I never thought I'd be nostalgic for Lou Gelfand! Geldand was the readers' representative at the Minneapolis Star Tribune for many years, before being reassigned -- he claims -- as a form of age discrimination. His column included the standard reader complaints, with Gelfand providing his own response or that of the reporter. He would chide the reporters and editors for lapses such as labeling one group as conservative, while failing to provide an ideological label to the group's liberal counterpart. Still, Gelfand never saw a pattern of liberal bias in these lapses.
The new Strib readers' representative, Kate Parry, is much worse because she has become the defender-in-chief of the newspaper. Yesterday she printed reader responses to her April 17 column on media criticism.
You may think that it is not unusual for a readers' representative to write a column on media criticism, but this one is different. Instead of following up on reader complaints about the Star Tribune, Kate Parry defended the media against general criticism from Congressman Tom Delay of Texas (probably not a Star Tribune reader) and former Governor Jesse Ventura (probably not a reader of any newspaper). In the Delay example, Parry labels Delay's response to reports that his wife and daughter are employed by his campaign and political action committee as an illegitimate "attack" on the media. Parry neglects to mention that the employment of Delay's wife and daughter is not illegal, not unusual in Washington, nor is it newsworthy (Roll Call already reported on it years ago). Rather than seriously investigate Delay's claim that the liberal media were out to "smear" him, Parry piles on with the rest of them.
The Ventura story is the old one about his son partying in the Governor's Mansion. To lump in Ventura's paranoia and general weirdness with legitimate media criticism is unfair. And it flies in the face of Parry's admonishment against "broad" criticism and demand for "specific" and "fact-based" attacks.
In the end, the worst part about Parry's last two columns is that she turns the role of ombudsman on its head. Instead of responding to reader concerns, she is putting out her own pet issues, not specific to the Star Tribune, and then inviting readers to respond. If Lou Gelfand was guilty of sometimes being an apologist for the Minneapolis newspaper, Kate Parry is a full blown defender of the mainstream media. To whom do you turn when the readers' representative is biased?