Yikes. Perhaps one has to live in the area — or at least be familiar with the Strib’s notoriously incurious coverage of Ilhan Omar — to fully appreciate what this endorsement of her primary challenger means. The editors went out of their way to issue an endorsement of Antone Melton-Meaux, they note at the top of this piece, in order to praise his track record as a progressive mediator.
The real hammer drops in the second half, when the editors turn their attention to Omar:
Omar’s 2018 victory launched her into the national spotlight as the first Muslim woman and first refugee elected to Congress. But her time has been marred by missteps, including remarks on Israel widely regarded as anti-Semitic, an outsized number of missed votes, and campaign-finance issues. Interestingly, the DFL Party has chosen to make an issue of Melton-Meaux’s finances, filing a late complaint that his campaign used “shadow” companies for his bid, a step the campaign told supporters was necessary because the Democratic Party blacklists companies that work for the challenger to an incumbent.
That gave Lee Hayes, a spokesman for Melton-Meaux’s campaign, a chance to note that Omar has sent more than $1.6 million to her husband’s D.C. political consulting firm, E Street Group, and is herself the target of a Federal Election Commission complaint regarding travel expenses.
It is just these kinds of ethical distractions that the Fifth District could do without. In the Editorial Board interview, Omar took little responsibility for her rocky start, instead largely blaming her critics and saying her failing was perhaps in not realizing what a “special unicorn” she would be in Congress.
“Special unicorn”? Puh-leeze. Omar’s far from the first grifter or anti-Semite to get elected to Congress in either party. The only thing special about Omar was the determined avoidance of those issues by local media, including the Strib, while she ran for state office and then the House. Irregularities in her marriage record were all but ignored even though it pointed to potential immigration fraud. This is hardly Omar’s first go-around on campaign-finance violations, too.
Understand that the Star Tribune sits squarely in Omar’s district. As she has become an intergalactic superstar, the Star Tribune has served mostly as her media adjunct. The exception is the Star Tribune’s most read story of 2019, still worth reading in 2020.
Despite its tactful approach to her, Omar wouldn’t talk to the reporters for that story or for its most recent story on her campaign spending. She nevertheless interviewed with the editors for their endorsement.
Note the twisted silence and count the dogs that don’t bark in this sentence of the endorsement editorial …
So what does this editorial mean? For one thing, it means that Omar’s in bigger trouble than most people might have thought. Scott’s correct about the outsized impact the paper has in MN-05, but it’s more a reflection of the status quo. The writing must truly be on the wall, or at least someone’s scribbling as we speak. That doesn’t mean Omar’s certain to lose, but Melton-Meaux must have made significant inroads here to get the Strib’s editors to endorse him at all.
Of course, an Omar loss would serve their purposes as well. They have to be tired of handling Omar with kid gloves, especially when she won’t give them the courtesy of access in exchange for their obsequiousness in coverage. They can start fresh with Melton-Meaux and perhaps regain a little of that “integrity” the editors claim he will bring back to the House seat in replacing Omar.
Keep an eye on Tuesday’s primary vote. It’s possible that the Squad will lose the ground it gained in ejecting longtime progressive incumbent William Clay in Missouri this week. Or, failing that, we might get a sense of just how limited the Strib’s editorial influence has become in MN-05. Either way … pass the popcorn.