Perhaps it was too much to hope that we could reach next Tuesday’s special election DFL primary without a deluge of last minute mudslinging. Politics can certainly be a contact sport, yet this campaign had been marked for the past several weeks by a focus on issues in a very respectful, even cordial, atmosphere. All of the candidates deserve credit for that.
We expect that an occasional unfair attack might be directed at one candidate or another by a political action committee or union backing a rival. That comes with the territory.
But when the unfair attacks start with a newspaper editor, that’s a different story. Newspapers have an obligation to inform their readers, not inflame them with distortions and demagoguery.
Unfortunately, the recent smear campaign by Bill Hanna, executive editor of the Mesabi Daily News, against Bill Hansen, was as predictable as it was unprincipled, and it reflects a pattern with Hanna of falsely impugning anyone who raises questions about copper-nickel mining.
Just three weeks ago, Hanna trumpeted statements by PolyMet Mining that suggested that Dr. John Coleman, senior research scientist with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, or GLIFWC, was a leader in the anti-mining movement, a claim for which neither PolyMet nor Hanna offers any evidence.
Hanna, whose slavish support for mining companies is legend, even reported claims that Coleman had “unsuccessfully challenged groundwater models at the Eagle Mine in Michigan and the Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin in attempts to stop them from being developed.”
As we’ve previously reported, PolyMet was unable to provide any evidence, when we requested it, to support those charges.
It’s bad enough that a mining company in PolyMet’s position would put out this kind of misinformation, but for newspapers to publish such claims without seeking some sort of documentation is reckless. When asked if he had any record to support the charges he leveled against Coleman on the MDN’s front page, Hanna told us he was too busy to comment. We took that as a no. Our challenge to both PolyMet and Hanna is this: put up the evidence to back your allegations, or apologize.
In his attacks on both Hansen and Coleman, Hanna also violated a cardinal rule of journalism: If you’re going to publish a critical story, you give the subject the chance to respond. Yet Hanna’s article on John Coleman and GLIFWC made no mention of any attempt to contact them. And the Hansen campaign reports Hanna did not seek comment for the front page assault he leveled against Hansen this past Tuesday. While he did offer the campaign the chance to comment in his initial Sunday broadside, he never published the main point of the campaign’s response, namely that he was taking Hansen’s comments out of context.
What’s worse, it’s plain that Hanna made claims in his story that simply aren’t true. We’ve reviewed video of Hansen’s comments and at no point does he even mention construction workers or building trades unions. Hanna’s claim that Hansen was directing his comments towards them is pulled from thin air.
It must be noted that our criticism here is limited to Hanna, not the MDN as a whole. Indeed, the paper’s new managing editor Jerry Burnes wrote a perfectly fair portrayal of Hansen when he announced his candidacy last month. It’s only when Hanna takes the reporting reins that objectivity and fairness are routinely tossed out the window at the Virginia paper.
It’s worth noting also that, to this point, none of the other candidates in the race appear to be piling on. That could just be smart politics. Then again, all the candidates in this race seem sensible and decent. They’re probably disappointed as well to see what had been a clean campaign suddenly careen into the gutter.
This manufactured issue bears no relationship to reality. Hansen has been staunchly pro-labor his entire life, as have other candidates seeking the DFL nod on Tuesday.
What this reveals, more than anything, is that copper-nickel mining supporters detect the ground has shifted on this issue. As the public has learned more, doubts are growing about the value of turning vast areas of the Superior National Forest into yet another environmental sacrifice zone. Boosters don’t want this debate to center on copper-nickel, because that’s ground that now works to Hansen’s advantage in a DFL primary, even up here. So they’ve concocted a phony issue (he hates union workers!) in a desperate effort to tar Hansen in the final days.
We’ll see on Tuesday if the voters buy it.
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