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These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus interview with

Don Shelby, Investigative Journalist
May 20, 2016

Media today are more concerned with getting so-called "balance"  than seeking truth

Overview

Don Shelby, highly regarded investigative journalist, sees campaign finance as a major threat to civic engagement and democracy, with the media contributing to the problem. The connection between an informed citizenry and the media has broken down. Resources for news coverage have diminished. People are losing faith in their government. News outlets seem preoccupied with being "balanced", irrespective of what the facts say. Civic organizations might be complicit. The younger generation is cynical about politics. He remains optimistic as he reviews the environmental movement.

For the complete interview summary see: Shelby interview

Individual Responses:
D.T. King

Interesting piece from one of our local media’s icons.

I’m only one among his horde of listeners over the years and would respectfully disagree with his conclusion.

If there’s a leaning one way, it’s skewed right, which if you look it up, means more voluminous on the left axis.

That said, Don is dead-on right about the lost truth part.

Too bad journalists don’t have to take a Diogenesian Oath to do no journalistic harm. There’d be a lot less "news."

Chris Brazelton
Don Shelby makes some excellent points. Our democracy is in deep trouble if we can't figure out how to get at the truth and get that truth to the citizens. We also need to overturn Citizens United and restore accountability to the campaign finance system.

Paul Hauge
Don Shelby is an icon in the Twin Cities media environment- always up front
with his reporting presentations, a keen mind and clearly right on concerning
the Citizen’s United case, which he mentioned but apparently did not want to
offend anyone about the outcome during his CC interview.

Congress will not tackle the media issue that he presents and the media also
apparently is leery of offending either side of the issue.

A great review of his interview.

Rick Bishop
Thank you. Such discussions are better served with a wider dissemination.

Dennis Carlson
Don Shelby has been one of our family favorites for many years. He is/was a fair, trusted, excellent journalist - today those qualities in journalism have almost become extinct. I always felt he cared about the people of Minnesota and provided not only a balanced approach, but a caring approach to the news. He was our local Walter Cronkite.

I became very jaded and bitter about the media treatment of our school district in the 2009-2011 years. What was a complex, multi-faceted issue - teen suicide - became a destructive narrative about our school board, staff and students. Local weekly newspapers and our city cable TV reporters were careful to try to report the truth. Other media outlets were brutal - metro TV stations (with the exception of WCCO), CNN, and Rolling Stone magazine. There was some satisfaction in that the same Rolling Stone author who skewered us, Sabrina Erdely, was discredited after her debunked rape story at the University of Virginia. She used the same approach in both stories - determine your most explosive narrative and print only that which supports it. Even the editorial board at the Star Tribune blasted our district in their opinion pieces. To their eventual credit, their reporter, Paul Levy, took the time and effort to write several good articles on us. Sarah Horner from the Pioneer Press also was fair with me and with our school district.

What I learned from this was a valuable lesson - as a superintendent the media is never your friend - they are the media. They will be only interested in self-preservation, selling copy and ads, and even creating news if the facts are not exciting enough.

We just had a training session for aspiring, young superintendents and I shared my experience with them. What I feel bad about is that they will not get to experience a Walter Cronkite or a Don Shelby deliver the news when a popular president is assassinated or a young student dies. There was a time when we would hear real concern, extreme sadness, and compassion for others when these reports came. Now we hear from today's newscasters, excitement in the tragedy and delight in being able to report the negative headlines. The "Kardashian-ization" of the news is alive and well! One rare exception locally is Frank and Amelia on the WCCO nightly news. They do seem to care about community and project that to their viewers. WCCO seems to hire well and carry on the strong professional news tradition as best they can.

The loss to me lies in each of our communities and in our personal lives. We lose compassion and caring from our news sources. We hear reporters that are disconnected from our communities and ourselves. They deliver a news product that is meant to sell - not report the truth or do a deep dive on a complicated subject. Especially when we have a presidential campaign like we are currently experiencing - we could use some fact-finding and a deep dive into the policies and beliefs of our candidates over the years. Instead we get nightly bullying and disparaging remarks that mirror teen-age texting and Facebook comments.

No wonder Mr. Shelby resorts to working on the environment and singing the blues. I fear the good old days in the newsroom are gone for good. Now they are even ending Rosen's Sports Sunday—I may have to get my sports stories now from YouTube—all in the name of progress and being competitive.

Wayne Jennings
A good statement of the problem. I don't see a solution except for public financing of campaigns and limiting the time span for campaigns as they do in some other countries, e.g. Great Britain. Will it take a constitutional amendment to protect our democracy?

As they say, the monks won't destroy the monastery.

Terry Stone
These two sentences from the Shelby interview are troubling.

"Campaign finance is a major threat to civic engagement and the nation's democracy. Action of the U.S. Supreme Court that gives wealthy donors the right to make unlimited contributions on behalf of political candidates without being identified represents a major threat to civic engagement and the nation's democracy, Shelby said."

Shelby is referring to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case. The court ruled that spending money was a form of free speech. The Citizens United vs the Federal Elections Commission ruling found that any person or group spending money to express their political opinion was exercising their 1st amendment right of free speech.

Since that ruling, prominent liberals (Including Minnesota’s own Al Franken and Rick Nolan) have mustered outrage at the idea that individuals and corporations have a constitutional right to engage in the political process through political action committees. It seems that, to Don Shelby, it just doesn’t seem equitable that corporations and wealthy individuals have the ability to have a larger voice in politics than, say, you or I.

The 1st Amendment has never aspired to guarantee equality of speech—just the freedom of speech. Hollywood stars have used their fame to influence elections and they continue to do so. Organized labor is the single biggest contributor to political campaigns. Successful individuals are also able to exercise more political free speech—George Soros and Tom Steyer for the Democrats and the Koch brothers on the right.

Don Shelby may be barking up the wrong tree. There is evidence that he overestimates the value of money in elections. Ben Carson spent $795 per vote to lose the GOP 2016 primary. Jeb Bush, with nearly universal name recognition, spent $368 per vote to lose the race. The winner, Donald Trump, spend just $64 per vote, so far. Bernie Sanders is showing how people of unexceptional means are able to pool their (average) $27 donations and compete with the multimillion dollar donations of Hillary Clinton’s Super PAC machine.

Shelby, perhaps, ignores that that the big money donors in politics tend to balance themselves out. A bigger problem with American politics is arguably political influences that do not balance themselves out. Colleges and universities have evolved to have a powerful liberal bias that is not offset by other academic forces. Likewise, the mainstream media is widely biased toward liberal ideas with few media outlets leaning right to balance them. Minnesota’s foundations are a remarkably clear case of liberal bias; only a handful of them represent conservative ideals.

Misdirected or not, it seems that Shelby would aspire to place the power of the federal government behind silencing the political expression of corporations and wealthy people. Apparently famous Hollywood personalities, academia, foundations, labor unions and the liberal media will continue to exert vastly unequal influence on elections unabated.

If I understand Shelby’s thinking, political free speech would actually become an inferior subcategory of speech. If Google, for instance, wanted to spend a billion dollars on selling their cloud computing service, they would continue to have that freedom. If Google wanted to donate a billion dollars to a non-profit political action corporation, they would be forbidden to do so by the federal government because political speech would be inferior and such donations would be now forbidden.

Corporations have long had the rights of people—except that they cannot marry or vote. Instead, they merge and lobby. They provide jobs and pay taxes—lots of taxes. The idea that you and I, acting as a corporation, would have a restricted right of free speech is absurd.

Government taxes and regulates corporations. The very idea that a corporation’s free speech is impaired so that it cannot respond or fully share its view of government is more than troubling. It is absurd that a corporation, say, a newspaper, would have a federal limit on how much it can spend on political investigation. It would be unproductive to restrict political spending for a corporation developing a new energy source and wishing to support candidates likely to support the new energy technology.

A bigger problem for Don Shelby’s campaign spending ideas is the intent of the 1st Amendment, "Congress shall make no law….abridging the freedom of speech." The 1st Amendment doesn’t define different types or levels of free speech; it prohibits the federal government from passing any laws restricting it. One should think long and hard before aspiring, through an amendment, to limit a crystal clear right of all citizens.

There are practical and effective ways to address election concerns. If Mr. Shelby is concerned about the little guy not being able to compete with the big donors, a bill for an income-adjusted political expenditure tax credit of $100 would make small political donations explode. If Mr. Shelby is concerned about political donations buying influence, a bill to require competitive bidding on all federal contracts would solve the problem. Playing with the U.S. Constitution is dangerous—particularly when self-interested politicians and members of the media are pushing the idea.

 

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The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Interview Group  includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

  John S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje (Executive Director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (Chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman

 

 

 


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The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405.  civiccaucus@comcast.net
Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919   ~   Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.
 

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