Alex Blaze

The Los Angeles Times' editorial on Target misses the point

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 19, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: best buy, la times, los angeles times, Minnesota, MN, Target, tom emmer

The LA Times thinks the peasants disagreeing with Target, et al's attempts to buy elections to take money away from schools, put poor people out on the street, and ban same-sex marriage is "distasteful" in an unsigned editorial today. The logic is strange, and after reading it again it's clear that they don't really understand the situation.

What's going on is complicated and there are lots of actors involved, but that's really not an excuse for a major newspaper. If they want to write editorials about what's fundamentally a local issues from the other side of country that has larger legal, political, and philosophical implications, fine. But they do have a responsibility to inform themselves before they opinionate on the subject.

Emmerbillboard600.pngThe crux of the problem is that they don't seem to get who's doing what. Protests against Target's donation to MN Forward (which donated to uber-homophobe and rightwinger Tom Emmer) are coming from two main sources: LGBT activists and progressives. HRC has been working the LGBT end (for better or for worse) since Tom Emmer has friends who want to kill the gays and most likely won't sign a bill legalizing same-sex marriage should it come before him (and Minnesota's getting close), while has been working the progressives on the larger idea of corporations controlling our government in order to take more money at the expense of working people.

HRC has not called for a boycott; has. HRC was negotiating with Target; has not. HRC wants Target to make a similar donation "to elect pro-equality candidates"; wants Target to promise to never make a political donation again. HRC lost its negotiations and will donate $150K of its own money to Minnesota candidates; created an ad to take its case to the people.

So here are a few examples of the errors and messy opinionating in the LA Times editorial:

  • "When Target failed to knuckle under to demands that it contribute $150,000 to pro-gay-rights candidates, MoveOn hit back with its boycott campaign." That implies that it was MoveOnthat was asking for the donations and that they're trying to shake-down Target with a boycott campaign, when it was HRC that made those unattributed "demands."
  • "For MoveOn, the fight is at least as much about corporate money as it is about gay rights." The fight, for MoveOn, is not about "gay rights" at all. Some gay people have actually gotten mad at MoveOn for piggy-backing on gay anger over this donation to release completely un-gay statements about buying elections. Abe Sauer at The Awl, for example, said he'd use "a stronger word than 'lamentable'" to describe how MoveOn de-gayed the message.
  • "But by pointing out Target's involvement in Emmer's campaign and obtaining an apology, MoveOn and Human Rights Campaign had already won" Except, no, not at all. Target's CEO's apology was for making a donation that "affected many of you in a way I did not anticipate," i.e., to a homophobe. The ways that he did anticipate - Tom Emmer's desire to eliminate Minnesota's Department of Human Rights and Housing Finance Agency and cut funding to social services and education - were not included in the apology, and neither was the fact that he used Target's coffers to usurp democratic power from the people of Minnesota.

    Moreover, I'd argue that an apology just doesn't cut it and there'd have to be concrete moves to change. Target has only promised to vet better the candidates they donate to when it comes LGBT issues issues. They did not promise to stop donating completely or even to stop donating to people who want to eliminate state jobs and reduce the quality of life in Minnesota. Honestly, I don't know how the LA Times could say that everyone here has "already won" when, really, HRC only got an apology and MoveOn got nothing.

  • "their calls for a boycott and attempt to strong-arm money from the company are deeply counterproductive." These actions may end up being counterproductive, only time will tell, but not for the reasons the LA Times uses. Neither HRC nor MoveOn are trying to "strong-arm money" out of Target, and the LA Times has no proof other than their misunderstanding of the situation to back that up.

    MoveOn, for its part, did not call on Target to make another donation. They want Target out of elections. Completely. So lumping them in with HRC and saying "their[...] attempt to strong-arm money from the company" is just plain false.

    HRC has called for another donation. Not a donation to HRC, but to local politicians that it prefers. Also, HRC just asked and didn't really threaten anything and may, at the most, take away Targets CEI 100 (I'm sure they're very afraid at Target HQ), so "strong-arm" is a bizarrely strong word for their actions.

    The LA Times editors should just read their own paper, which reported on August 16 that negotiations between HRC and Target have failed, describes that for several paragraphs, and then all the way down in the eighth paragraph the LA Times says:

    In addition, and other left-leaning groups have asked supporters to boycott Target.

    The writer is clearly discussing separate actions. The editors were discussing the actions as if they were performed by the same org and part of the same strategy.

  • "Target's contribution to MN Forward was at worst a small error of judgment." I guess it depends on your definition of "small," but if you're keeping your apartment in this recession because of a housing subsidy from the state of Minnesota and Target gets a politician elected who then cuts that subsidy, it's not that "small" to you. Calling their $150,000 donation to a toxic politician "small" is either short-sighted or out-of-touch.

    More importantly, why would the LA Times editors even be discussing it if it's so "small"? This story is far away from LA. While I've written on it before I only did so because it's a big story, with big implications for economics, politics, and LGBT rights. But if they don't see those implications, then why did they write an editorial on the subject? Just to take a cheap shot at MoveOn?

  • "Moreover, the attempt to wrangle an in-kind contribution from Target is reminiscent of a tactic that appalled gay rights advocates when it was used against them during the campaign for Proposition 8, California's 2008 initiative banning same-sex marriage." Back in 2008, though, the righwingers were asking for money for themselves, not other people's political campaigns, and threatening to start a recall campaign of a local politician, not... nothing. While I disagree with HRC's solution to this problem because it allows Target to keep on making donations, it's really not comparable.

  • Finally, the title itself: "A distasteful move by" The only move described as "distasteful" in the editorial is the call by HRC for $150,000 for "pro-equality candidates." Why didn't they entitle their editorial "A distasteful move by HRC"?

The LA Times clearly doesn't like MoveOn, considering that they can't help but reference the "General Betray Us" campaign from several years back when MoveOn had the audacity to question the Patron Saint of Perpetual War. They also have a problem with people speaking out against political donations considering their position two years ago on people boycotting a restaurant owned by a woman who donated to the Prop 8 campaign. The columnist there made sure we all knew that the mean, mean gays made that woman cry by not going to her restaurant and eating. Who knows, maybe a teary-eyed video of Target's CEO will be coming out soon, and the LA Times will get even huffier about how mean we're all being to him.

Ultimately, that's what this issue comes down to: power. Which is why targeting Target isn't going to be a complete solution (although using this situation to educate people about how much power corporations have is smart); Target will always have an interest in donating to politicians that'll give it tax breaks and ease regulation, and brand-based activism will always let lots of companies off the hook (like the half a dozen or so other corporations that donated to MN Forward). A real solution is going to eventually have to come from the government, which means we're going to have to make people understand what's at stake and create some solutions to address this problem.

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This whole Target thing has turned into a giant clusterfuck. It's like "Who's On First" now.

Too true. But if they can't keep up, then they shouldn't write an editorial in their major paper on it. Or they should at least publish a correction.

Don't expect much else from the L.A. Times. They're owned by the super-pro-corporate Chicago Tribune Corp.

So we've got a basic contradiction in what the issue really is. Do we want corporations to stop making any type of political donations, or are we just making sure that the liberal and gay groups get their piece of the corporate pie? I just Googled HRC's "Where to Buy" guide and notice they still give Target a 100 percent pro-gay rating. Has HRC disclosed whether it gets any contributions from Target? Hard to take this issue seriously when it seems to have the whiff of hypocrisy.

The LA Times has shown itself to be as unprofessional and heterosexist as any Rupert Murdoch scandal sheet. I remember when it was a great newspaper, several owners ago.