The Sioux Falls Argus Leader is a Gannett newspaper far out on the High Plains of South Dakota. As the biggest newspaper in the state and the only newspaper in the state's biggest city, it is extremely influential. The Argus Leader is read by tens-of-thousands of people in the Southeast corner of the state, where the largest concentration of the state's people live. The state's small town dailies and weeklies often run Argus stories in their pages--or Argus stories which are picked up by the Associated Press--because they don't have political reporters. The ripple effect of an Argus story, therefore, is large. The newspaper's reporting and selection of stories determines, to a large extent, the information available to the citizens in the state. The Argus, in short, is critical to the proper functioning of the democratic process in South Dakota, as I've noted. This site is completely dedicated to analyzing the most important US Senate race in the nation, one which could determine the ability of legislation to move through the US Senate, the world's oldest deliberative body, and therefore the course of American democracy. The Argus, in other words, has a serious responsibility to properly report on political matters relating to the candidates, Tom Daschle and John Thune.
The star political reporter of the Argus for decades has been Dave Kranz. Yesterday, the executive editor of the Argus, Randell Beck, responded to some recent blogospheric criticism of Kranz. Beck said that Kranz is "the best political reporter in the region" and "one of the finest, most honest, credible reporters in the region." Beck also said that the criticism was "crap" and driven by a "violent" internet "cabal" of "yahoos" and "jokers," who are full of "hatred" and "vitriol" and lacked "guts" because they hid "behind their computer screens" and wouldn't face him "man to man." Beck then went on to highlight the importance of debating issues "without calling each other names."
As South Dakota Politics has noted, Beck did not address the specific criticism of the bloggers, which deserves serious consideration. About one year ago, the blogger Sibby Online discovered that Kranz and Daschle were close in college. They organized a mock Democratic political convention together at SDSU in 1968. Daschle was the President of the Political Science Club and Kranz was his "Publicity Chairman." Kranz then wrote about the event for the college newspaper and lauded Daschle's "tireless" efforts, but did not disclose that he was also involved in the event. Both Daschle and Kranz also supported Eugene McCarthy for President in 1968. When confronted with this information, Beck responded "He works for me and I'm not going to allow Dave to get into a pissing match with a guy who makes this stuff up." Beck did not explain what was "made up." None of the 1968 information, which was unknown until Sibby's discovery, has been disclosed by the Argus.
When Daschle and his first wife, who were both staffers for former US Senator James Abourezk, moved back to South Dakota in 1976 in preparation for Daschle's run for Congress in 1978, Kranz was the managing editor of the Mitchell Daily Republic and noted their return. The Daschles took over the Senator's state operation, were aggressively reorganzing the Abourezk office, and were improving their press outreach. According to one of the memos uncovered in recent weeks by SDP, one of the Abourezk staffers dispatched to Mitchell reported back that the Senator had received "good coverage" the previous week and that the paper's "Managing Editor is Dave Kranz, 30, formally of Austin Minn, and Watertown S.D. Went to SDSU (Mu U. with Tom D. [Daschle] and Tom Klinkel [Daschle's brother-in-law] Very much a strong Demo. and have been attending county demo. functions together." The memo also said that "Dave Kranz of paper is checking out some of the local biggees in Mitchell to see how much support we have to do something." Kranz was also helping to undermine Republican Congressman Jim Abdnor: "Mitchell paper is going to expose Abdnor on rating by National Alliance of S. Citizens next week."
A second memo disclosed last week indicated that Kranz was giving the Abourezk organization advice on how to improve press coverage and win votes, such as by doing more "hokey things": "In addition, Dave feels Jim is not doing the hocky [sic] things necessary to be elected again. Like sending out calendars, X-Mas cards, birthday, marrages, weddings, and other hocky [sic] letters to SD people. The question is not if its hocky or not--but rather for many people its the only chance they will ever receive a personal card, greetings, or thank-you from someone they will or have voted for." The staffer also designated Kranz a "friendly editor." The memo also noted that Kranz wanted to remain confidential.
When Kranz left the Mitchell paper for the Argus in 1983, he wrote in his final column that "Provoking thought is a must in a community that is searching for ways to grow. In those provacative [sic] terms, I have heard the disatisfaction [sic] and the allegations of bias. Yet I do not apologize for any one position I have stood for." SDP recently recounted these complaints:
Later, in 1986, the lieutenant governor of South Dakota wrote a piece for the Argus Leader excoriating Kranz for his Democratic bias. In 1990, the New York Times noted that the Democratic Senate candidate that year "seemed to take his campaign script from The Sioux Falls Argus Leader," a phenomenon observed this week with Kranz' piece and Hildebrand's subsequent mass e-mail. In 1990, Kranz was the managing editor of the AL, and a piece in Roll Call reported that it was Kranz who was behind the "hysterical bashing" of the Republican Senate candidate. In 1999, Senator Larry Pressler wrote a letter to the editor of the Argus Leader stating that Kranz is "my longtime nemesis.... He is a good writer, but intellectually flawed in that he lets his biases show through." Last summer, Jeff Gannon ran a series of articles revealing Kranz' bias.
When Kranz was City Editor of the Argus from 1986 to 1989, his assistant City Editor was Steve Erpenbach, who went on to serve as the Democratic press spokesman during the 1990 Senatorial election. Erpenbach is now Senator Daschle's state director.
In 1997, Daschle's media advisor Karl Struble explained how his media operation used the Argus in the 1996 Senate campaign: "The press ate it up. Our campaign systematically doled out the information piece by piece to reporters in D.C. and South Dakota. The result was a series of damaging articles. ... We used the headlines generated as validators for our ads." As SDP noted above, this pattern was precisely repeated in recent weeks--after a blatant example of pro-Daschle shilling from Kranz, the Daschle campaign reprinted the Kranz piece in a mass email fundraiser. Even though Beck has denounced such practices in the past, he did not say anything about the Daschle campaign's maneuver.
In the 2002 Senate race, the Democrats actually printed up professional stickers which said "We Love Dave Kranz" and distributed them. Despite such blatant gestures, Kranz has been ready and willing in the past to criticize other South Dakota newspapers for bias and for being a “partisan Republican voice” and a “glory and praise pamphlet for Republican policy.”
As this blog as others have noted, as literally dozens of articles critical of Daschle have appeared nationally, they have been systematically ignored by the Argus. As a result, voters don't have all the information they need to make an informed decision this November. In short, the Argus Leader is strangling democracy. Since the stakes of the South Dakota Senate race are so high, all the citizens of the republic should be concerned.
The core question at present is whether the allegations of bias deserve attention or should be dismissed as "crap," which the Argus editor advocates. Are bloggers justified in raising questions about the ability of Dave Kranz to objectively report about Tom Daschle? It seems to me that such questions are legitimate.
I should say in closing that I personally like Dave Kranz, in part because we both share the same dorky interest in the history of South Dakota politics. But for the sake of the democratic process and the basic legitimacy of our elections, we need to seriously consider whether he should be writing and interpreting news related to Tom Daschle. It's a difficult thing to say, but the reporting style of Dave Kranz should not determine the outcome of this election. It should be determined by voters who have all the necessary information at their disposal to make informed judgments.