Aaron J. Brown is an author and radio producer who teaches at Hibbing Community College. Years of writing about Iron Range news, history, culture and politics have culminated in his blog MinnesotaBrown.com. He lives on the western Mesabi Iron Range in Itasca County with his family.

The who, what, where, when, why of Iron Range propaganda

Posted by: Aaron Brown under Politics Updated: June 28, 2014 - 1:29 PM

This past week in Northern Minnesota, the Iron Range's three largest newspapers -- the Mesabi Daily News, Hibbing Daily Tribune, and Grand Rapids Herald-Review -- ran the fourth in their series of special sections focused on the positive aspects of the mining industry in Northern Minnesota. "Mine IV" joins its predecessors in featuring profiles of miners and mining officials, photos of mining, and guest commentaries in support of current and future mining projects.

These newspapers have put up four year-round billboards across the region advertising these Mine sections, even amid layoffs in the company and yet another ownership change in the past year.

The Mesabi Daily News front page on June 25, 2014 teases a special section on mining and features a rare front page editorial, written by someone from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

The Mesabi Daily News front page on June 25, 2014 teases a special section on mining and features a rare front page editorial, written by someone from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

As former editor of Hibbing’s Tribune (who still writes a column there, but very much from outside the newsroom) I count the graphics, bylines and pages and can estimate these papers dedicate a significant amount of staff resources to this project.

In “Mine IV,” released on June 25, two of the three papers, the Mesabi Daily News and Hibbing Daily Tribune, also featured a front page editorial written by Mike Hansel of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. This ran above the fold next to the teaser for "Mine IV." In it, Hansel argues that the citizens of the Iron Range should be afraid of the current wild rice standard, that it will not only derail mining projects but also city water treatment plants and other public works.

Hansel writes:

“If you live on the Iron Range, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s upcoming revision to the state water quality standard to protect wild rice could have a big impact on you and your neighbors.

The MPCA proposes to enforce the wild rice standard of 10 mg/L in the future in hundreds of new locations, impacting many private and municipal wastewater discharges across northeastern Minnesota.

Iron Range employers and municipalities will face devastating costs if the standard is not updated.

Hansel's front page editorial continues:

Unfortunately the MPCA has developed a hypothesis regarding sulfide impacts to wild rice. The MN Chamber believes that the scientific studies do not support that hypothesis, that the studies are technically flawed and additional research is needed. The MN Chamber believes that the correct sulfate standard should be 1,600 mg/L or higher.

For those scoring at home, someone who works for a business lobbying organization has said that we should doubt the state PCA’s science, but not the science of his claim that the current wild rice water emissions standard should be multiplied by 160.

Anyway, Hansel’s argument is a point of view. Put on it A4 if you want. Agree with it if you want. But an editorial above the fold on the front page? Like this was D-Day? For me, a line was crossed here.

A special section does not necessarily represent the editorial direction of a newspaper, but it was clear early on that “MINE” had a persuasive goal far beyond its surface value in recognizing people who do important, sometimes difficult work in our region. (Mining is an important part of Northern Minnesota’s economy. I have family members, friends and neighbors who work in mining. Don’t mistake my criticism as discrediting the industry).

The "MINE" publication seeks to tie the Iron Range’s mining history, current iron mines and proposed nonferrous mines all together, as though it’s all the same. Companies are faultless, benevolent entities. Labor unions are barely mentioned, except for their agreement with management. In short, the working class causes that Iron Range men and women fought and sometimes died for over 100 years are recast as talking points in a public relations campaign, sanitized of the conflict. We must choose between saying yes to everything mining companies ask for or having nothing at all. My goodness, that was the argument in 1914! Have we learned nothing?

Ah, but aren’t I just spouting my opinion? Am I just mad that I was forced to see something I disagree with? (That’s a pet peeve of mine when I see others cry foul on the media).

I do think this packaged business lobby doctrine goes beyond simple disagreement.

With so many fewer working journalists in places like Northern Minnesota than a generation ago, the organizations left behind do no favors to the region by closing off debate. Nor are the people served when the newspapers declare their servitude to a whole industry which already controls so much of peoples’ fate.

This is propaganda, not journalism. It drags the region into a pit of ignorance, rather than uplifting it to a future that should rightly balance mining with a diverse, self-sustaining economy.

Hey, propaganda is free speech. There's no shortage of propaganda in this blinking, buzzing world. But wise people should not overlook what it is, where it comes from, and why it’s being shoved in our face.

Start by asking, "Who’s paying for it?" 

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