Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Small-Town Rupert Murdoch

By Karl Bremer

Gene Johnson, the small-minded, government-bashing former publisher of Press Publications in White Bear Lake, spun a little yarn in his St. Croix Valley Press column a couple of weeks ago about a pleasant trip he took with his family down to southeastern Minnesota this summer. It was a “triple-header,” he beamed, describing the highlights of their journey: The Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, and the Great River Shakespeare Festival at Winona State University.

And then Johnson turned his little “Summer in Minnesota” yarn into a blatant political lie.

“All three were privately funded and maintained,” Johnson claimed.

Like the Teabagger above whose sign screams “Goverment keep yore hands of my Medicare,” Johnson would have his readers believe that government had nothing to do with the plethora of culture, arts and nature that made their trip so memorable. But like most Teabaggers’ facts, Johnson’s were dead wrong.

In fact, Johnson's itinerary sounds like he and his family took their trip during Winona's Legacy Weekend, a three-day series of events designed to “celebrate the ways that the Legacy funding preserved the local landscape and brought greater access to the arts.” That would be “Legacy funding,” as in the Clean Water,Land and Legacy Amendment’s dedicated portion of the state sales tax that funds the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

The Minnesota Marine Art Museum hosted Winona Legacy Weekend events that weekend—events sponsored in part by the Minnesota State Arts Board and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), both government agencies. The museum also receives support from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council, another state-funded arts organization.

The Great River Shakespeare Festival also was a part of Winona Legacy Days. The production Johnson and his family enjoyed so much, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” also received funding from the State Arts Board and NEA and was performed on the taxpayer-supported stage at Winona State University.

Johnson swooned over the National Eagle Center, which he described as a “privately funded two-story facility on the banks of the Mississippi River.” Except that it’s not.

The Center is a public/private partnership between the nonprofit EagleWatch, Inc., the City of Wabasha and the Wabasha Port Authority. The public entities were instrumental in the construction of the $4.5 million National Eagle Center, which opened in 2007. The Prairie Island Indian Community also donated $500,000 toward the 14,000-square-foot building. And, the center receives funding from various state and federal sources.

Johnson went on to recommend checking out the Corps of Engineers’ lock-and-dam operations along the way—constructed, of course, with billions of dollars in taxpayer money. And, he added, the Corps has provided some nice beaches and protected lagoons (courtesy of its taxpayer-financed dredging operations).

So Johnson, who never misses an opportunity to take a swipe at government spending in his writings, had a splendid trip with his family down the river and was entertained, as it turns out, almost exclusively by publicly-supported events, venues and operations. But instead of acknowledging the ways in which government and shared sacrifice can enrich all of our lives in some way, he simply ignores the facts and pretends otherwise.

It’s pretty sad when a former newspaperman has to resort to making up facts to fit his opinions. But if it worked out so well for Rupert Murdoch, Gene Johnson must figure it works for him too.


  1. Excellent op ed. Thanks, Karl.

  2. "It’s pretty sad when a former newspaperman has to resort to making up facts to fit his opinions."

    This practice has become an everyday occurrence with the teabaggers. They just make sheet up and then repeat it enough times until people think it's true. It takes folks like you to continue to point out their lies in an effort to maintain the truth.

  3. Excellent. Thanks.

  4. I also find Gene insufferable, and his son seems like a real schmuck as well. Having said that, as a purported journalist or whatever you like to call yourself, keeping in mind you are every bit as biased as Mr. Johnson but just choose to reside on the other side of the fence, why not make a phone call and give him an opportunity to respond to these charges. Maybe he'll tell you to go take a flying leap, but I think you should have tried. Perhaps a letter to the editor pointing out his inacurrate ramblings would also be in order. I have to believe that of the dozen or so folks that actually read your stories you would be better served by reaching a larger audience through the White Bear Lake Press.

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