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SF Political Reporter Calls Your Chance for Meaningful Primary a “Mess”

Who would call an opportunity to practice democracy and hold a meaningful Presidential primary in South Dakota an unwelcome mess? Why, only that Sioux Falls paper’s star political reporter:

It’s like a burning garbage truck careening toward South Dakota. More and more, it looks like there’s no way to avoid a collision.

…A lot can happen in two months, but it appears this mess of an election has South Dakota in its sights. And if it does indeed reach us, with its flawed candidates and disappointing level of social discourse, it will no doubt leave many South Dakotans hoping that their state reverts back to an overlooked backwater come 2020 [Jonathan Ellis, “South Dakota Might Not Avoid Election Mess,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.04.02].

For one of South Dakota Public Radio’s esteemed “Political Junkies,” this disdain for democracy is incomprehensible. If I were making a living writing about South Dakota politics (oh, wait—what’s that ringing I hear? Is it the Blog Tip Jar? :-) ), I’d be thrilled at the prospect of candidates and surrogates and volunteers barnstorming through our state. Remember Hillary at the Second Street Diner? Bill at the library? Barack at the Corn Palace? Having the chance to grab a photo and land an interview with the next President of the United States should have every South Dakota reporter goose-pimpling at the prospect of a Presidential primary running hard through June. There’s far more chance that our delegates could be king- or queen-makers than that our three electoral votes will attract repeated press-worthy visits from our Presidential candidates or even be up for grabs (at least not until we Democrats change the statewide narrative and win the Governor’s seat in 2018).

Ellis mingles disdain for the process with disdain for the candidates. Here he exhibits his employer’s ongoing post-Daschle stress disorder: to avoid any semblance of partisanship, he draws a false equivalence between the hairball candidates coughed up by the Republican Party and the reasonable policymakers contending on the Democratic side:

If it’s hash on the Republican side, it’s not nearly as tidy as many Democrats had hoped it would be by now on their side. Front-runner Hillary Clinton has been unable to put away Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The Freebie Express keeps rolling onward, and there is a chance that Sanders will remain competitive going into the June 7 primary in South Dakota [Ellis, 2016.04.02].

(A) I like hash.

(B) Tidiness is for autocracies, not democracies.

(C) Freebies?! Try cheap shot from a columnist more interested in preventing Republican subscribers from branding his paper partisan again than in offering a sober analysis of the fact that Sanders and his supporters are really talking about working together as a national community to pay our way for things we need instead of letting the rich and powerful escape their obligations. Bernie Sanders is leading a far more intelligent conversation about public policy—and Hillary Clinton is offering far more intelligent responses and counterproposals—than anything we’re hearing belched and bleated by the Republican frontrunners.

But chained down by his paper’s once-bitten-forever-shy paralysis, Ellis has to pretend that somehow the GOP’s celebrity billionaire turned fascist and his annoying Dominionist rookie Senator alternative are no worse flaming garbage than a former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State talking real policy with a veteran Senator whose audacity lies not in xenophobia and thuggery but in honest calls for the democratic socialism that already underpins our greatest American institutions.

Lori Walsh, take Jonathan Ellis’s stripes. A real Political Junkie would not groan at the prospect of a heated Presidential primary in South Dakota. An honest Political Junkie would not cower behind any false equivalency between the unseemly GOP candidates and the serious, experienced public servants offered by the Democrats.


  1. Chris S. 2016-04-03 09:10

    Wow, that is some awful political reporting by Ellis. Too much “reporting” like that is nothing more than theater criticism, not news. Actually, it’s worse than theater criticism; they’re not reporting on the actual play, but about what they “feel” about the play, and in a way that won’t offend half their audience (whether it’s true or not).

    After breathless, mostly nonsensical campaign coverage for the past year or so, the media has decided they’re bored with the whole thing and want to move on to the general election. Here’s a novel idea: Maybe let the voters have their say? And if the media is bored or disdainful, then maybe they can shut up unless they have some actual news to report.

  2. Dana P 2016-04-03 09:37

    I used to look forward to the weekly “Political Junkies” segment on Dakota Midday. But the last year or so, I have found it much less informative and extremely slanted. Not the show itself, but some of its “junkies”. Ellis and Woster being the worst. When both of them refer to Noem as “Kristi” over and over, (“when I spoke with Kristi earlier this week”……uggg) I have no problem listening to things that I might not agree with, but only when it comes from objective observers. Add into that, so-called journalists that purport a cozy relationship with a politician? grrrrrr

    And some of the comments they make, made me wonder what they were paying attention to and if they did have their finger on ANY of the pulse going on in South Dakota. Now, reading this? Makes me shake my head.

    Lori Walsh? YES!!

  3. 96Tears 2016-04-03 09:49

    Highly overrated Pat Lalley, managing editor at Sanford Leader, praises Jon as the finest investigative reporter in South Dakota. The only investigating Ellis does is searching his desk for paper clips. He has less output in a month than what Cory puts out in a day on Dakota Free Press. He’s a willing captive of the establishment Republicans in Sioux Falls, just like the editorial board at Sanford Leader. Bob Mercer in a slack week produces more news than Ellis does in a month, and he’s a solo reporter without the benefit of support staff.

    The rot at That Sioux Falls Paper starts at the top. Considering how the economics of newspapering will make daily newspapers a dinosaur in the next 10 years, don’t expect the Sanford Leader to show improvements any time soon. Its status as the flagship of South Dakota journalism disappeared several years ago.

  4. grudznick 2016-04-03 10:16

    You shouldn’t annoy the media, Mr. H. They buy ink by the barrel. Although I can’t listen to Mr. Lalley because he will suddenly snort or yell into the web microphone. They need to moderate his voice quieter.

  5. 96Tears 2016-04-03 11:06

    You are correct, Señor Grud. But if you don’t know how to use those barrels full of ink to any significant effect, they might as well be full of cotton candy.

  6. jerry 2016-04-03 13:05

    We seem to expect our media to actually provide us with news that in current and believable, that has long passed. This days, we are tortured with fluff along with the slanted positions of our owners. If not for the voices of excellent sites like this one, we would all be in the dark room with the rest of the mushrooms, being spoon fed bullpuckey while longing for a ray of sunshine.

  7. Roger Elgersma 2016-04-03 17:10

    Democracy may not be pretty, efficient, or fast, but it is the best we have.

  8. John 2016-04-03 18:27

    Ellis still has my vote, and likely would have Winston Churchill’s. It’s foolhardy to worship at the temple of ‘democracy’ – less one defend the annual nonsense in Pierre, the US congress with 8% approval ratings, or the 1933 ‘election’ of Adolph (yes, that Germany was once a ‘democracy’ (after losing 2 elections in 1932 by increasing margins, his party engineered a government takeover leading to the last German national election in 1933 – until the post-war).

    “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…” Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 11 November 1947

    Scan the poor decision making of this state’s electorate over the past decade, nah, generation. The idea of having anything they vote for to represent this nation is abhorrent. There are only 2 credible potential candidates remaining in this 2016 field: a governor, and a former mayor. The rest are imminently unqualified by standards of decency, or past voting records, or lack of judgment, or all of the foregoing in any combination. The chance that the US will get either candidate as president is not good. Hence, Mr. Ellis’s justifiable discourse.

  9. Jenny 2016-04-03 19:48

    Dana, after being in MN and having MPR, I think SDPR is a joke.
    During the whole EB-5 did SDPR or SDPT even have any special segments on it?
    Now MPR, they know investigative journalism. If this scandal had been in MN, MPR would have investigated long and hard and never stopped.
    KELO and DFP are the only watchdogs in SD that fight hard.

  10. Donald Pay 2016-04-03 19:59

    The mess of primary elections has lingered in Wisconsin now for a couple weeks. Bernie is working hard, Hillary not so much. Bernie has a long history of coming to “Fighting Bob Fest,” an annual progressive gathering in Wisconsin, so it is surprising to me that Hillary is within a couple points in the latest poll. There’s a strong feminist progressive contingent and a strong minority community that is keeping Hillary in the game.

    I got a robocall from a white hate group supporting Trump. Mostly, Trump has imploded here. He made a number of unforced errors, widely reported in the media. Mostly Trump is getting payback for how he dispatched Walker. He’s run into the revenge-seeking Walker machine/conservative think tank/local conservative talk radio cabal, who are all in for Cruz. Kasich will pick up delegates here, too, though it’s looking as if Trump may edge him for second.

  11. Darin Larson 2016-04-03 21:07

    Jenny, SD public radio and tv would be defunded and outlawed in about 2 nanoseconds if there was a wiff of investigative journalism in their production. I don’t blame them. At least we get to see and hear the legislative session video and audio.

  12. Toclayco 2016-04-04 04:07

    I only needed to see that word to divine Ellis’ worldview. Which is to say the Chamber’s world view.
    It had been evident on a fairly regular basis in his reportage. The Chamber and it’s ongoing leadership have been accustomed to calling the shots and using media to spread the word.
    Order. Tidy. Dare I say pre-ordained? The suits know best. The suits are meant to set the agenda. The suits will tell you what you want. Stop fighting. It is good for you. Lie back and enjoy it.
    It’s good to be the king.
    And the King’s pissboy.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-04 06:14

    Toclayco, the Chamber favoritism in that comment rankles me, too. My ascribing it to that desire to create cover in false equivalency is a generous interpretation, but your interpretation that it shows a genuine sentiment held by the reporter is simpler.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-04 06:24

    John, your reference to Churchill is apt. Democracy is full of awfulness… but I still think it deserves more respect than Ellis gives is in his column. Ellis sounds like he’s saying he wishes the election weren’t coming. A better response from a reporter, from a political junkie, and even from a Churchillian concerned about the excesses and errors you describe would be, “There are some bozos running for office, but hey, this heated primary is our opportunity to educate the electorate, lead honest and informed conversations, and help the people make the right decisions.”

    Calling the Sanders campaign “the Freebie Express” misportrays the issues and feeds the stupids.

  15. Jake Cummings 2016-04-04 08:34

    Ellis seemingly conflates the tone of the two primaries, and stereotyping Sanders’ supporters as the Democratic “freebie” bloc caused Ellis’ article to veer into questionable journalistic territory. There was a point in the article where he could have drawn an interesting distinction between Republicans candidates largely preying on xenophobia and fear versus Democratic candidates’ debate regarding who is more beholden to corporate America and who, as president, can ensure the dynamic between corporations and the populace becomes more equitable.

    I suppose I am governed by a certain level of fear as well because while Sanders’ stances do resonate with me (not to mention his messages of unity like that shown here:, I do not believe he would defeat the Republican nominee (even if it were Trump). Conversely, I wonder if enough people despise Hillary that it would result in a Republican victory.

    Regardless, electing a Republican portends a likely shift to a more conservative SCOTUS, more decisions like Citizens United, and likely greater inequality (be it racial, income, etc.), so I hope my own fears are unfounded.

  16. chris 2016-04-04 09:55

    No doubt the Argus will refuse all revenues from the political ads which will accompany a South Dakota contest. Quelle horreur, Jonathan Ellis!

  17. Jenny 2016-04-04 10:11

    Darin, SDPR and SDPT are part of the problem. There is nothing stopping them to do some investigative journalism for the people of SD. If they’re afraid of losing money, then people like Cory and his followers could start a revolution and give more money. :)

  18. Brett 2016-04-04 10:22

    I didn’t always love David Montgomery, but I think the Argus misses him a lot. He at least had the ability to weigh in without coming across as a partisan or a blowhard. I hope Dana Ferguson will start to do some more analysis pieces as she gets her feet wet.

    Ellis has been like this for years. His M.O. is to act as though he hates anyone and everyone associated with the political process, though this column is one of his worst. He is your perpetually angry uncle who complains endlessly about politics without actually seeming to know much about it. If you can just write everyone off as a corrupt and incompetent idiot, then why bother to learn much more about it? His act has more in common with Donald Trump than he may care to admit.

    Is Seth Tupper still around anywhere?

  19. Darin Larson 2016-04-04 10:45

    Jenny, I’m not sure you understand the situation. If SDPB criticizes government here in SD in any fashion they will be shut down and the assets sold for scrap. If you are criticizing government here, you are criticizing Republicans because they are the ones in charge. They don’t appreciate that in the least.

    And you would not just be talking about replacing state funding for SDPB–you would have to start from the ground up.

    What SDPB does is inform people of the issues. They don’t advocate, criticize or editorialize directly. But if you see video, like of a Haugaard rant, you can make your own judgments.

    As they say, sunshine is the best disinfectant. SDPB brings a lot of sunshine to the darkness here in SD.

  20. Jenny 2016-04-04 10:55

    Cory, Nick, Roger, it it true what Darin is saying? Wow, that’s quite a conspiracy. Cory you need to get on the GOP threat to SDPT. I think it’s a cop out, I really do, that one political party can shut down public broadcasting for doing investigative work.

  21. Jack Shaftoe 2016-04-04 12:34

    I know personally of two reporters who while with SDPR got threatening and demeaning calls from the governor at that time. They (SDPB) will go away if they do anything beyond report. The majority can always cook up a crisis that could only be solved by defunding them. They have to be somewhat careful of those that they put in front of a live microphone and anyone too far left will get complaints, where as right wing oriented comments not so much.

  22. Bill Dithmer 2016-04-04 14:39

    I never liked Montgomer. When he was with RCJ he almost singlehandedly ruined Mt Blogmore. Wet behind the ears, condescending, low tolerance for humor of any kind, and only understood how politics should be according to David. Im glad hes gone.

    The Blindman

  23. Jenny 2016-04-04 14:41

    Let me guess Jack, that had to have been Wild Bill. I’d heard he would call people up and threaten them.

  24. mike from iowa 2016-04-04 16:17

    Wingnuts have complained for ever that NPR is too liberal and then dumbass dubya set about giving it a decisive right wing slant. Really surprised they didn’t turn it over to Limpaw,Savage,Reagan.George Gordon Battleaxe Libby,and a host of other middle of the road wingnut bomb throwers.

  25. mike from iowa 2016-04-04 16:19

    And,the very first knee jerk reaction by wingnuts is to de-fund any and everything they imagine has a liberal bias.

  26. leslie 2016-04-04 16:22

    I think if we keep digging into EB5, and perhaps to a lesser degree MCEC, we’ll find joop’s use of British Virgin Islands, Grand Cayman and other banks, shell corporations and tax havens, a trailt to find out why SD Regents and NSU and SD’s largest yet unacknowledged financial industry, trust shells officed in Sx Falls and Dakota Dunes, is it, and other shenanigans guys like joop and his lawyers and economic developers, all with lots of brown hair dye, who huddle round the bar with their stogies and laugh heartily about such easy money and manipulation of the tiny republican state government of SD.

    NPR reliably reported today something like $7.6 trillion is hidden there and I am sure in SD too.

  27. leslie 2016-04-04 16:38

    Kai Rysdall, Merket Place, AMP, and other major reporters at NPR fit that bill.

    Paul Haaga, NPR CEO is a regular contributor to Republican politicians, according to As “chairman of the Investment Company Institute”–the powerful lobbying group of the mutual fund industry, Los Angeles Times (11/29/03) reported, “Mutual funds have been mostly shielded from the reforms forced on the financial world–thanks in large part to the efforts of the Investment Company Institute.”

    NPR also adds that Haaga has ties to right-wing think tanks–he is “a member of the National Council of the American Enterprise Institute” and he sits on “the Board of Overseers of Hoover Institution at Stanford University.”

  28. grudznick 2016-04-04 16:50

    You know who might have interesting insight into South Dakota Public Broadcasting? Maybe NPR as well? My good friend Lar. I have oft heard him espouse about such topics over a bloody mary and large plate of sausage.

  29. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-04 20:30

    Jenny, I wouldn’t say there’s a conspiracy. I’d say SDPB feels the same Janklovian fear that every other state employee feels about torquing off the boss. It is as reasonable to assume that fear affects SDPB’s editorial choices as it is to assume that fear of backlash from advertisers and subscribers affects editorial choices at KELO and that Sioux Falls paper.

  30. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-04 20:31

    Montgomery came to a blog picnic and loves spreadsheets. I liked his work in South Dakota.

  31. grudznick 2016-04-04 20:42

    Everybody loves picnics and cleanly spread sheets. Mr. Montgomery always seemed a bit of an awkward fellow if he were to be in a social setting but I never got to have fancy drinks or finger food with him like lots of you politicos. I am betting that Mr. Mercer is more of a James Bond character to Mr. Montgomery’s Felix Leiter.

  32. Jenny 2016-04-04 21:22

    I miss Monty and thought he was very personable on the 100 Eyes show. He could be quite the talker and seemed very intelligent. 100 Eyes isn’t the same without him.

  33. John 2016-04-11 04:59

    Abramson & Ballabon wrote the column Ellis likely wishes he wrote. It explains many things: why independents are the fastest growing faction, why democrats talk but in practice disdain democracy, why republicans talk but in practice hate a republic, why the party elites disdain members of their parties and how they manipulate then to retain power while creating a facade of democratic primary, and why the primaries are rigged – and are a circus.

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