At least four local journalists have interviewed Rep. Erik Paulsen since Israel's Gaza assault; none has pressed him on the issue. Nor has any sought clarification on his support for the Balanced Budget Amendment [alongside his calls for continued deficit spending and further stimulus measures]. In refusing to acknowledge inquiries from constituents, real journalists should also be pressing Paulsen on the civility and openness issues. So a journalist not interested in sucking up to Paulsen has at least three obvious areas upon which to grill the Congressman.
Our community's central forum for journalists and congressional representatives is Almanac--TPT's Friday-evening public affairs program--where Erik Paulsen appeared on January 23, 2009. The Almanac website forthrightly informs viewers: We've been checking in with members of Congress this month. This week we visit with our state's newest member in the House of Representatives. In other words, hosts [and consorts] Cathy Wurzer and Eric Eskola promise--right from the start--not to ask any hard questions or press for answers on any controversial issues.
Wurzer and Eskola are true to their word: The interview is a series of softballs, agreements and cutesy, staged/scripted 'personal' questions, with no mention of Gaza, the BBA or civility.
Why do Cathy Wurzer, Eric Eskola, Esme Murphy and the entire Twin Cities journalistic establishment abase themselves in this manner? How did we end up with this vain, supine bunch? A number of possible explanations occur:
1) You can't criticize a saint: Cathy Wurzer is Minnesota's dream daughter, ever-present on Minnesota Public Radio; many middle-aged, middle-class Minnesotans view her as the paragon of Minnesota Nice respectability, as she daily admixes the news with allusions to her personal foibles and love of fly-fishing--with her humanizing, recurring linguistic idiosyncrasy ['in five minutes from now']. The local journalistic pantheon are viewed as exemplars of community pride; to criticize Eric Eskola, Esme Murphy etc. is to reject the local culture as a whole.
2) Laziness: Journalists allowed a public audience with Erik Paulsen know their prestige will increase whether or not they question him aggressively. They notice, over the years, that they're admired whether or not they do their jobs. Slowly, they intuit the course of least resistance--'to visit with Erik Paulsen' rather than to engage in legitimate journalism across from him.
3) Fear: The big names of Twin Cities journalism fear backlash from the community, should they persistently question a politician. Local righties have become adept at guilt-tripping any media inquiry perceived as coming from a left sensibility. And they're afraid of losing future access to the politician, should he conclude that they're something other than his publicity flacks. (Witness the slightly pleading tone, as Eskola begs Paulsen to return for future interviews.)