Change often comes slowly. Oftentimes, but by no means always, the bigger the change, the more slow and imperceptible change is. Large, imposing edifices on the brink of tremendous change often appear impervious to it. Take, for example, the former Soviet Union.
The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics was officially created in late December 1922 at the conclusion of the bloody Russian Civil War. Called into being by the proto-Bolshevist Lenin like the spawn of some demonic ghoul out of horror fiction, the reality of the Soviet Union was all too real to the pitiful generations who lived and died under its banal brutality and terror until it was mercifully dissolved in December 1991, its demise mourned only by a preposterously insignificant handful of Russian elite that relied on its largesse and an equally preposterous number of Western Leftist elite who never tired or flagged in their defense and approbation of the tortured system – or had to suffer under its tyranny.
For nearly seven decades, the Soviet Union seemed at times to successfully defy natural law. Many in the West puzzled at how the Soviet Union could lumber on decade after decade with its antiquated command economy, absence of freedom, and lack of genuine human rights. This apparent success caused some to doubt Western-style economic freedom and civil liberty and view the Soviet system as simply another, equally acceptable form for government.
One is reminded of John Kenneth Galbraith’s breathtakingly wrong assessment of the health of the Soviet economy. As late as 1984 he stated, “That the Soviet system has made great material progress in recent years is evident both from the statistics and from the general urban scene….One sees it in the appearance of solid well-being of the people on the streets…and the general aspect of restaurants, theaters, and shops….Partly, the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast with the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower.”
Or of liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who observed that “those in the United States who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse” are “wishful thinkers who are only kidding themselves.”
Or of Columbia University Sovietologist Seweryn Bialer’s equally massively wrong observation in Foreign Affairs, “The Soviet Union is not now nor will it be during the next decade in the throes of a true systemic crisis, for it boasts enormous unused reserves of political and social stability.”
As we now know, however, history eventually caught up with the Soviet Union and such benighted intellectuals thanks to Ronald Reagan. He understood that while the Soviets might be able to cobble together an economy and paste over human rights abuses for a time, eventually, their system would end up “on the ash heap of history.” Reagan recognized that the solution was not détente but challenge; i.e., the escalation of market forces to expose the flawed and defective foundations of the entire Soviet system.
So much for history. Cut to May 2007 and the Star Tribune’s announcement of staff reductions due to financial woes. Created in 1982 out of the merger of the Minneapolis Tribune (founded in 1867) and the Minneapolis Daily Star (founded in 1920), the admittedly liberal Star Tribune has finally foundered on the rocks of free market competition. Strib deputy editor and leading liberal voice on the editorial page Jim Boyd acknowledged that the new Strib owners (Avista Capital Partners) are more concerned with financial goals than ideology. In response, Boyd has chosen to take a buyout but insists that not much will change.
On the contrary, everything has changed.
Given his repeated assertions that Avista is more concerned with financial performance than ideology, one can only assume that Boyd is whistling past the graveyard of market forces demanding return on investment. As much as Boyd may be loathe to admit it, free market forces are now impacting the Star Tribune. As with the former Soviet Union, the inexorable winds of change are blowing. In fact, they’re blowing with gale force through the newsroom and editorial board, which has been reduced from 12.5 to 7.5 positions. (Question: What do you call a Strib editorial board reduced by five positions? Answer: A start.) And similar to the demise of the Soviet Union, the recent changes to the Strib editorial department have been mourned only by a preposterously small handful of liberal elites that rely on the largesse of editorial bias.
It has been acknowledged by Strib management that the newspaper’s extreme liberalism has hurt profits by alienating readers and advertisers who place themselves anywhere to the right of the Bolveshiks on the political spectrum. As with the Soviet Union, the Star Tribune has likewise been subjected to change due to market pressures.
For a time, the Strib proved willing to place financial returns a distant second to the promotion and defense of Leftist ideology in general and all things Democrat in particular. Like the Soviet Union, the Strib marched on for decades seemingly inured to reality. However, with the change of ownership, first to McClatchy and then to Avista, the denial of financial realities came to an end. (McClatchy, which purchased the Strib from Cowles Media for $1.2 billion in 1998, sold it to Avista for only $530 million in December 2006.)
Sadly, the revolution within the Strib was not without some unfortunate casualties. It’s dismaying that James Lileks lost his column and reassigned to write local news stories. As the admiring owner of The Gallery of Regrettable Food, Interior Desecrations, and Mommy Knows Worst, I remain hopeful that Strib leadership will recognize this waste of talent and restore Lilek’s column.
One should be cautioned that since it took the Soviet Union seven decades to collapse, we should not despair over the lack of further immediate and dramatic changes at the Strib. Until such change is truly effected, the Star Tribune remains less a newspaper than an inherently flawed and biased liberal propaganda organ. It is less a trusted news source than an ideological tool of the Left.
However, let us be cheered that change has come, and confident that it will continue to grow, albeit perhaps slowly.