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Matt Von Pinnon, Published June 26 2011

Von Pinnon: Heitkamp’s big conspiracy flies in the face of the facts

If you are one of the relatively few people who listen to KFGO’s “News and Views” with Joel Heitkamp these days, you might not have heard that North Dakota’s fourth-largest city is enduring a flood of historic proportions.

Instead, Heitkamp has spent considerable air time the past 10 days trying to get listeners fired up about what he thinks is a much bigger story for the people of our area to know:

The wife of Forum Communications Co. President Lloyd Case works part time for North Dakota Congressman Rick Berg.

Heitkamp has taken that fact and spun it into a fanciful tale that even well-known conspiracy filmmaker Oliver Stone would hesitate to buy.

Heitkamp asserts that anonymous sources within Forum Communications Co. tell him Case dictates to the company’s news departments what they should and should not write about Berg.

Heitkamp further asserts that a source told him Case has bullied and threatened jobs over Berg news coverage, making his spousal connection clear.

Heitkamp also says the president’s wife sat in on a candidate endorsement interview with Berg, putting unstated pressure on the newspaper’s editorial board to endorse the Republican U.S. House challenger.

All of those unsourced, unchecked assertions work in the world of talk radio, but not here. We prefer to work with facts and named sources.

If Heitkamp, a former North Dakota Democratic state senator, does have anonymous sources inside Forum Communications Co., his sources are sorely uninformed.

As president and CEO of the company, Case has no role whatsoever in news decisions. Reporters report to editors, who report to publishers, who report to vice presidents. Case, like CEOs of most companies, is focused on the business side of things.

That his wife works part time for a politician has no bearing on the news.

Nobody I’ve spoken with has ever witnessed Case bullying or threatening a news reporter or news editor over anything, let alone political coverage.

Case’s wife has never sat in on a meeting of a newspaper editorial board, which is the opinion-making body of a newspaper and doesn’t associate with the newsgathering body.

Heitkamp would like people to believe that news coverage of candidates for federal offices is compromised because the president’s wife works part time for a politician.

The High Plains Reader, which like KFGO talk-show hosts is unabashedly leftist, worked in tandem with Heitkamp to further spread the conspiracy in its cover story last week.

The alternative weekly, despite willingly basing its entire story on Heitkamp’s story, did report, “An HPR analysis of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead archive found that … there was no detectable overt bias in news coverage ….”

That’s because The Forum’s newsroom personnel adheres to a strict code of ethics that forbids them, among other things, from conflicts of interest, something KFGO talk-show hosts and High Plains Reader writers and editors don’t know the first thing about.

But perhaps most interesting in all of this was Heitkamp’s closing quote in the High Plains Reader story, which read:

“I mean, I know I’m a talk show host. But I’m also somebody who, if I chose to tomorrow, could be one of the top-running politicians in the state in terms of endorsements and in terms of opportunity, and be one of the 100 people in this nation to serve in the United States Senate.”

Pretty confident guy.

If I was a conspiracy theorist – which I’m not – I might think Heitkamp was going to run against Berg for North Dakota’s open U.S. Senate seat and maybe, just maybe, the game of politics was just beginning.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.