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Port in the Storm...of War

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The great pretenders in the major media claim objectivity in their performance of, ahem, journalism. But the partisanship is obvious, showing itself in how they choose the stories they cover and how they slant the coverage — all while accusing their competition of that sort of partisanship, and worse.

They see the specks of dust in their opponents’ eyes, but not the lumber in their own

Unfortunately, this is not limited to Washington, New York, and other cosmopolitan outlets. Their nasty factional warfare can even be witnessed on Main Street in Middle America.

Which brings me to Rob Port, a radio talk show host and blogger in Minot, North Dakota. In the Fargo Forum, two hours each weekday on WDAY 970 AM radio, and through his, Mr. Port has been prolifically reporting on the doings and not-doings of the state’s junior U.S. Senator, Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat facing a very competitive reelection this November in a state Trump won by 36 points.

Port’s job is to have an opinion. His prose reads well and he’s fun to listen to. And I certainly do not take issue with his criticisms of Heitkamp. There are those who do, however, and it appears they have drawn up and implemented a concerted campaign against him, lobbying the Forum Communications Company, which owns the newspaper carrying Mr. Port’s column and the radio station where he hosts a talk show.

Earlier this month, Mike McFeely, a “left of center” columnist at the Forum (whose name I did not make up), published a column calling Port’s “obsession” with Heitkamp “suffocatingly limited and boring” and acknowledging, “I have often voiced my concerns about the one-trick-pony nature of Port to my bosses.”

Of course, you realize, this means war.

“McFeely floats the idea that I may be a paid operative of the Cramer campaign, a claim as scurrilous as it is untrue,” Port promptly responded. “He calls me unprofessional, to which I’d argue that being hard on politicians is exactly what those of us in this profession are supposed to do. Not once does he address the substance of my work.”

Port made it clear that Heitkamp and her handlers “don’t respond to my inquiries. They don’t respond to my requests for interviews. They’ll contact my editors to complain, mind you, but they never respond to me” — “[not] even once during the Senator’s nearly six years in office.”

He has identified a tactic — maybe even a strategy — that is typical of the current ideological warfare.

“I can understand why Heitkamp and her comrades want me to shut up,” he added. “I’m just not going to.”

Then, another shoe dropped. You see, Senator Heitkamp’s brother, Joel, is also in the radio business, managing KFGO in Fargo, as well as hosting one of its morning programs.

“When I got back to Fargo today,” tweeted Joel Heitkamp a little over a week ago, “I found Rob Port’s divorce papers. The #FargoForum is paying him 71K for part time work! What do the full-time employees get? #Wow #790KFGO #wishicould.”

Mr. Heitkamp has so far refused to comment on the details of how he got his mitts on Mr. Port’s divorce papers. But, if the best mudball he can find to sling is envy over Port’s salary, there’s no story.

Merely a vendetta. 

In an online commentary, Heitkamp failed to level with readers, disclosing only that “it became possible to find out who was paying Port” and adding ominously, “who was making sure that free political advertising [against my sister] was in play.”

“It was Forum Communications,” Father Torquemada—er, Brother Heitkamp revealed, as if unsealing an indictment. “They are paying over $71,000 for this part-time employee to carry that water.”

Heitkamp is still steaming that “Forum Communications . . . published the results of a ‘poll’ on the front page of their newspaper six years ago,” showing Heidi losing by 10 percentage points. He charges that “[t]he owners of The Forum wanted Heidi Heitkamp supporters . . . to stay home.”

And now on top of the crime of publishing the results of a public opinion poll, the newspaper is believe-it-or-not employing a . . . columnist/blogger.

The silliness doesn’t stop there. The Senate Leadership Fund, associated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) decided to weigh in. Noting on its website that KFGO’s Joel Heitkamp was “using his position to advocate on behalf of his sister Heidi Heitkamp’s political campaign,” it posed the threatening question, “what does it mean for KFGO’s FCC license?”

Ah, the smell of napalm in the morning.

For his part, Port agrees “that talk radio host Joel Heitkamp operates the radio station he manages as a de facto media arm for his sister Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s re-election campaign.” He also explains “that this choice has had a deleterious impact on the station’s ratings,” which Port says are down 33 percent.

But Rob Port does not call for the FCC to clamp down on his evil political enemy.

“The FCC really has no grounds for getting involved,” he argues. “And if there is some arcane FCC content policy being violated here — I have no idea if there is or isn’t — that policy probably needs to be brought into line with the 1st Amendment.” 

Titling his thoughts on the subject “In Defense of Joel Heitkamp,” he judges McConnell’s PAC “wrong to pursue this line of attack.”

“Free people should be allowed to speak freely,” Port asserts. “The Heitkamps may not hold those values, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are obligated to stoop to their level.”

Because politics doesn’t have to be war.

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