Media silence

Mainstream media soft-pedal or ignore a grotesquely vile speech by a DFL house candidate. Would they have applied the same standard to a conservative?

On August 15, a group of Minnesotans experienced one of the most shocking events in recent political history. A caravan of left-wing activists occupied the street outside the Hugo home of Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis police union. They screamed threats and insults toward Kroll, his family and neighbors, and the town of Hugo.

They were led by John Thompson, the endorsed DFL candidate for the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 67A in St. Paul. Using a microphone, Thompson launched into a profane and violent tirade during which he shouted “f*** Hugo, Minnesota” and threatened to burn down the town. In addition to bellowing an endless stream of obscenities, Thompson called Officer Kroll a “Klansman” and a “Grand Wizard.” Thompson even targeted his rage at several teenage girls who were standing in a neighbor’s driveway by denouncing them as “racists.”

Not content with his verbal onslaught, Thompson and his cohorts produced an effigy of Officer Kroll’s wife, which Thompson bashed repeatedly and violently with a large stick.

No Minnesota politician has engaged in such a grotesque display in living memory. Yet the incident almost didn’t come to light. A reporter from Alpha News attended the planned demonstration and published her videos on Alpha News’s Twitter feed and website. They quickly gained nationwide attention. But one wonders: Where were Minnesota’s “mainstream” news outlets? Alpha News is a small, independent operation that repeatedly breaks local news stories that get overlooked by other, better-funded media organizations. If not for Alpha News, the appalling scene outside Bob Kroll’s house would have gone unreported.

Even after the fact, local news media softpedaled the incident. The Star Tribune wrote about it on August 17, referring to “two videos circulating on Twitter” but not crediting Alpha News. Its editorial page gently chided Thompson (“Thompson’s background is as an activist, so
we can understand his tornadic style”), suggested that he didn’t really mean his outrageous threats, and even complimented him on his apology—an apology that never would have been forthcoming, but for Alpha News.

Minnesota voters deserved to know about Thompson’s unhinged performance, but our Thinking Minnesota Poll found that most have heard little or nothing about it.

Twelve percent said they had heard “a lot” about the Hugo incident, 22 percent “some,” and 11 percent “not much.” A full 50 percent—half of Minnesotans—were completely unaware it occurred. Even in the Twin Cities, 48 percent of poll respondents had heard nothing about Thompson’s violent tantrum. Those numbers make one wonder whether our “mainstream” news media are more interested in covering the news or covering it up.

It does not appear that Thompson will suffer any serious repercussions. He remains on the ballot with a strong endorsement from Governor Tim Walz. Following the Hugo episode, Walz tweeted a mild rebuke—so mild that it didn’t even mention John Thompson by name or even acknowledge that the “threatening behavior and rhetoric” was coming from his own party, and from a candidate whom he had endorsed. “We cannot accept the threatening behavior and rhetoric we’ve seen recently in our political discourse,” Walz wrote.

We hear a lot of talk these days about the coarsening of political debate. But even in these times, shouting vile, profane threats and smashing an effigy of a political opponent’s wife with a stick are far from normal practice. It appears that our civic life will sink to as low a level as voters are willing to tolerate.