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Newquist: 2004 Thune Assault on Kranz Still Chills SD Press

David Newquist contends that the Republican Party’s professional character assassination of political reporter David Kranz in the 2004 Thune/Daschle campaign put a permanent chill on political reporting in South Dakota:

The campaign stained the reputation of Kranz and his newspaper, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. But it also sent a chill through the press in South Dakota,  which retreated into a cowardice that people like Thune and Lauck know how to manipulate. They also recognize a reservoir of provincial resentment in Southern Dakota that can be called into action, and that resentment extends to a press that might report things the people in that reservoir do not want to hear [David Newquist, “South Dakota and the Absence of Press,” Northern Valley Beacon, 2018.06.26].

KELO Radio newsman Todd Epp, who writes some incisive political articles, disputes his alleged “absence”:

Are you getting enough South Dakota political news? Are the reporters Epp lists hitting the beat hard enough?


  1. Donald Pay 2018-06-28 10:12

    We called it the Argus-Liar, because it seemed that reporting back then was slanted and lacked depth. It had the reputation as the mouthpiece of the Republican establishment. This was back in the 1960s, far preceding any bad reputation from the Lauck-Kranz years.

    The problem is not that the reporters aren’t good enough, or that they are intimidated. But reporters are the bottom rung in the food chain. Daily and weekly papers and local TV are businesses, after all, and the people who run these businesses are very cognizant of who and what matters. And in the USA, it’s money that matters.

    Since the early 1970s, reporting talent has been excellent. There is an issue with investigating stories in-depth, which is mostly due to lack of resources. How much time a reporter can give to a story or a series of stories is an editorial and, ultimately, a money issue.

    Here, really, is my beef. Political reporting is often easy, lazy journalism. Reporting on issues and how government does or doesn’t operate for the benefit of citizens is much, much harder. My former English teacher, and a former legislator, Bill Thompson, stated he only saw Kranz in Pierre once during his 8 years in the Legislature. That’s how easy political journalism can be. You sit in your chair, make a few phone calls, get a few quotes and never have to deal with the reality of what goes on. The people who do it right are in Pierre and are doing reporting not just on the politicians, but the issues they are facing and the people who are trying to influence them. You can’t do that from your armchair.

  2. bernie 2018-06-28 10:13

    David Newquist writes some thought-provoking material. I wish he would find time to write more often.

    However, as one who has been on both sides — journalism and elective office — I’m not sure that it’s totally fair to suggest that today’s reporters (though fewer in number) are doing things any differently than I’ve witnessed for more decades than I care to recall. In fact, there may be a little less coziness today than in years past.

    When the media corps was at its strongest, I can remember numerous journalistic travesties. At one time, the state’s largest paper was working on a feature on agricultural issues. However, when the reporter called a particular governor who went ballistic over the questions — downright wild and crazy as I was told — they just dropped the story rather than report his reaction. Another time, Democrats in Pierre were called racists by a leading Republican because we wanted a tribal school school scholarship program that became controversial in the legislature. A particular opponent said we were racist because it would only be for non-native students. That was technically true, but only because native student tuition was already covered and the tribal schools were begging for help with poor, non-native students. But the media didn’t bother with the technicality, they just reported the quote that our effort was racist. I could write a book about other such occasions.

    I come from the old school of journalism …. “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” But that seems to be a tough road in a sparsely populated state like South Dakota where we all know each other, and sometimes are related or go to the same church or have the same in-laws. Too many connections of money, blood and community.

    Elected officials should flinch just a little when a reporter calls, or shows up at a meeting. Instead (and again, I’ve been on both sides) we greet each other by first names and ask about the dog and the kids. All that coziness has been great for congeniality — and everybody knows that we South Dakotans love to avoid conflict — but I am not sure it always serves South Dakota democracy so well.

  3. mike from iowa 2018-06-28 10:36

    there may be a little less coziness today than in years past.

    Might be the biggest understatement since- Throttle up Challenger. Kablooey-Obviously a major malfunction.

    Rightwing has declared all out war on mainstream media as being fake. Wingnuts have snuggled up with Fake Noize and other extreme right wing purveyors of mush.

  4. mike from iowa 2018-06-28 10:38

    Mr bernie, I certainly meant no offense to you or your comment.

  5. bernie 2018-06-28 11:03

    None taken Mike. My comments are strictly related to the South Dakota journalism scene, where coziness has been a very successful tactic for elected officials of both parties — and I will admit that I myself tried to befriend every reporter, publisher and news director that I could (not that I didn’t like them as individuals).

    Sugar works better in South Dakota than the stick that Trump uses in Washington.

  6. David Newquist 2018-06-28 11:27

    I have taken to long-form, occasional posts of late because my primary audience is not those who frequent blogs. Few blog readers make it through these lengthy posts so they miss the points made, which in this case is that we now have essentially only one person who covers the state house extensively, Bob Mercer, While the reporters named by Todd Epp do fine work, their coverage is not full time scrutiny of state government.

    In the 1980s, journalists and some academics participated in the Northwest Data Base, which was an early internet effort back when access was dial-up, and one had to pay long-distance telephone fees to be on it. The Data Base contained a journalism review which examined the journalistic efforts in the upper plains. South Dakota was cited as having the weakest press corps because news management was directed by media owners and managers who limited reporting that might considered critical or offense to the conservative Dakota mindset. This assessment was made by members of the press and close observers. While journalists and academics from other states had forums which made critical observations of the press performance, such as our northern neighbors’ Unheralded Fish does currently. The South Dakota press has never subjected itself to such self-examination. We bemoan the single-party government in Pierre, but ignore the fact that the major sources of information concerning the liberal and Democratic point of view in the state come from Rush Limbaugh and the local Trump toadies. Limbaugh made barrages of malicious lies the daily diet before Trump came along. The state media are loathe to fact-check anything.

    Angela Kennecke, Bob Mercer, and Seth Tupper have done some remarkable journalism on Gear Up and EB-5, but during a recent visit to my home state, some old journalistic colleagues asked where the press was when these scams were developing. As Bob Mercer found out from the South Dakota Supreme Court, screwing over state constituents and maintaining secrecy about it are written into law and are considered sacred privileges. Bernie, above, recalls a press that could be cowed. I recall a number of such instances. We do live in cow country.

    As a native of Illinois, I often catch some flak about crooked government in that state. I hasten to point out that government there is often crooked, but the miscreants are exposed and put in jail. The press, along with cooperating groups such as the Better Government Association, which has operated since the time of Al Capone, has a lot to do with giving the people accurate information about what is going on. Unpleasant facts in South Dakota are simply denied. And to insist upon confronting them might offend the readers.

    We have some good reporters, but we don’t have media that want to or can afford to crack the wall of privilege and secrecy that protects the corruption. The people won’t face up to it unless the press makes a relentless effort to get the facts out and put them foremost in the mind of the people. Then, we might have a chance to be citizens instead of chumps.

  7. South DaCola 2018-06-28 12:50

    If they aren’t doing a story about the latest raindrop or Sanford expansion, they are lifting their good stories from the blogs. About a month ago I counted 4 different stories in ONE week I reported on first that was picked up by either the newspaper or Stormland-TV.

  8. Todd Epp 2018-06-28 14:00

    Nuke, you make some good points but you overstate your case.

    The Argus Leader has done some excellent reporting on City Government. Angela Kennecke broke the GEARUP scandal. Seth Tupper is a bulldog on many stories. Bob Mercer covers stuff that no one else covers.

    The biggest issue is that newsrooms don’t have as many bodies in them as they used to. Plus, South Dakota is an entry market for young journalists. They don’t stay because they want to go to a bigger market. Some, like Dave Kranz, Bob Mercer, Jerry Oster, me, and others stay because we love South Dakota and have made it our home. Not everyone who comes through here wants to do that.

    But to say we are cowered into not covering things is a gross overstatement. At KELO-AM–a Fox Radio News affiliate–I have never been told to cover or not cover something. My management strongly believes that our local news should be accurate, fair and unbiased. Mark Russo on our staff is a former AP Radio national anchor. He digs and digs. We talk about fairness and accuracy on a daily basis. We know that sometimes we will take flack for our reporting. And sometimes we make mistakes. That’s life in journalism.

    Have I had politicians or others threaten me or make life difficult for me? A few times, yes. Did have run-ins with Gov. Bill Jankow? Sure. What good journalist didn’t? But that’s no different than it was 25, 50 or 100 years ago. To think that hasn’t happened or won’t happen is naive. I didn’t go into journalism to make friends; I went into it to tell interesting stories and to try to find out what the heck is going on with whatever it is I’m assigned to cover. I think many journalists in the state feel the same way.

    Do I wish I had a bigger staff? Sure. But I have the resources I have and we make the best of them to inform our audience. I can complain about what I don’t have or I can make use of what I do have as a news director. I’m blessed with a great staff of new young journalists and some old timers. I have supportive management and colleagues. I have great technology at my disposal. I work with people with great attitudes. We are anything but cowered. We come to work every day to do our best in informing our audience in what we think they need to know to be good citizens.

    And while David is not a fan of the blogs, I am. I’ve been a blogger. And while South DacCola, Dakota Free Press, and the South Dakota War College, and others may have their biases, they also do a great job breaking important stories and providing new information to the public. These outlets aren’t going away. They are now part of the media mix. Like any other media source you read, watch, or listen to, be critical. The same thing goes for when you read our reporting on or any other “mainstream” outlet.

    Dave Kranz was a force of nature. But he is not and was not the end of “old school” journalism in South Dakota. His ethic lives on in many of us who report via microphone, camera, newspaper, or blog.

  9. David Bergan 2018-06-28 22:36

    Regarding Bob Mercer being the only one covering the legislature… That could also be a result of simply the Internet making it easier to get information directly from the government itself. I mean, in the 80s you didn’t have the LRC website that presents and explains ever bill, details every vote, provides audio for every committee heading, and offers instant searchable access to every codified law. You HAD to have newspapers to get (and explain) that info to citizens.

    Kind regards,

  10. Debbo 2018-06-28 23:07

    My friends brother Rob was murdered by that white male terrorist today in Maryland. She’s a writer in Minnesota.

  11. mike from iowa 2018-06-29 06:13

    Funny stuff from unheralded. fish, Mr Newquist.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-06-29 07:24

    Interesting hypothesis, David. I’d be curious to see LRC’s data—how many unique visits do they get each week? What does their traffic surge look like during Session? What percentage of South Dakotans are aware of and know how to navigate (which I still type in by its legacy URL,

  13. David Bergan 2018-06-29 09:06

    Hi Cory,

    My guess is that there’s not a huge percentage of citizens who are concerned about the legislature either then or now… but the ones who are concerned can get the info very easily. Much easier than any sort of newspaper or television method. If I have a question about a bill or law regarding, say, vision insurance bylaw requirements, I can often find the answer myself, at home, in less than 10 minutes… without hiring a lawyer or consulting a librarian. (Both of whom would have to do some looking and get back to me on an esoteric topic like that.)

    What percentage of the 9000 teachers in SD use the LRC website? Education bills are presented in session every year… but the average teacher probably doesn’t follow all of that. But the superintendents, co-ops, and teacher unions do… and they can observe the session in real time in all its nuances from anywhere in the world. For free.

    Kind regards,

  14. David Newquist 2018-06-29 11:12

    David Bergan makes a good point about access to legislative information through the Internet. However, the LRC website does not present the political motives and personalities involved with some legislation. My experience with state government includes work with justice projects. A search of the statutes reveals that there are a number of circumstances in which state officials are authorized to withhold information from the public. South Dakota has an unusually high rate of incarceration and many of the cases have indications of wrongful conviction. But the investigative information is sealed and there is no access to the investigative record.

    On another level is the matter exemplified by pay offs to the state from banks when the state relaxed its usury laws. Bill Janklow had the money squirreled away somewhere and refused to tell the state treasurer how much, where it was deposited, or who had access to it. The treasurer asked for an investigation. Janklow ordered his henchman in the legislature, Mike Rounds, to push a law that made it a crime for any state official to reveal if the state and some businesses were under investigation. It became known as Janklow’s gag law, and it was eventually modified. It remains as a monument, however, to secrecy and stealth in government business.

    When Bob Mercer tried to get the investigative report on Richard Benda, he found the state supreme court backed the secrecy wall. The LRC does not assemble narratives such as this on its website. That’s the work of journalists.

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