complexes. But maybe it would help reasonable readers better understand and separate the duel function of newspapers – to journal and to opine.
By the way, I don’t mean to single out the Strib. The same applies to many other outlets, especially cable TV news channels. Fox TV, for example, maintains it has unbiased news reporting, yet constantly co-mingles, without labels or predictable patterns, objective news coverage and thermonuclear editorial coverage. Again, as with the Strib, if they want to clear up the confusion, they could make the separation of editorial and news more distinct and clear through better partitioning and labeling.