Minnesota is home to a particularly lively political blogging community and Minnesota Democrats Exposed (MDE) is perhaps the most influential conservative political blog in the Gopher State. MDE, authored by Michael Brodkorb, is known for both breaking political news and a worldview that unflinchingly shines a light on the worst of Democratic politicians and the best of the GOP. All the while, MDE is frequently vilified by the left, envied by the right, but read by nearly all—including state policymakers and party leaders themselves, some of which comprise the cadre of sources assembled by Brodkorb over the years.
Eric Ostermeier, author of Smart Politics, recently interviewed Brodkorb on content, audience, and influence of MDE.
Smart Politics: Your mission statement describes Minnesota Democrats Exposed as “a blog dedicated to a truthful discussion on the activities, statements, and tactics of Minnesota Democrats.” What end is the motivating force behind this discussion? Is the overriding goal of MDE to get more Republicans elected? Or is goal also to entertain like-minded individuals by revealing the folly and errors of the left side of the political aisle? In short, to what extent do you view MDE as news versus entertainment versus pushing a political agenda?
MDE: I am proud to be a partisan Republican. The specific goal of Minnesota Democrats Exposed is to have a truthful discussion on the activities, statements, and tactics of Minnesota Democrats. MDE provides a format for that discussion. I certainly have a political agenda as best seen in the title and description of my blog. But MDE is focused more on exposing Democrats, than promoting Republican candidates.
Smart Politics: Unlike other media personalities (e.g. Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh) that not only criticize Democratic politicians but also Democrats and liberals in the electorate and the policies they espouse, MDE tends to almost exclusive focus its criticisms on the candidates and officeholders themselves. Why did you decide to limit the scope of MDE in this manner by largely avoiding discussions of democratic policy and the people who vote to elect those politicians you criticize?
MDE: There are many great blogs and media outlets devoted to discussing matters of public policy out there. While I do have strong feelings about public policy issues, I don’t really think that many people care about my opinions on the International Monetary Fund or No Child Left Behind. My blog is really geared for political junkies and I’m lucky to have a broad cross section of readers. For example, I am proud that I was the first media outlet in this state to report that Al Franken supported the war in Iraq and actively campaigned against the Carter/Mondale ticket in 1980.
Smart Politics: How would you describe the partisan breakdown of MDE’s audience? Do you have a sense, judging from the level of agreement or disagreement in the comments to your blogs, as to what percentage of Republicans, Democrats, and independents comprise your readership?
MDE: MDE has an active readership of both Republicans and Democrats. Some of my best stories have come from DFL sources and I know that representatives of the Republican Party of Minnesota and Minnesota DFL are dedicated readers of MDE. I would guess that more Republicans comment on MDE than do Democrats, but it really depends on the post.
Smart Politics:During the past year, the vast majority of MDE’s criticism of the DFL field seeking to challenge Republican incumbent U.S. Senator Norm Coleman has been centered on Al Franken. Mike Ciresi is performing as competitively in matchup polls against Coleman as is Franken. Are you focused on Franken because you believe he will be the DFL nominee, or does Ciresi’s backstory just not have the arsenal of material on which for you to blog?
MDE:While it is ultimately up to the DFL, I believe Al Franken is clearly the frontrunner to be the DFL candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2008. At the same time, Franken has the most offensive record of mean-spirited and over-the-top extreme partisan attacks that I have ever seen in a candidate for statewide office in Minnesota. I’m confident that Franken’s slash and burn approach is not going to wear well with Minnesotans.
Smart Politics: In recent weeks you and Tracy Eberly from the conservative blog Anti-Strib have exchanged barbs, some of which could be characterized as ‘personal attacks,’ stemming from a controversial post Eberly had made on Native Americans. Ronald Reagan may not have envisioned the blogosphere when pronouncing his 11th Commandment, but could you comment about the status of MDE’s role in the Minnesota conservative on-line community? Are you viewed as the king to be dethroned? A comrade-in-arms? And how do you view your competition – or do you not even view other bloggers as competition for your audience?
MDE: Minnesota has one of the most active political blogospheres in the entire country and I consider myself to be a small fish in a big pond. Most conservative bloggers advocate for conservative principles and/or conservative candidates. While I am a conservative blogger, I have chosen to expose Democrats. My blog therefore has a different objective than most conservative blogs. I have yet to find another Minnesota conservative blogger who has adopted a similar blogging philosophy.
Smart Politics: Your blog provides an interesting combination of links to articles on Minnesota politics from other sites, breaking news press releases from politicians, as well as scoops from your own research and reporting. For the latter, what is your policy regarding sourcing? Will you run a story with a single anonymous source? Will you run a story without corroboration? In other words, what is the threshold that has to be surpassed before you’ll proceed and post a story?
MDE:I have a very strong policy about sourcing material. While I take anonymous tips, I must be able to verify the information independently of my source before I publish a post. I also conduct extensive interviews with my sources before I publish. This policy has worked well for me in over 5,000 posts on MDE.
Smart Politics: MDE and your reporting now turn up regularly in the traditional media. What do you view as your biggest scoop to date – the one of which you are most proud?
MDE:The post that established MDE in Minnesota’s political blogosphere was my work in exposing the fact that Representative Matt Entenza had hired a firm to conduct research on Attorney General Mike Hatch. When asked by a reporter about my post, Entenza called it “absolute fantasy.�? Entenza later became the DFL endorsed candidate for Attorney General, but ended his campaign after newspapers reported that my post was accurate and after Entenza was caught in a series of lies about investigating Hatch.
Smart Politics: My final series of questions deals with the content of MDE, in particular the role omitting information, providing information without context, and the selective use of information plays in your blog. For example, a day after the November 6th elections you began a series of blogs which were critical of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie – that he had failed to post results for numerous school district races in a timely manner on the SoS official website. My question is this: do you happen to know how long it took Republican SoS Mary Kiffmeyer to post similar election results in November 2005, or does that information and context not matter to MDE? For example, would you temper your criticism of Ritchie if you knew Kiffmeyer had taken longer to post the data?
MDE:During the 2006 campaign, Ritchie complained about “incorrect information” that appeared on Secretary of State Kiffmeyer’s website. He also said that “we need a Secretary of State who is dedicated to ensuring that voters are fully and accurately informed and that elections run smoothly.” I think most Minnesotans would agree.
Smart Politics: This blog, Smart Politics, aims to provide non-partisan political analysis and we do a fair amount of situating our polling and election data analysis in political and historical contexts. MDE chooses a radically different approach, and you have been criticized in comments left on your site for selective, and perhaps contradictory, use of data. For example, in an August 22, 2007 entry you wrote, “Coleman’s approval rating shoots up in latest SurveyUSA poll�? when it, in fact, increased by 4 points from 43 to 47 percent, an amount within the margin of error. But the previous month, in a July 31, 2007 entry, you downplayed the narrowing of Coleman’s lead over Ciresi from 23 to 6 points in a SurveyUSA poll and his lead over Franken from 22 to 7 points as a “comfortable margin�? of “nearly 10 points.�? If 4 points is ‘shooting up’ then how can you call a 15 or 17-point closing of the gap to just 6 or 7 points in these matchup polls a ‘comfortable margin?’ Does MDE have a policy on how it selects and presents the data in its reports, and how do you resolve this apparent contradiction?
MDE:Polls by definition are snapshots in time. When I post about a new poll, I provided a direct link on my blog to the poll so the readers of MDE can review and examine the poll’s methodology. Senator Coleman has faced a steady barrage of attacks from the DFL, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, various leftwing advocacy groups, and from the campaigns of Al Franken and Mike Ciresi. The fact that Coleman’s poll numbers increased by 4 points during these attacks is very significant and worth posting about. Minnesota is clearly a divided political state and the climate for Republicans is tough. I think Coleman having a lead of 6 or 7 points over his likely DFL rivals is very “comfortable margin.�?
Smart Politics: MDE is definitely leaving a footprint in Minnesota politics, and we thank you very much for the interview, Michael.