The politics of teen suicide (5×8 – 2/13/12)

When politics wakes us up to a problem, a same-sex divorce, a letter from the Oil Patch, the telegram that defines us, and the things that matter.

The Monday Morning Rouser:

(h/t: Mrs. NewsCut)


Brian Lambert has some harsh words for MPR (and other news organizations) for not linking teen suicides directly to Rep. Michele Bachmann as Rolling Stone did in its excellent article a couple of weeks ago:

The 7000-word Rolling Stone story is both vivid, detailed and unsparing in making the connection between the likes of Michele Bachmann and the atmosphere of intense intolerance in the north metro area. It is also wholly unlike anything written, or produced, by any major media outlet in the Twin Cities — Star Tribune, Pioneer Press or Minnesota Public Radio — all of whom are fully aware of both the appalling suicide rate and the fervor of anti-gay rhetoric stoked by religious conservatives.

My MinnPost colleague, David Brauer, appears to be aware of this curious under-reporting of so highly provocative a case of cause-and-effect. A couple of days ago, he took Star Tribune opinion page writer Lori Sturdevant to task for a column she wrote tut-tutting Rolling Stone for what she regarded as a hyperbolic presentation of the story of Anoke-Hennepin’s problem, specifically the way it connected Bachmann’s political strategy with the anti-gay fervor … and tragic consequences.

In his lesson on covering teen suicide, Lambert doesn’t point out that NewsCut — that’s an MPR product — has focused on the complex issue of teen suicide for years.

As MPR’s Elizabeth Dunbar revealed in last summer’s story on the controversy in the Anoka-Hennepin district, the controversy had its roots in “a 1995 health proposal ‘written by a group of socially conservative parents and community members: Homosexuality should not be ‘taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle’ in the schools,'” the story reported. Accurately.

But the teen suicide epidemic goes far beyond the policy now under fire in that district and MPR hasn’t taken a back seat to Lambert or Rolling Stone in detailing it. In relative public secrecy, two kids in Woodbury killed themselves, a student at Park in Cottage Grove killed herself, and two kids in Mounds View killed themselves, all within a matter of weeks. Lambert had nothing to say about them. I did. And did. And did. And did. All of these teen suicides occurred in a virtual shoulder shrug of indifference, possibly because they couldn’t provide the political jollies that the pro-Bachmann/anti-Bachmann warriors seek in important issues.

And that, of course, is unfortunate because the issue of teen suicide has long demanded the scrutiny that Rolling Stone is bringing to it and that MPR has been bringing to it, forcibly opening the eyes of people who have worked hard to ignore it.

My suspicion/accusation has long been that the local news media have each separately made an economic calculation that regular and full reporting Bachmann’s misrepresentations, activities, alliances and influences becomes counter-productive after the point of perfunctory diligence. Translation: To have aggressively covered her — did I mention, a presidential candidate and the state politician with the highest profile on the national stage? — would be to risk blowback from her intensely contentious supporters, open themselves to invigorated charges of “liberal bias” and possibly/likely suffer advertising/underwriting blowback.

The innuendo seems clear: Because MPR and other organizations didn’t cover Bachmann “properly,” kids are dying by their own hands, collateral damage in an economic calculation.

It’s an unsubstantiated and scurrilous accusation that assaults not only the facts, but the integrity of those who’ve been waving their arms for more than a decade, yelling, “you’ve got a problem here.”

Lambert’s calculus requires a recognition of the danger of making teen suicide a “gay” vs “not gay” issue, and an identification of what happens to important issues when placed in the always-roiling “Bachmann vs. anti-Bachmann” arena. If you’re going to play that card, it’s vital that you understand the consequences to the real issue of doing so.

No intelligent or productive consideration of a public health crisis can take place in that environment, and if there’s one thing the issue of teen suicide needs in this state, it’s an intelligent conversation.

Are kids killing themselves because of rejection of their sexual identity? Clearly that seems to be the cause in many cases. Intolerance of GLBT youth has to stop. Common sense tells us that. Bullying is a component of suicide and the American teenager is a predatory animal. Hate is hate. It was to the four kids in the district who were gay. It was to the five deads kids who apparently weren’t. Is there a cause-and-effect “in the north metro” where teen suicide is occurring that doesn’t exist in Woodbury, or Cottage Grove, or Alexandria or Worthington? There, the question requires more thoughtful analysis.

According to Lambert, the Rolling Stone story is an example of “local journalism’s Bachmann failure.” That’s a fair — albeit debatable — point. He could’ve headlined it a “teen suicide failure,” but perhaps that’s secondary.

The moral high ground on the issue of the teen suicide epidemic goes to those whose primary concern is a kid somewhere who thinks the world is better off without him/her in it, and the journalists who didn’t need a Rolling Stone article to wake up to a widespread and complex problem.

That it took the Rolling Stone article to awaken some people from their slumber speaks to an even greater truth: Until we can frame issues in the “my politics vs. your politics” context, we ignore them. That’s wrong.

We are not doing enough to stop our kids from killing themselves. Imagine how many of our kids would be alive today if we’d simply started there,and if changing that fact was our true priority.


Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, whose lawsuit led the California Supreme Court to throw out the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2008, are getting a divorce.

Tyler said: “When you fight for civil rights, they say, ‘Well, you’re the poster women for same-sex marriage in California.’ But we’re just ordinary people. We shouldn’t be expected to have a higher bar than anybody else. A group of people who have no civil rights shouldn’t be held to a higher standard when they do get civil rights.

“It’s just a divorce, and what I keep telling people is that I’m still two divorces behind Newt Gingrich, Mr. Family Values.”


Oil Patch resident John Heiser, writing on High Plains Reader, sends a note to his eastern friends.

My view eastward encompasses the badlands for perhaps 10 miles and then the Killdeer Mountains–quite a grand panorama in a normal time. These days, however, that formerly wild view is marred with several oil drilling rigs, around a dozen gas flares, and too often a choking cloud of dust from the oilfield traffic on county roads. Oil industry traffic on US 85 has become extreme and dangerous in the last several years; I’ve dodged many a near-miss accident on my formerly easy 20 mile journey to work. I will no longer set foot in Williston, Watford City or Killdeer because of their oil chaos, and only rarely journey to Dickinson for provisions–because that city is rapidly losing its sanity as well. Both my ranch and the North Unit used to be notable for their immense silence–but no more; the sounds of semi-trucks and their “jake brakes” provide a near constant and unsettling racket, not to mention the noise of drilling rigs and other associated “boom” impacts.


Last November, the St. Cloud Times asked its readers to submit objects that define the region. It was based on the British Museum’s effort to tell the history of the world via 100 objects. Yesterday, the Times released its selection of 10 items that “define us.”

Here’s one: a telegram that authorized Saint John’s to begin broadcasting at its little radio station:

Perhaps once upon a time the Side Track Tap served Minnesota 13. There’s a straight line from the Jan. 20, 1967, telegram authorizing Minnesota Educational Radio to the worldwide awareness of our area as Lake Wobegon, with its bar and cafe and churches and strong women and good-looking men and above-average children. Minnesota Public Radio, conceived at St. John’s Abbey and University as an extension of the Benedictine tradition of supporting arts and culture, has become one of the most influential news and entertainment sources in the country. And in the era of tweets, the object recalls a time when “a telegram” was a big deal.

The “little radio station” became Minnesota Public Radio. The selection prompted Father Roger Kasprick at Saint John’s Abbey to send along his reflection:

I think I told you that I was one of the monks cleaning out (dumping much of it!] our third floor museum to make room for KSJR studios, offices, and whatever kinds of mystery rooms were needed for a [an?] FM radio station of such professional standards. Hah! Professional, that’s kind of a hoot. We were a bunch of kids, but we were aiming high. Looks like the “aim” worked out okay.

I probably told you also that I was cleaning out the Darkroom, which had been connected directly by a second door to the main photography studio of older times. Both of these spaces became part of the KSJR main broadcast studios. That little cleaning expedition was when and where we discovered many boxes of many glass negatives–several of which have become some of our most cherished and famous historic photographs. They included exclusive photos of the great Chicago International Exhibition, in the public arena, and photos of 19th century early monks’ brass band, Indians in our short-lived Indian trade school, and other treasures. I sure am glad that I picked up pieces of glass off the floor, looked at them before tossing them, and saw that they had negative photo images (something we had not at all been told about, or to expect). Then I dug out some dusty wooden crates off the floor beneath the table/workbench. Discovered them filled with vertical standing glass negatives. As I recall, those crates/boxes which were still standing vertically held dusty negatives in otherwise pretty good condition. Those boxes which had fallen or been knocked on their side produced many more damaged glass slides.

I’m glad I neglected (refused?) to “throw out all that junk”, at least until we got some grown-ups to look at them. Those doggone grownups nearly sailed their hats into the whirlwind when they began to recognize what we had dug out of the dirt. It seems that no one had gone into that little locked dark room for quite a long time, perhaps decades. Or at least had not dug around in the stuff the way I did. The “junk” was there, in helter-skelter fashion, and there was the decades of debris and dust covering and surrounding it. My job was to clean it up, clean it out, or the other way around. And “now” we had a good reason for cleaning out that old unused photography junk; we were going to build a professional FM station for adult educational, classical music, and religious programming–another outreach and expansion of our “higher education” apostolate. Our first and founding monks had gotten this charter to conduct an institute of higher education, perhaps within the first year of their arriving in Minnesota Territory in 1856. “Now” we were cleaning out one of our earlier “higher education” projects in central Minnesota to make room for our next higher education project, KSJR-FM Radio. The “charter” for this new venture came in the form of a telegram, posted there until this day, giving us the word that we could turn on the switch of our new project, broadcasting our programming from the same physical space occupied by the other extraordinary programming, professional level early photography in early Minnesota. Some of the great recovered photographs were being displayed locally and nationally about the same time the new radio wave was coming on the air, first locally and later nationally. “Way leads unto way”, is a wise saying of the early Quakers. It seems it is still a good piece of wisdom. “Now” is always the time for us to recognize that Now is the time. It may mean that we have to conclude or end one thing in order to accomplish, or even to start, another good thing. Now is the time for whatever good we can do at this time. This is the day the Lord has made…. ([That’s a little Bible-talk there.)


In Texas, Diane Aulger was two weeks away from her due date when she decided there was no time to wait. Her husband was dying of colon cancer.

“Mark said, ‘I’d like to see the baby,'” the 31-year-old mother told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Labor was induced and he saw his daughter. He died five days later.

Bonus: At Foster Arend Pond in Rochester over the weekend, and at many other locations in the state, people continued to jump into icy water to raise money for Special Olympics.


The past several weeks have seen a political uproar over birth control. President Obama announced and then modified rules that would have required religious employers to include birth control in their health plans. Today’s Question: What do you think of rules that make free birth control a mandatory part of health care coverage?

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: A new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind describes rivalries and dysfunction within President Obama’s first economic team. He joins us to discuss the book, which is based on interviews with more than 200 people, including the president, and quotes internal documents from the White House. (Rebroadcast. Find original broadcast here)

Second hour: In December 2009, a group of the CIA’s top terrorist hunters gathered at a secret base in Afghanistan to meet Humam Khalil al-Balawi, a Jordanian double agent who had gained access to the top commanders of al-Qaeda. Instead of providing information, Balawi detonated a a bomb strapped to his chest, killing seven CIA operatives. Joby Warrick tells the story in his new book. (Rebroadcast. Find original broadcast here)

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – Both hours:Robert Reich, author of “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” He spoke at the Commonwealth Club.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Closing the achievement gap.

Second hour: TBA