Does the Star Tribune have it in for U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken? A look at the paper’s coverage over the past few weeks might suggest as much. For example, today’s report on Franken’s attempt to delay vote certification in order to investigate absentee ballots — a request that was rejected — called the request “eleventh-hour maneuvering” by Franken. While the phrase “eleventh hour” was most famously uttered by Sen. Norm Coleman, who dubbed a Texas lawsuit filed by a GOP-affiliated CEO an “eleventh-hour attack” orchestrated by the Franken campaign, it’s the term “maneuvering” that seems more loaded. The campaign surely wanted to pick up a few more votes prior to today’s certification by the state Canvassing Board, but is concern for incomplete vote counts in 49 counties, as cited by Franken’s campaign, merely a political strategy?
And then there’s this case: On Nov. 16, the Strib ran an AP piece about Al Franken’s trip to Washington today, where he’s expected to meet with Democratic leaders and do some fundraising. It notes that Franken has said he won’t be attending an orientation for new senators because “it would be too presumptuous.” The state GOP adopted the word yesterday in a press conference by chair Ron Carey, but reporters there challenged that assumption, turning the tables on Carey. As video by The UpTake captures, one journalist asked him, “Aren’t you being presumptuous by saying that Norm Coleman has won this election twice? The state of Minnesota has not declared anyone a winner in this race.” (Today, WCCO’s Pat Kessler reportedly asked Secretary of State Mark Ritchie how Coleman’s campaign can make such claims. In an email to supporters today, the Coleman campaign stated that the state Canvassing Board, in certifying the Nov. 4 election results, “for the 3rd time” found “that Norm Coleman was re-elected to the United States Senate.”)
Yet “presumptuous” makes a repeat appearance in a Nov. 17 Star Tribune story by Bill McAuliffe. It’s included in a quote by Coleman spokesperson Mark Drake and again appears in the story’s headline: “Coleman camp calls Franken’s D.C. visit ‘presumptuous.’” The third usage in the story, which gets no headline treatment, is when a Franken spokesperson uses it to explain why Franken isn’t attending today’s Senate orientation.
A similar thing happened late last month. When a lawsuit surfaced that included mention of funds allegedly directed by wealthy donor Nasser Kazeminy to Coleman via his wife’s employer, the Star Tribune ran a story with a declarative head: “Suit alleges ally funneled $75,000 to the Colemans.” But when a second suit surfaced making the identical claim — which could easily be interpreted as a damaging development for Coleman — the paper soft-pedaled the real news under a headline that prized Coleman’s reaction over the newsworthy fact of the second suit: “Coleman calls on foes to ’stop attacking my family’.”
On October 26, the Strib endorsed Coleman for Senate, a reversal of its 2002 endorsement, which favored Walter Mondale, filling in for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, over Coleman.