Thursday, October 25, 2007

Election coverage targets Minnetonka school board member

In a notable exercise of yellow journalism (at least for a newspaper that is not the Star Tribune), Lakeshore Weekly News Editor Brett Stursa put the campaign of one incumbent Minnetonka school board member in her journalistic crosshairs ("Race raises new, old questions," October 23, 2007).

The school board member, Bill Wenmark, is running for reelection to a third term on the Minnetonka school board. Wenmark is known for his early opposition to the now-repealed Profile of Learning graduation standards, and a long record of activism on public school issues. Wenmark is not shy about voicing his views, for example in favor of permitting the teaching the concepts of intelligent design in science classes, and raising serious questions about the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

Stursa devoted 13 column inches, almost 25% of her article about the Minnetonka School Board elections, to a clarification of one of the lines in the education section of Wenmark's resume. The facts of the case: Wenmark's resume listed the United States Naval Academy when it should have read United States Naval Academy Hospital/Clinic. Wenmark corrected his campaign web site after Stursa asked for this clarification.

(Further clarification from Wenmark's web site: "In 1969, after completing extensive technical medical training and three years in the United States Navy, [Wenmark] was assigned to the United States Naval Academy Hospital/Clinic. It was here that the direction of his life would be forever changed. With a family to consider, he volunteered to be transferred to the United States Marine Corps and a tour of duty in Vietnam as a Combat Corpsman. He did this with the knowledge that his life expectancy in country was 3 months. He became a decorated Combat Corpsman in Vietnam from 1969-70.")

Why was this mundane portion of a reporter's routine research into a 1969 entry in Wenmark's curriculum vitae highlighted in the lead 13 inches of a story ostensibly about the issues in the Minnetonka school board election of 2007?

It would have been nice to hear the candidates' views on the Minnetonka school district's $3.8 million excess operating levy and $4.8 million extension to the current technology levy, for example, which share the ballot on November 6 with the school board election. How have the $3.8 million in budget cuts made in 2005 affected class size or curriculum? In the opinion of each of the candidates, has the new (in 2006) Q-Comp alternative compensation program been good for Minnetonka students, parents, teachers? Surely Stursa could explore these and other issues facing the district that will need leadership from the school board during the next few years.

Stursa is certainly qualified to explore these questions and more. She has covered the west metro education beat before, for the left-wing City Pages, including an article about the International Baccalaureate debate in Minnetonka called "We don't need no education (May 11, 2005)."

Instead, Stursa next spent 6-1/2 column inches examining Wenmark's committee assignments and meeting attendance record, which at least is related to his school board service, but certainly can't top the list of issues on the minds of most voters — except perhaps Wenmark's opponents.

Stursa concludes the piece with two issues that she knows about, but by her own admission are yesterday's news: "...the momentum going into this election isn't nearly as fierce as it was two years ago when IB and Intelligent Design first surfaced."

Agenda-driven writing like this, which generates more heat than light, is better suited to a lefty blog or City Pages than a community newspaper that local voters look to for substantive guidance in this non-partisan race. Check out this week's issue of the Sun Sailor for an information-packed voter's guide to the Minnetonka and other 2007 west metro elections.

1 comment:

Scholar said...

As a graduate of the United States Naval Academy (1960), I am writing to address a serious and false allegation made of Minnetonka School Board Member & candidate, Bill Wenmark in the October 23rd Lakeshore Weekly News. There his honor was impugned because of a remark he made at a regular meeting of the Minnetonka School Board in October 2005. At that time, on a spur of the moment, he referred to the United States Naval Academy as his “alma mater” while extending congratulations to a father/friend whose son was a Midshipman.

I am concerned and dismayed that such an intentional political smear effort has reached even the district school board level. It is true he innocently miss-used the term “alma mater” in describing his connection with the United States Naval Academy. He has since set about rectifying his choice of words by expanding on the actual nature of his duty at Annapolis. In fact, his service at the United State Naval Academy Hospital/Clinic was as the Senior Corpsman NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) and because of his advanced education, he was assigned there to develop a new Respiratory Care Department, for all duty personnel and Midshipman.

The editor knew these facts, and instead of fairly describing Bill’s service to his country, the editor chose to inaccurately portray him by taking bits of information out of context. Only the best enlisted men and women serve at Annapolis …and Bill was one of the very best. He had a distinguished Military career while serving both stateside and in Viet Nam. This small fact and more were conveniently and knowingly left out of the article.

Bill Wenmark is an honorable man. His purpose in life, as reflected in his life history, is to serve people. He has done that exceedingly well for 40 years in some of the most trying circumstances. He is dedicated, passionate, committed, and bluntly honest. He is not afraid to speak his mind and just like all of us, sometimes may slip up on word selection during spontaneous statements. Hasn’t that happened to all of us at one time or another? Knowing Bill he probably asks tough questions the School Board majority would often prefer to avoid. His wealth of experience from the fields of medicine, business and the military are different from other Board members and is what makes him a thoughtful, independent voice for Minnetonka citizens. Can we get beyond personal attacks and listen to what he has to say about the issues facing the District?

I lived my life and do to this day by the code: Duty, Honor, Country. I gravitate toward people with the same moral base, which explains why Bill Wenmark and I have been good friends more than 10 years. If I lived in the Minnetonka School District , he’s the type of person I would be campaigning for. I would hope the District voters can rise above personal attack and see it the same way.

Douglas K. Menikheim
Captain, USN (ret.)
Class of 1960, USNA
Co-Director, Centre for Applied Leadership
Stillwater, MN