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March 27, 2004
Aim Low, Sweet Star-Tribune

I am often -- which is to say, almost never -- asked, what constitutes a hack column? Why do some columns merely display mediocrity, and how do you distinguish them from the chosen few that sink to the execrable? Sometimes that question is difficult to answer, although thanks to my local newspaper, the Star Tribune, I can offer one objective criteria. If you keep inserting verses from a union picket-line version of an old spiritual, you have officially entered hackdom, as did Terry Collins today:

They spoke out and sang their hardships, hoping that two people in particular would hear them.

"Sit down! Stop wasting time, settle the strike today," a crowd of about 40 people, many with disabilities, sang to the tune of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." They gathered Friday across the street from Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell's office in downtown St. Paul.

At least it wasn't the 10 billionth version of "Hey Hey, Ho Ho, [blah blah blah blah] Got To Go," but it ain't Gershwin, either. Unfortunately, Collins continues to use the verses throughout the article, interspersed with Collin's sympathetic descriptions of the forty protestors, all of whom want the state to surrender to union demands:

At the rally at Mears Park, disabled bus riders shared their plight of how the three-week-old Metro Transit strike has affected them. They also sang their song, "Settle the Strike Today":

"I've worked so hard for independence, doing things for myself. But now I have to ask for rides. It's hurtin' my dignity... Settle the strike today."

A small group later met briefly with Bell in his office. But first, they wanted their messages to Bell and Gov. Tim Pawlenty to be heard publicly.

I notice that they don't seem to be protesting outside of the union's headquarters, although to be fair they don't elect the union to represent them. However, Collins lays it on pretty thick against Bell and Pawlenty, reporting on such newsworthy developments as this:

Connie Jackson, 53, of Minneapolis, who suffers from heart disease and diabetes, agreed. She tearfully told the crowd she's like many others who now can't do simple things such as get groceries without having to beg for rides. "It's awful and uncalled for. ... Gov. Pawlenty are you hearing this?" Jackson said.

"I spent 8 bucks on a taxi home, and that's a lot of dough. My money dwindles day by day. And so I'm walking more ... Settle the strike today."

Does it occur to her that by standing out on the street, haranguing Bell and Pawlenty, that she's begging for a ride from the state? I'm sympathetic to the cause -- I have friends who use the bus system -- but blaming Bell and Pawlenty for her need to ask friends to help out just seems to be a little over the top.

Carrying a sign that says he can't get to choir practice or the bank, Charles Harvel, 41, of St. Paul, said that he's starting to dip into his savings to get around by cab. "Man, 23 days is long enough," Harvel said. "People need the buses not next month, next year, but right now!"

"I'm sitting home and getting low, feeling all locked in. Hey, Mr. Governor and Mr. Bell, settle this strike. Win-Win! ... Settle the strike today."

Yes, I'm certainly unhappy that Mr. Harvel can't get to choir practice, but I don't think I need to pay $300 million a year to get him there. Besides, he seems to have found his way to the capitol just fine without the buses running.

After slogging through the sob stories interspersed between the verses, Collins ascends to mere mediocrity for the rest of the article, spending more space describing the decorations than on Bell's response, whose quoted in exactly two sentences in the third-to-last paragraph of the column. Collins doesn't even quote Bell directly on what the issues are that are keeping the two sides apart, although health-care costs are mentioned in the next paragraph.

Memo to Terry Collins, cc Star Tribune editors: While self-absorbed, whiny verses to a classic religious hymn may be entertaining performed live (although I highly doubt it), on paper it just looks ridiculous -- and what's more important, it turns a news story into a little protest of its own. That's fine for the op-ed section, but it doesn't belong in the Metro/Region news section.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 27, 2004 6:22 PM

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