Local newspaper fails to cover the local angle of the story


Recently, City Pages, with tongue firmly in cheek, announced that the new Star Tribune Ombudsman was their own Matt Snyder. Maybe City Pages does need to “hire” Matt Snyder as an ombudsman on behalf of the Star Tribune who recently “reassigned” theirs. The Strib editor claimed that the new realignment over the past few months which saw close to half of the real journalists leave the paper with “early retirements”, Susan Albright forced out of her job as the Editorial Page Editor, and moving Kate Parry from Ombudsman to health editor was designed so that the new owners of the local print media “heavyweight” could concentrate on better coverage of the local area. Ha!

Two recent examples highlight the hypocrisy of such a claim. First, the whole city media is “scooped” by the City Pages breaking the story of St. Thomas and Desmond Tutu. Only after City Pages publishes do the Strib, the Pioneer Press, and all the TV stations pile on – to an incident that happened in July!

Opinion: Local newspaper fails to cover the local angle of the story

But more current is what happened in the Sunday edition of the Strib. Despite the fact that the Twin Cities is home to one of the largest concentration outside of Laos of people of Laotian descent (Hmong), the Strib carried a story about the effects of unexploded ordinance in Laos on page A21 (“Laotians live with a lethal legacy”), a story written by Paul Watson of the LA Times. The Pioneer Press placed the same story with a different headline (“The war is over; our bombs still kill”) on the top front page of its Sunday edition. However, there is a difference beyond the editorial decision of where to place the story – how much of the story is “newsworthy” to our local readers. The Strib version of the story deletes twelve of the paragraphs included in the Pioneer Press version, and, most critically, cuts the original article’s mention of one of the deadliest unexploded ordinance left in Laos from the Vietnam War days – the cluster bomb.

At least the Press article includes that US warplanes “flew more than a half-million missions over Laos and dropped between 2 million and 3 million tons of ordinance on a country that, at the time, had a population of 3 million people.” The Press version also includes Watson’s claim that “one of every three [cluster] bomblets failed to explode, and they …[wait] to injure or kill anyone who happens by.”

However, neither Watson’s original article or the Strib or Press versions mention that close to 30 million cluster bomblets were dropped on Laos – meaning that there are close to 10 million of these unexploded bombs remaining where “forty percent of the casualties have been children.” But, as neglectful as this omission is to the impact of the story, the bigger omission goes to the heart of why local newspapers need an ombudsman. These deadly cluster bombs were made by Honeywell which had its corporate headquarters in our hometown. And the dirty business of making more deadly (and illegal) cluster bombs has since been spun off to another local corporation after Honeywell tired of the protests at its corporate front door.

That successor is Alliant Techsystems, presently headquartered in Edina. However, they recently announced that they too are moving, this time to Eden Prairie where, according to the local Edina Sun-Current” they are building a new building –“ a relocation to its own building would give the company an opportunity to fortify its property with such protests in mind”. (April 18, 2007 Sun-Current article). There has been a weekly protest against Alliant Techsystems (ATK) for more than 10 years by AlliantACTION, a successor group following in the rich tradition of The Honeywell Project, the group that drove Honeywell into selling off its dirty business of making landmines and cluster bombs.

If the Strib was interested in better covering the local angle to the story, they could have contacted St. Thomas Law Professor Virgil Weibe, an international expert on the effects of cluster bombs. Or, they could rent a DVD of the excellent film, “Bombies”, which features the Twin Cities own peace prophet, Marv Davidov. They could mention that speakers about cluster bombs will be here in the Twin Cities at the end of this month (see below). Or they could check out www.AlliantACTION.org . If they really wanted to cover a local story. If.

Monday, October 29, 2007, 7PM
William Mitchell College of Law, Auditorium (on the 2nd Floor)
875 Summit Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55105
Co-Sponsored by WMCL Amnesty International

Tuesday, October 30, 2007, 4pm
University of St. Thomas, St. Paul Campus
2115 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105
Co-Sonsored by Peace and Justice Studies and UST Amnesty International

Tuesday, October 30, 2007, 7 pm
Luther Seminary, Northwestern Hall, Auditorium
2481 Como Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108
Co-sponsored by Emmanuel Mennonite Church & Faith Mennonite Church

Wednesday, October 31, 2007, 12:30 pm
University of St. Thomas School of Law, Room 235
1000 LaSalle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55403
Co-sponsored by University of St. Thomas School of Law Amnesty International.