Journalism and the lynch mob mentality

I’ve never been a big fan of the policies in some Twin Cities newsrooms — including ours — of (generally) not naming suspects in criminal cases until charges are actually filed. It’s not that I don’t agree that doing so may lead to the destruction of reputations when facts aren’t known, it’s that the policies — generally — are filled with hypocrisy. The news that broke yesterday that an SUV owned by former Vikings player and broadcaster Joe Senser was involved in the hit-and-run death of a man is a sadly perfect example.

When charges are filed, charging documents are usually released to the public, giving us more facts to provide a somewhat more credible picture of what happened. But there’s nothing in the journalist’s book of ethics that says these are the ones you extend to average people, and these are the ones you extend to famous people — whether they’re white and rich or not.

Why? Because ethics don’t work that way; you either have them or you don’t. “Everyone else is doing it” has always been a poor foundation for a good argument. The entire philosophy of fairness depends on an equal application.

What we do know, based on some digging by reporters, is that the SUV is probably the one that killed Anousone Phanthavong and that it is owned by Joe Senser.

On Twitter this morning — and other media, too — it doesn’t matter what we don’t know.

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Meanwhile, the Star Tribune is already running a poll saying Senser’s is a moral dilemma, even though we don’t know exactly what dilemma that is. No matter. Seventy-five percent say they’d turn in a family member involved in a hit-and-run. Good to know, but it doesn’t really tell us what’s going on here. It only implies that the Sensers are actively engaged in stonewalling an investigation. Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. Certainly, we don’t know.

There’s nothing wrong with speculation per se. I do it all the time when writing about aviation incidents. But we have a responsibility to be informed and connect dots that are facts. We’re not doing that here and we in the news media are willing accomplices by pretending all of the reasons for protecting the identity of someone who hasn’t been charged with a crime don’t also exist here.

We don’t know that Senser and his family are getting preferential treatment. We don’t have any evidence that investigators are cutting him a break because he’s rich and/or white. We don’t know who was driving. We don’t know why they didn’t stop. We don’t know what the advice of their attorney is, although it’s worth pointing out that the attorney contacted the State Patrol.

What we do know is that investigators in these parts have a good track record of figuring out why someone ends up dead. The rest is up to a jury that, hopefully, isn’t on Twitter today.

The Senser family promises a statement “in a day or two,” and perhaps then we’ll have a clearer picture of what’s going on here. In the meantime, reality will be created by the dribs and drabs of information from people who have an interest in the reality dribs and drabs of information create.

Update 3:18 p.m. – The attorney for the Senser family reports the SUV was driven by Amy Senser, Joe Senser’s wife.

Update 5:04 p.m. – Here, for background, is MPR’s policy:


In cases where law enforcement officials arrest or otherwise detain an individual without charging that person with a crime, MPR News may name such individuals in its reports. It will be up to the News Director or editor(s) overseeing the story to determine whether the situation warrants naming the suspect. Editors should consider whether MPR’s naming of an uncharged suspect will do irreparable harm to the suspect’s reputation if authorities decide not to charge and whether the public’s right to be informed is worth taking that risk.

In cases where a decision to name an uncharged suspect is made it is incumbent on MPR News to provide as much context as possible to let the audience determine whether an arrest was justified. Such context must include the fact that charges have not been filed, an explanation of why not, and how long the law enforcement agency can legally detain the suspect. and like any story, mpr news will make every effort to contact principles in the story. Stories should also include any information about evidence implicating the suspect or any other information that will allow the audience evaluate the validity of an arrest. and finally, if MPR News produces a story about a suspect’s dentention or arrest without charges, it is committed to giving similar coverage in the event the suspect is released.

  • David

    Well said. I admit to feeling and thinking some of these things, but without facts to some of the question’s you’ve asked I couldn’t bring myself to believe,type, or say them.

    Some of the lawyer’s comments about the state having to prove who was behind the wheel certainly doesn’t help with public perception – or my own for that matter – but once again. Without the facts…

    The only thing I am certain about is someone’s life was lost due to inattentive driving and it’s going to be a heartbreaking situation for all involved.

  • Ken Paulman

    To play devil’s advocate, when there’s a public figure involved, it usually overrides policies about not naming suspects. SPJ Code of Ethics says “be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges” and “balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.”

    No newsroom that I’m aware of has an outright prohibition on naming suspects without charges. Clearly, if this car had belonged to the governor, that’d be news.

    So the ethical question is whether Joe Senser is a “public figure.” I’d frankly never heard of the guy, so my inclination is to say no. Those who follow sports would obviously disagree.

    To me, the coverage and public reaction says less about journalism standards than our fixation with professional athletes and celebrities. Right or wrong, the public holds these people to different standards – with greater privilege comes greater scrutiny. The only thing we relish more than their success is their downfall.

    Is it the journalist’s job to try to change that? I suppose it would be nice if they could.

  • Bob Collins

    Right. I know that. My general opinion is that the stated reason for providing a protection of, say, YOUR reputation over the protection of a Joe Senser;s reputation is pretty invalid.

    I would make the argument that the damage to a person;s reputation — if that’s the purpose for the policy in the first place — is much more pronounced for a Joe Senser than it is for Joe the Barber.

    So why have that protection at all. Take the guy who killed Katie Poirier (the subject of my original article linked above). If it turns out he hadn’t done it , what would be the harm of naming him. What was the value of the reputation he had?

    When they were digging in the farm near the Wetterling house a year ago, what was the value of identifying the location and the guy’s job — which pretty much spelled out who the guy was — and than stand on some noble “we’re not naming his name?” Why not?

    It’s an extremely flawed policy and a more honest one would be “we’ll name the name if doing so generates buzz and page views.”

  • Elizabeth T

    re: “hiding behind a lawyer”

    I have heard both a criminal defense lawyer and the ACLU and a police officer all state that the smartest thing to do any time you have to talk to a law enforcement is to get a lawyer first. No matter who you are.

    “His lawyer said” might sound like someone is afraid of being caught. It might also sound like someone is smart enough to want a professional to help them understand the system.

    Would you think “she must have something to hide” if I get audited by the IRS and the first thing I do is call an accountant?

  • Bob Collins

    I think that’s a very good point. Why would you put yourself at the mercy of the justice system without having someone who knows the justice system guide you there?

  • Uncle Buck

    ///”His lawyer said” might sound like someone is afraid of being caught. It might also sound like someone is smart enough to want a professional to help them understand the system.

    Would you think “she must have something to hide” if I get audited by the IRS and the first thing I do is call an accountant?

    Posted by Elizabeth T//

    ///I think that’s a very good point. Why would you put yourself at the mercy of the justice system without having someone who knows the justice system guide you there?

    Posted by Bob Collins//

    For some people, it’s all relative.

  • Mark Gisleson

    Just got back into town and am catching up on this story, but I guess I don’t understand why you don’t forfeit the right to not be judged by the media and the public when you hit and kill someone and drive away but don’t turn yourself in for over a week.

    I know some friends of the deceased, and not knowing what happened that night has been very hard on them. It’s difficult to embrace the concept of hiding behind a lawyer when only one living person knows what happened, but won’t talk.

    I guess the media’s spin on all of this offends me much less than a guilty person not coming clean about a criminal act they have already admitted to.

  • Bob Collins

    //when you hit and kill someone and drive away but don’t turn yourself in for over a week.

    Maybe the fact Joe Senser wasn’t in the car offers a clue.

    Another clue is we don’t know what happened, as I said, and it’s a bad idea to guess what happened and adopt that as fact..

    The fact you’ve already declared a person guilty is not entirely surprising to me. We just love the constitution right up until the part where it’s inconvenient.

  • Mark Gisleson

    Bob, what on earth are you talking about? Before I left my comment Amy Senser, through her attorney, admitted to having run over Anousone Phanthavong.

    If you admit that you ran over someone who is now dead, how can it be wrong for someone to say that person is guilty? Do you think that a terrorist parachuted in through the moon roof and seized the wheel, making her hit Phanthavong?

    I’m very confused by where you’re coming from on this. Do confessions no longer suffice?

  • Bob Collins

    //Amy Senser, through her attorney, admitted to having run over Anousone Phanthavong.

    I’m talking about the unwillingness or inability to pay attention to details on this particular case because people — understandably — want it all resolved now. Who wouldn’t? Is it horrible for Mr. Phanthavong’s family? Of course it is. It’s awful.

    That said, facts do matter in the process. Mrs. Senser did not admit to having run over Anousone Phanthavong, nor did she “confess” to do so.

    What she admitted to was driving the car that, we now know, killed Mr. Phanthavong.

    What we don’t know yet are the details surrounding that acknowledgement. Clearly one side believes it’s unmistakable to have known she hit a man. The other side would appear to be positioning for a defense she didn’t. That’s was investigations and — if necessary — subsequent trials are for.

    I get that it’s not popular. There are certain constitutional protections that are guaranteed to people, even the ones who may be detestable to some people. Extending those protections to the popular isn’t where the strength of the constitution comes from.

  • Mark Gisleson

    Anousone Phanthavong’s car was entirely off the ramp on the grassy shoulder. He was wearing a white t-shirt. His car mirror was ripped off and his body was dragged forty feet. The angle of the collision was not consistent with proper use of an off ramp.

    I guess my problem is that I’m getting my details from someone who saw the body before it was removed. As Anousone’s brother told the media yesterday, it was a Trooper who first suggested that the family get a lawyer because of the Sensers’ stonewalling.

    Amy Senser admitted to driving the vehicle, and the circumstances of the accident make it extraordinarily unlikely that Senser did not know she was in an accident, unless, of course, she was not sober.

    How do you drag a body forty feet without knowing it? And how do you run over a man and then refuse to talk to his family?

    But you’re right. We don’t know what happened. Rumors that one of the Senser’s daughters was driving are plaguing the family but absent a clarifying statement from Amy Senser, the family has no idea what really happened. They are taking Amy Senser’s word for it that she is responsible, but they will not know the truth until Senser is deposed and her statements compared to the actual facts, facts that show this to be a classic “hit” and then “run away” accident.

    However you examine this, the Senser family knows what happened. Collectively they are taking the Fifth Amendment, defying the authorities to make a case despite her “confession.”

    Yes, Senser deserves a trial. No, I don’t think there’s a makeable case that she did this unknowingly and it seems unlikely she was sober. I’m not asking that she be lynched, only that she talk to the family about what happened. A jury will decide the rest.

    As this case stands, her actions after the fact are as heartless as her actions that night were reckless.

  • Jeff Zaayer

    Driving a car is a big responsibility how someone can run into a human being and not know they did is beyond me. On the flip side if they knew they did it and didn’t attempt to stop and help, then they need some serious help as they are not fit for living in a civil society.

    Drunk, sober, distracted, or attentive, regardless of the scenarios there is still a level of personal accountability that has not been shown up to this point. Time will tell what will happen and all we can hope is that the result is a just and fair outcome for all parties involved.

  • Jennifer

    Bob, I’m having trouble reconciling the logic of these two statements from your most recent comment:

    1. Mrs. Senser did not admit to having run over Anousone Phanthavong.

    2. What she admitted to was driving the car that, we now know, killed Mr. Phanthavong.

    If she was driving the car and the car hit Mr. Phanthavong, how is that not admitting to hitting him?

    I’m seriously confused…

  • Richard

    ‘A’ Sensor was driving, blood on the car, innocent man dead.

    Sounds like jail time to me!

  • Matt

    One way to try to determine if the Sensers are being given preferential treatment is to compare this case to previous cases where the driver is not white and rich. The first one that comes to mind for me is Koua Fong Lee back in 2006. I wonder how long it took for the police to arrest and jail him after his accident? I tried searching online but couldn’t find any old news articles with that information, but I’m guessing he wasn’t allowed to remain free for weeks while the investigation took place.

    I’d love it if somebody else has more luck than I did with finding this information.

  • Bob Collins

    Koua Fong Lee was not a hit and run. All of the evidence was there. The victim, the driver, the car, the skid marks, and witnesss.

    I’m pretty sure, however, that he was not jailed pending an investigation since that would be a violation of constitutional rights.

    No one in Minnesota can be jailed without charges being filed after a certain period. I THINK it’s 36 hours, or 48 hours with judicial review.

    Even then, the only reason someone would be held pending trial would be if they couldn’t make bail or if they were a continuing risk to public safety. The purpose of bail, of course, isn’t to keep you in jail, it’s to insure that you show up in court once your case goes to trial.

    The decision to arrest is always the same: (a) Is there admissable evidence supporting the charges and (b) does the prosecutor think it’s a makeable case?

    In this particular sad case, what specific charges — considering those no such charge as “she killed an innocent man” — would you file as the prosecutor?

    And remember, once you so indicate, you’ve got 48 hours to show a judge you’ve got the specific evidence that satisfies the statute you’re going to cite.

    I still gotta believe there’s a freeway camera or security camera out there somewhere that’s going to come into play here. But we’ll see.

  • ?Mark

    Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. If Ped had run down Joe Senser’s wife/daughter, do you really think he would be given the luxury of 10 days to even admit being the driver? Do you honestly think that is acceptable to slow down the investigation for that long? If you answer yest to either question, you are living in a hopelessly naive reality.

  • Bob Collins

    //he would be given the luxury of 10 days to even admit being the driver?

    Yes, actually, I do, since nobody is required to admit anything in the justice system. It’s not a “luxury,” it’s a constitutional right against self incrimination. That right, and your knowledge of it in similar cases, was further clarified in Miranda v. Arizona before the U.S. Supreme Court.

    In your hypothetical, not extending that luxury would have been grounds for the case to be thrown out of court or the statement not being admitted in court.

  • Kyle

    I think that this is a very strong argument, however the problem I have with it is that it seems to be unevenly distributed. This tends to make people believe that there is a certain amount of favoritism involved, as the Sensers are a family that has a lot of media connections.

    Can you explain why – all of a sudden – the media is advocating caution when they usually are the ones leading the pack to catch the scoop and reveal names? Does it take one of their own for them to finally think this practice may not be the best?

    Additionally, what is there in place to make me believe MPR and other news outlets won’t just continue this practice in the future, at a time when one of their media buddies isn’t involved?

  • Bob Collins

    //Can you explain why – all of a sudden – the media is advocating caution when they usually are the ones leading the pack to catch the scoop and reveal names? Does it take one of their own for them to finally think this practice may not be the best?

    By “all of a sudden,” you’re creating a reality and asking me to prove it doesn’t exist. What I’m doing is saying that the judicial and investigatory process ought to work or prove that it doesn’t.

    By “media buddies,” you’re suggesting that someone in this newsroom, for example, is pals with Joe Senser. I don’t know who those people are because I’ve run into nobody who’s actually met the man.

    It also ignores the fact that it was the media that put Mr. Phanthavong’s death in the news by virtue of the fact that it outed Senser as the driver of the car.

    If your theory were true, that wouldn’t have happened.

    I’m pretty sure if we were able to get more facts in the story, the media would run it in an instant. Why? Because it’s a great story and you’re interested in it and at the end of the day, that’s what keeps paychecks coming.

    //Additionally, what is there in place to make me believe MPR and other news outlets won’t just continue this practice in the future, at a time when one of their media buddies isn’t involved?

    Again, answering that question requires me to accept your perception of reality.

    Specifically, what is the next action you’d like to see the news media to take? Do you want us to ask the familyl what happened? We have. Do you want us to ask the State Trooper what they’ve got? We have. Do you want us to find the witness to this that can prove what happened? We’re looking.

    The cops are going through credit card records and cellphones to try to place everyone in the Senser family in some location every step of the way. I’d love to have that data. To be honest with you, I don’t know how to get it. (And if you do, I’d love your help.)

    If you think I’m employing a double standard, then you do the work and find the times when I’ve declared someone guilty of a *specific* crime without having the evidence to back it up.

    The Senser story isn’t going to go away.

  • Lisa

    Just another rich family getting away with murder. The only reason they waited so long was so the drugs and/or alcohol was out of her system. Food for thought

  • Kyle

    //By “all of a sudden,” you’re creating a reality and asking me to prove it doesn’t exist. What I’m doing is saying that the judicial and investigatory process ought to work or prove that it doesn’t.

    What is it about this story, specifically, that made you feel to write this entry about exercising caution? You have to understand your motives will be questioned when you write defending someone who is in the same line of work as you (Minnesota radio).

    //Specifically, what is the next action you’d like to see the news media to take? Do you want us to ask the familyl what happened? We have. Do you want us to ask the State Trooper what they’ve got? We have. Do you want us to find the witness to this that can prove what happened? We’re looking.

    What I meant by this is that you seem to be arguing that the media shouldn’t just be diving for a scoop, but should be more cautious with their approach in the future. I agree with you, but what organizational standards are there in place to make me believe that this is more than just in this single instance that you are arguing for more caution with identifying suspects?

  • Bob Collins

    //What is it about this story, specifically, that made you feel to write this entry about exercising caution? You have to understand your motives will be questioned when you write defending someone who is in the same line of work as you (Minnesota radio)

    The lynch mob mentality and the policies where the media protects some people but not the other. As it turned out, the perception is that the media “protects” certain people is actually 180 degrees different from what the particularly newsroom policies in this industry address.

    //What I meant by this is that you seem to be arguing that the media shouldn’t just be diving for a scoop, but should be more cautious with their approach in the future.

    What I *seem* to be saying to you isn’t really as important as what I *am* saying. Let’s focus on those things. What I’ve actually said is pretty unmistakable.

    Actually, what I wrote w.r.t. naming suspects is that we should get rid of all the policies and just name people who haven’t been charged.

    This goes all the way back to the Katie Poirier case (I provided links above). Why did Donald Blom deserve any protection?

  • etwan sherlew

    There are some interesting points here. I have been alternately angry and baffled by the media circus surrounding this. I don’t think there has been a good piece written about why it is simply sick human behavior to hit someone, leave them for dead, and not call 911. Regardless of who did it can’t someone in the media exhibit enough moral moxie, pony up and say it–it’s base, sick, and unacceptable human behavior to leave someone for dead.

  • Bob Collins

    Of course. If you hit a person, you know hit a person, you’re aware you hurt a person — even if you didn’t kill that person — and you fled the scene and did nothing to help, that is sick.

    Those people belong in prison. That’s precisely what the law says and that’s what it should say.

  • charles

    Honestly Bob, kinda gets old reading your explanations and arguments in these comments. Especially the strawman one about the Wetterling incident. The fact of the matter is, the Senser car hit and killed someone and then drove away, and took over a week to admit this fact to law enforcement, and now they are refusing to cooperate.

    How would your article read if the crime committed were petty? Would you still defend the Senser’s right to teach their kids how to use their wealth and position in society to escape responsibility for their crime by bullying the system with a well-funded legal team?

    The Senser’s have already committed a crime- there is no arguing that. What is the value of you defending them? How about covering the family of the victim? Why do the Sensers need yet another media personality rushing to their defense?

    BTW, I’m a long-time listener and you’ve lost my interest in anything you have to say moving forward. I just don’t respect you any longer. t’s really that simple.

  • Bob Collins

    You know, Charles, I’m sorry to hear you say that. I respect you all enough to respond to all your questions and discuss differing opinions just as intelligently and respectfully as I can. If you or anyone else would like to have coffee and discuss this case, I would certainly be interested in doing so. It’s that important to me that we be able to discuss a serious situation in an honest and respectful way.

    I am not condoning hitting and killing someone and then doing nothing to help, as I’ve indicated multiple times. I am respectful of a legal process in the U.S. in which facts dictate the charges — if any — that are filed.

    //Would you still defend the Senser’s right to teach their kids how to use their wealth and position in society to escape responsibility for their crime by bullying the system with a well-funded legal team?

    I know you think this case has already been investigated fully and that the investigators are simply on the take or otherwise influenced by the money the Sensers have.

    All I have to go by here, Charles, is the facts that I have at my disposal so far and what the State Patrol says the status of the investigation is and they’re saying it’s not over, yet.

    I think at the very least there’s going to be a charge filed of leaving the scene of a personal injury accident. Beyond that, I just don’t know.

    The Sensers have the right under the law not to confess to a crime. Is that a sound legal strategy? Maybe. Maybe not. If there’s convincing evidence to support a charge that Mrs. Senser knowingly hit and killed a man, and then raced away without helping, I think the strategy is going to backfire and a jury is going to look favorably on a prosecutor who points out that the she not only did nothing to help, the family stonewalled the investigation.

    Is it a moral strategy/ Well, now THAT’S really the issue here, isn’t it? *IF* someone is guilty of a crime, is there a moral obligation to confess to it regardless of the consequences?

    // The Senser’s have already committed a crime-

    That may well be the case. I think I addressed this above. Look, do this. You be the prosecutor in this case, OK? Present the case to us as if we’re the jury. Tell us the charges and then lay out the evidence as you have it and maybe I’m just not seeing this correctly and I’m missing how what’s out there now gets a conviction on a specific charge.

    Or maybe what you’re recommending is a “come on, everyone knows she did it,” and I can understand that conclusion.

    The problem is you can’t get a conviction on the strength of that and you can’t try a person more than once. From what I can tell from the facts of the case so far, if prosecutors take this to trial now, they’re going to lose.

    I don’t think think that’s what you want.

  • Bob Collins

    // Why do the Sensers need yet another media personality rushing to their defense?

    I’m unaware that I’ve ever defended the Sensers.

    I’ve defended the civil rights conveyed by the constitution and the obligation of law enforcement to work within that framework as I’m sure they are and I’m sure they will.

    For some reason, everyone is already assuming working within the rule of law will deny justice to the family of Anousone Phanthavong.

    As I stated in the original post, the State Patrol is really good at this. The County Prosecutors are good at this. I have faith that in the end, justice will prevail.

  • charles

    “Or maybe what you’re recommending is a “come on, everyone knows she did it,”

    Well, I am. And you know why? Because she admitted to it. (Check the first update to your story Bob.)

    And while you’re correct that I don’t know all the facts, I do know that an admission that is clearly not made under duress is a good start, no?

    I understand your concern with the “media lynch-mob”, but you sure picked a bad story to base an article upon. (Although from here, it looks like you know that already.)

    Now, how about a little insight into the victim and his family? How are they being treated by the media? Is their story being fairly conveyed?

  • Bob Collins

    //Well, I am. And you know why? Because she admitted to it. (Check the first update to your story Bob.)

    Right, I’m aware she admitted to driving the car. The distinction in the law, however, is that not an admission of a crime. That’s an admission she was driving a car that hit and killed someone, but from a legal point of view it’s not an admission that she knew at the time she hit someONE.

    And, sure, I realize, too, that there’s compelling evidence to suggest she must have known that if she didn’t hit a man, she at least hit something really big and should’ve stopped to see what happened.

    //And while you’re correct that I don’t know all the facts, I do know that an admission that is clearly not made under duress is a good start, no?

    It’s a great start. But the problem with charging based on that alone, according to the State Patrol, is if that’s all they’ve got and they go to trial and someone else says, “no, *I* was driving,” that case is toast.

    My sense is the State Patrol isn’t taking Mrs. Senser’s statement without question, that maybe she’s covering for a daughter, for example, which is why I think they’re going through everyone’s credit card and cellphone records to pinpoint exactly where everybody was and when in order to preclude such a scenario.

    //I understand your concern with the “media lynch-mob”, but you sure picked a bad story to base an article upon. (Although from here, it looks like you know that already.)

    Oh, not at all. I’m not afraid of having people upset with me. I’ve written multiple times about the strength of the constitution and from where it comes. Why would I not do so now? Because it’s unpopular?

    We’re walking through what is a complicated situation and here we are doing it calmly and rationally and intelligently. I couldn’t be prouder of NewsCut, actually.

    From time to time, difficult — unpopular — situations are an appropriate time to eschew the popular course and remind ourselves that these are also the times when we should recognize why civil liberties need to be acknowledged and respected even if doing so will p*ss people off.

    Your right to free speech literally comes from Nazis who march in Skokie and the jerks who stand outside of funerals of soldiers and shout “God hates fags.”

    Your right to an attorney comes from a rapist in Arizona.

    Look, I understand completely why people are frustrated here that there aren’t answers. I understand completely why people are frustrated with me since I’m defending, not the Sensers, but the investigators and the process at this particular point in time. I get it.

    Short of denying people some constitutional rights, I don’t see an alternative to that.

    *If* people knowingly killed someone, do I wish they’d just acknowledge it and throw themselves at the mercy of the judicial system. Sure. Do I understand why an attorney *MAY* be telling them this isn’t the time to do it? Yeah, I do. Do I think the Sensers want someone in their family to avoid jail? Yes, who wouldn’t?

    It sucks. I get that, too. But at this point with things the way they are, I just have to trust that some really good people who go to work each day to figure out what happened are capable of getting to the bottom of it.

    You want me to publicize your frustration? Not a problem. That’s why the comments here are turned on and I’m sitting here close to midnight talking to you and offering you and everyone else the vehicle that I have at my disposal for doing so. If you want me to vent *my* frustration by indicting participants in this mess without me having the specific knowledge to do so based on facts, I can’t do that on the franchise that I have. I know people see that as weak and see defending a process as defending someone who — at least at this moment — appears to be benefiting from the process, but I can’t write things as fact that I don’t know for sure are fact. And we can have a long chat over coffee sometime about the ethics of journalism and all of that stuff.

    //Now, how about a little insight into the victim and his family? How are they being treated by the media? Is their story being fairly conveyed?

    Depends which story. If you’re talking about their frustration with the slow pace of things, that’s been pretty well covered and conveyed. If you’re talking about the difficulty of losing a loved one to an accident and not having an answer yet, I have not conveyed that, no.

    Will I? I don’t know. If the family would like to talk, I probably would.

  • charles

    Bob, I appreciate your responses, however I feel that my main point is being muddied in all the discussion.

    I’m not concerned with the pace of the investigation, nor the actions of anyone doing the investigating (based on what I’ve read.) And I do believe wholeheartedly in the judicial process; I actually found myself defending Casey Anthnoy’s right to a fair trial in conversation. The difference here is that, unlike Casey Anthony, Joe Senser was famous before this incident, not because of it. They were well liked in the community and have a wealth of local media support. Despite all this, they are acting anything but honorably or respectfully with regard to the victim’s family and the rest of society. They don’t need anyone arguing for their rights in the media, they have a team of lawyers who they can pay to demand more rights than the average Minnesotan will ever be afforded. Rather than continue to act as members of a community who share a common experience, they have chosen to pit themselves against the public at large. Their behavior from the moment they drove away has been misanthropic and gross and antithetical of anyone who truly considers themself a member of a community.

    They don’t need your help, nor do they deserve it.

  • Bob Collins

    //.. and have a wealth of local media support.

    I don’t really give a damn about Joe Senser. I don’t know Joe Senser. I wasn’t here when he was playing football. I’m a Patriots fan, anyway. I guess he has a radio show but I haven’t listened to WCCO since they gassed Eric Eskola. I’ve never been to his bar and I have no interest in going to his bar. I don’t go to bars. I don’t hang out with people in the media. Ever. Even my own colleagues, and I’m pretty sure that’s just the way they like it. The notion that there’s a unified group of individuals whose bond is only that they get a paycheck from a particular industry is simply incorrect.

    //Despite all this, they are acting anything but honorably or respectfully with regard to the victim’s family and the rest of society.

    Understood.

    // They don’t need anyone arguing for their rights in the media,

    Nobody should ever have to ‘argue’ for anyone’s rights. That’s the point. They have them. You have them. And it’s important to be reminded that we all have them and WHY.

    When someone says “jail a Senser; any Senser,” then, yeah, I think we do need to be reminded that there’s a process at work and there’s a reason there’s a framework for that. If you go back to the original post, clearly people have concluded that the process is corrupt in this case and I think it’s a bad idea for journalists to be leading the cheers to “hang ‘em high” and endorsing the conclusion that the process is already corrupt until that process has a reasonable chance to be put to work.

    When someone tweets “money should not put you above the law,” then, yes, there needs to be a discussion about how invoking a right is incompatible with “the law.”

    An even greater danger, however, is when journalists shrink from that because they’re afraid of being portrayed as defenders of a killer’s actions as opposed to defender’s of a killer’s right. And they’re probably right; it’s a distinction that few people are able to make. But I don’t think we’re well served by having journalists who are afraid of popular reaction. That’s how we got in an unquestioned war in Iraq. But that’s an issue for another day.

    // they have a team of lawyers who they can pay to demand more rights than the average Minnesotan will ever be afforded.

    Minnesotans aren’t afforded rights. They have them. They don’t have to petition for them. I know people think it took a high-priced lawyer to tell the Sensers not to admit guilt to the cops here, but I’m pretty sure you can take any person who graduated last in his/her law school class, and I’m pretty sure their first piece of advice to their client would still be “shut up.”

    You know what question a defense attorney — a good one, anyway — never asks a client? “Did you do it?” There’s a good reason for that. The lawyer’s job is to assure that’s a client’s rights are protected. The disturbing part for many people is the ethical guidelines for attorneys that basically says that the defense attorney does not have an obligation to the victim — he has an obligation to the process and the law.

    Is there an unfair application of justice by virtue of the fact some people can get smart lawyers and some people can only afford dumb ones? Of course. But other than the the attorney that’s been hired by the victim’s family, you’re not hearing anyone in the legal community saying that it took $1,000 an hour lawyer to offer that advice.

    //Their behavior from the moment they drove away has been misanthropic and gross and antithetical of anyone who truly considers themself a member of a community.

    Understood. That’s a moral argument vs. a legal argument and the two need to stay separated. It’s also why I want more information about what’s going on instead of what I think is going on.

    I’m sure there are a lot of people who have considered “what would I do?” in this situation. When I wrestle with it, part of the answer involved “Do I know I killed a guy or don’t I?” And that’s why in order to proclaim “this is what they should do,” I need that answer.

    I don’t have that answer.

    What would I do? I’d love to say the morality of the situation and my interest in judicial fairness would lead me to confess to my crime and hire the worst lawyer I could find, but I can’t honestly say that’s what I’d do.

    How about you?

    //They don’t need your help, nor do they deserve it.

    They’re not getting my help. I doubt very much the Sensers read NewsCut. But when we’re reminded of the reasons for constitutional guarantees, I think we all benefit.

    In the long run, you’re getting my help. Everyone is. The lawful, the unlawful, the jerks, the angels. Everyone.

    Look, I’m human, too. I know PLENTY of occasions when I’ve said to people, “they should hang ‘em without a trial.” But that’s an emotional reaction and in the job I have, I can’t be at the front of the mob. Sure, there’s been times I’ve yelled, “kill all the lawyers.”

    People have concluded the process is corrupt already and that the Sensers will get off, because of a corrupt process, and because of their wealth.

    I don’t think journalists should lead the cheers with only perception as their facts. I can find no standard of ethics that would defend that.

    If it turns out *via attributable facts* that the process is corrupt, that investigators have been bought off and that a guilty person has gone free, I have no doubt that the first place I’m going to hear about it, is in the media, and they will lead the cheers to “hang ‘em high.”

  • Bob Collins

    FYI, Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County Attorney, is holding a news conference this afternoon and will announce criminal charges in the case.

  • Cara

    Bravo Bob on maintaining an objective stance amidst a lot of hullabaloo. And informing us at the same time.

  • Patrick S.

    I’m in complete agreement with Bob on this one. Nobody is defending what most suspect took place, but Mr. Collins is tirelessly defending Mrs. Senser’s (and by proxy, everyone’s) right to due process. Justice will be served, but without a proper investigation we don’t know what justice is in this case. Rushing to legal judgement is reprehensible on a few levels including the fact that it may lead to a guilty person walking, something that would most likely disturb many who have posted their thoughts here. Look at Cameron Todd Willingham and see how a rush to judgement via unfounded assumptions can lead to a profound miscarriage of justice.

  • charles

    Criminal vehicular operation. Not even manslaughter?? Yes, I know it’s merely cynical speculation, something you’re above Bob, but I’m guessing if Amy were the victim and Ped were the driver, we’d be seeing a different case altogether.

  • Bob Collins

    I’ll be live blogging the news conference here starting around 1 p.m. and turning off the comments here so planon shifting everything over there.

    Let’s wait until we see the charging documents before we decide whether this is a double standard.

    Manslaughter? What degree manslaughter? I doubt there’s any evidence of 1st degree since I doubt she intentionally ran him down. The vehicular homicide charge implies that, if she says she didn’t know she hit a guy and that’s why she drove off, that she was under the influence.

    2nd degree manslaughter will get you no more than 10 years. The maximum penalty for vehicular homicide is also 10 years.

    I don’t know if criminal vehicular operation is a different statute or the same one so I’ll have to wait to see the documents.

  • Lorelei

    Great points, Bob! I have new-found respect for MPR after reading your level-headed responses.