Breaking down the Chanhassen Villager’s unbalanced political coverage

It’s been clear to readers of Southwest Newspapers for a while that the political coverage of the federal and state legislators in Carver County tends to have a bit of a lean to it. 

The coverage, which is led by the Chanhassen Villager team of Richard Crawford and Forrest Adams, frequently fails to challenge political spin offered by GOP elected officials and often omits or downplays Democratic perspectives.  A couple of stories from the March 31 edition indicate these trends perfectly.

Let’s start with “Budget proposals on the table“, written by Adams.

There’s attempts in here to include Democratic perspectives.  But these attempts are frequently out of context and/or lacking in comparable detail to the Republican perspective.  Looking at a few examples will make this more clear.

Democrats disagree. A public radio report quoted DFL legislators claiming the Republicans were using “Enron-style accounting” and basing their budget plans on unproven numbers. Gov. Dayton, speaking to several different audiences, referred to the majority plans as “draconian measures” and “in some cases barbaric.”

The problem with this quote is that no effort is given to explain what underlies these criticisms of the Republican plan.  The fact of the matter is that it’s true that Republicans have not agreed to use the Minnesota Office of Management and Budget numbers which have been used in the past and have instead relied on outside parties.  Additionally, the MN GOP hasn’t provided any of the underlying analysis behind these numbers.  By omitting this context, the comments are made to appear like garden-variety political griping when they are not — they are substantive critiques of the GOP majority’s actions.

And, there’s not a lick of discussion about the cuts that Republicans Julianne Ortman, Joe Hoppe, and Ernie Leidiger put their votes behind over the past couple of weeks.  Huge cuts to higher education and major cuts to health and human services, among them.  I would think most Villager readers would find these to be important to know about.

Here’s another example:

Democrats claim the LGA funding is likely to result in property tax increases that are at a much higher rate than would be offset by any refunds.

It’s not just Democrats saying this.  The Department of Revenue’s analysis of the omnibus tax bill shows this to be true (and, keep in mind that DoR is currently headed by a Pawlenty appointee). Yet, this analysis — released on Monday — doesn’t make it in to the story.  And, Ortman is allowed to state unchallenged that the bill will “greatly improve the livelihood of individuals receiving that tax relief”, when the evidence on this point is shaky at best.

Then, Adams slips these lines in later in the story:

DFL Sen. Tom Bakk, of Virginia, the former chair of the Senate Tax Committee, called Ortman’s tax bill “a big disappointment.”

No explanation of what is disappointing about the bill or why it is disappointing.

DFL Sen. John Marty at a news conference after the tax bill passed committee also decried the proposed $105 million cut to a renters’ property tax refund program.

Again, no explanation of why Democrats think this is important.  The fact that such changes actually make the bill regressive, not progressive, is missed in the Villager’s coverage.

The second story, Crawford’s “U.S. Census: Growth will bring new Senate district to county“, has a fundamental problem:  two GOP sources quoted, no DFL sources quoted.

Just because electoral results have gone predominantly in one direction in this area does not give the local media a pass to give lip service to other perspectives, ignore needed context and not apply some basic fact-checking to what elected officials say.

Our elected officials need to be held accountable, and it’s the media’s job to help with that process. And if they’re not doing their part of the job, it’s time to hold them accountable, too.

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