The dispute between the Center of the American Experiment and the Rochester Golf and Country Club seems like part of the free-speech-and-cancel-culture continuum, but at the core it's just a contract dispute.
In brief: The center (CAE), a Minnesota-based public-policy organization that favors conservative and free-market ideas, made an arrangement with the country club to hold a March 15 luncheon titled "The Crime Crisis: Rochester." Club member Erin Nystrom started a petition against the event, which subsequently was canceled two days before it was to take place. The center sued both the club, alleging breach of contract, and Nystrom, alleging interference. Nystrom, for her part, argues that the center and its views are too polarizing for the club.
Anyone who has read articles written by people associated with the CAE and published on the Star Tribune's Opinion Exchange pages knows the controversy the material generates. Policy fellows at the center submit articles to us prolifically. We offer some of those articles to readers because we're committed to providing a range of viewpoints and because we generally appreciate commentary that challenges conventional wisdom. If that leads to contention, well, it's why our forum exists.
But it's not the Rochester Golf and Country Club's raison dêtre, which is essentially Nystrom's point. RGCC is a private recreation and social club and is not generally a public-policy player, even though a number of its members may be people of influence. The club does offer space for private events of up to 400 people and has hosted CAE events previously, but it isn't obliged to serve as a debate venue.
It's easy to see how all this could have been avoided. Having agreed to be the site of the presentation, the country club could have followed through even though objections were raised, and then it could have revisited its hosting policies for the future. The controversy alone might have led those at the CAE and their supporters to complain about "cancel culture" — they're not shy about defending themselves, and conservatives in general get more exposure for their ideas than they seem to think — but they wouldn't have had a legal case to make.
Whether there is indeed a crisis in Rochester — the titular implication of the event, even though the intent is to focus broadly on community responses to crime around the state as part of a series — can be decided with data and discussion. The CAE is entitled to raise the issue. But its RGCC event would not have been a true public forum. It would have had limited admission, at $20 a head. One could anticipate a friendly audience. (The presentation has been rescheduled for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Rochester Event Center. The admission price has dropped to $5.)
The dispute has produced spinoff intrigue. The center sought and received a front-page retraction from the Rochester Post Bulletin after the newspaper ran articles including what it later termed as inaccuracies regarding the event's keynote speaker and implicit mischaracterizations of the center's policy views. This outcome strikes us as stemming from a trend among journalists to respond to the Donald Trump era by more aggressively interpreting the news. They've been under public pressure to do so. But it's delicate work. In objective news coverage — a different beast than opinion writing, which is a supplemental form of journalism — it's best to let readers make their own inferences about motives.
(Here we must address a common and understandable misconception — that the Star Tribune Editorial Board sets policy for the newspaper as a whole. It does not. It is responsible for researching, reporting and writing the opinions you read in this space. Some of its members are tasked with selecting and editing the letters and commentaries that appear elsewhere under the Opinion banner. That's all.)
Observers of this entire situation — if they are also supporters of democracy — should not regret that an organization like the Center of the American Experiment exists. They also should not rue the people who rise up to resist it. They merely should wish that all parties maintain a sense of goodwill — and keep their promises.