Notice the Criticism Is Not Based on What I’m Writing About Heidi Heitkamp, but That I’m Writing It at All


Mary Wakefield, who served in the Obama administration as acting United States Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, cheers on Sen. Heidi Heitkamp at Saturday's Democratic convention . photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The interesting thing about this column from my colleague Mike McFeely, which criticizes me for writing consistently about North Dakota’s Senate race (which will be, I promise you, the biggest story of the year in our state), is not once does it criticize anything I’ve written about Senator Heidi Heitkamp.

McFeely floats the idea that I may be a paid operative of the Cramer campaign, a claim as scurrilous as it is untrue. 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.

The problem it seems, based on McFeely’s column and the letters to the editor in the papers and the social media messages, is not what I’ve written about Heitkamp but that I’m writing about her too much. And too many people are reading it.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]I can understand why Heitkamp and her comrades want me to shut up. I’m just not going to.[/mks_pullquote]

Or, at least, too much and too many in the eyes of people on the left side of North Dakota politics.

The premise McFeely sets up for me is that I can either choose to write about Heitkamp less, or be this crazy obsessed person who is unprofessional.

That’s a neat trick, isn’t it? Particularly if you’re a left wing commentator interested in seeing Heitkamp re-elected. Sort of a have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife-yet gambit.

If I write about Heitkamp less, they get what they want which is less criticism of their preferred candidate.

If I continue to choose my topics as I always have they can gnash their teeth and rend their garments and write me off as nuts.

It’s not like these sort of accusations are anything new for me. During the 2016 election season Doug Burgum’s gubernatorial campaign was complaining that I was too focused on them. North Dakota State University boosters have long felt that I’ve been too hard on their institution. Heck, back when Senator John Hoeven was Governor John Hoeven I had many people say I was much too critical of him (for what it’s worth, I think Hoeven has made a far better Senator than Governor).

The stakes are higher with Heitkamp. She is one of the most powerful politicians in the country. She’s one of a hundred members of the U.S. Senate. She is set to spend literally millions of dollars trying to get herself re-elected to that august legislative body. But her polling numbers are bad, she’s got a tough challenger in Congressman Kevin Cramer, and I’m on her right flank giving her what-for in front of one of the biggest political audiences in the state.

I can understand why Heitkamp and her comrades want me to shut up.

I’m just not going to. I’m not interested in self-censoring.

By the way, I should add that as the criticism of me over my writing about Heitkamp has grown in volume, not once have Heitkamp or her people responded to me.

They 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. They haven’t even once during the Senator’s nearly six years in office.

If all this were truly born out of concern about my professionalism, and not a political desire to stomp on dissent, don’t you think they’d have reached out?