How ‘pointergate’ ended up being about gang signs

This week, as I mentioned earlier today, MPR News used a public data request to obtain emails between Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’ staff and Jay Kolls, the KSTP reporter at the heart of the now-infamous #pointergate story.

Here is the first contact between Kolls and Hodges’ office through spokeswoman Kate Brickman.

Why is Kolls’ initial email important? Because he calls Navell Gordon, the young man engaged in a get-out-the-vote drive in north Minneapolis with Hodges, a “known gang member.”

That changed, however, when the story aired.

(Update: In the email, Kolls pins a shooting in Brooklyn Center on Gordon. Today, in arrests of alleged gang members, officials said some of those arrested today may have been involved in that shooting.)

Kolls reported that the picture showed Hodges and Gordon pointing at each other, or — as the KSTP story said — flashing gang signs with one another. But the reporter pulled back on the accusation that Gordon was a known gang member. In the story, he says:

“They (Kolls police sources) say there’s no evidence he belongs to a gang, but he has connections to gang members.”

A day after the first email, and before the story ran, Brickman told Kolls she didn’t understand what his story was about. Kolls explained it again, further alleging Gordon had gang connections.

When the story aired, Gordon’s alleged gang affiliation was dropped from the story — and so was the angle that Hodges was posing with “a bad guy.”

The story shifted to one about whether Hodges should have known the “point” was a gang symbol.

After KSTP was inundated with criticism the day the story ran, it claimed the story was about the mayor’s judgement, not Gordon.

“We never made the statement that these were gang signs,” KSTP owner Stanley Hubbard told MPR News last week. “We never showed the man’s face. At that time we knew nothing about him. We didn’t want to implicate him. We bend over backwards to be fair.”

“We didn’t say it; the police said it,” Hubbard said.

  1. Listen Stanley Hubbard of KSTP defends reporting on #pointergate story

    November 14, 2014

Kolls’ emails, though, show that KSTP — contrary to Hubbard’s claim — knew a lot about Gordon and insisted to the mayor’s staff that Gordon was a gang member.

The emails reveal the tortured evolution of this story:

1.) A reporter thinks he has the goods on the mayor. He emails her aide demanding to know why the mayor is hanging with a known north side gangster and flashing gang signs. There’s even a photo!

2.) The next day when he emails the aide, the man in question is no longer a “known gang member” but a “known bad guy ” with a criminal background who “obviously has some connection to established gangs.”

3.) When the story runs, it says there’s no evidence Gordon belongs to a gang, but that he has a criminal history and connections to gang members.

So, the story got progressively less sensational and shocking as the reporting progressed. In most newsrooms when that happens, the reporter is told by an editor to go back and rethink the story’s premise, try again or bail out if the story just isn’t there.

But no one stopped this one. Instead, we got: “Mpls. Mayor Flashes Gang Sign with Convicted Felon; Law Enforcement Outraged.”

Related crime news: Twin Cities gang sweep nets 11 on gun, violence charges (Minnesota Public Radio News).

  • Lori B

    Please, Mr Collins, keep it up. This blatant racism still needs to be answered for, and it won’t be if it’s left to die a quiet death.
    Thank you!

  • You got it in the first bullet (no pun intended: “1.) A reporter thinks he has the goods on the mayor.” This isn’ t about the gang or the sign or even the bag guy. This is a gotcha. And not even a good or accurate one.

    On the other hand, this should be a textbook-case-study kinda thing for J-school: Bad Journalism 101- how NOT to report a story.

    It doesn’t get any cheaper, egregious, or insidious than Jay Kolls’ reporting. A respectable news organ would’ve fired him for this.

  • fewrae

    I watch the news on channel 5, and this story was being reported by a guy who had a “gotcha” smile on his face as he reported this story. If the Mpls police needed a go-to-guy for their lies it would be him. I’m through watching this blatant racism at KSTP!!

  • ktslator

    What about this part of Kolls’ first e-mail: “is also a suspect in last weekend’s shooting in Brooklyn Center.” This would seem to be possibly defamatory if it’s not true. Has this been publicized, or did the police give Kolls info that isn’t public?

    • It’s not clear which shooting he’s talking about. If he’s talking about the one outside Denny’s, it’s worth noting that an alleged gang member was arrested on that today in the big gang sweep. It wasn’t Gordon.

      Kolls information appears mostly to be coming from John Hoff, who blogs as “Johnny Northside.”

      • Sean

        That Johnny Northside is something else. I suggest checking out misadventuresofjohnnynorthside, shows a lot of hypocracy from a guy who is “trying to clean up the street” when it’s more like talk sh*t about people and use information for financial gain. He is nothing more then a window gossiper like Great-Grandma was.

        • Steve

          Don’t waste your time reading the Johnny Northside blog. John Hoff, is nothing more than a racist blogger who uses social media to attack the most vulnerable residents of Minneapolis. He has been living in Oklahoma for almost TWO years (and renting out his house illegally with out a rental license I might add), where he took the Oklahoma Bar Exam which he passed, but was never given a law license. Rumor on internet chat is that he was denied a law license because of his unethical blogging, and other concerns. He uses social media to retaliate against those who dare to challenge him. He is far from a neighborhood activist and only blogs for the advertising income.
          The guy is a hack with no journalistic ethics.

  • John Vincent

    Hubbard’s insistence that the cops are to blame for the bad information, is a failure to recognize a big problem — the tone of the story was hostile.

    It is clear that the reporter, and possibly his bosses, decided early on that this story had heroes and villains — and that the heroes’ statements didn’t need to be fact checked.

    Look at the wording and tone of the anchors intro, it has an attitude. The story has an attitude.

    I think this could have been a valid and interesting story had it been told differently. Maybe a he-said/she-said piece on the ongoing squabble between the mayor and police. Or a look at the kind of scrutiny leaders get for the most-simple things.

    Motivations and racism aside, AT BEST this is a stellar example of failed journalism. Failure to be unbiased, failure to resist sensationalism, failure to check facts, failure to recognize a source with an agenda, failure to provide balance (sound from two angry cops) — and failure to be accountable when things blew up.

    At worst, Kolls and KSTP knew what they were doing. No station in this area has more training, more consultants coaching reporters, more introspection on how stories ought to be told. It makes you wonder how so many people got this wrong.

    At least they’re no longer running Ed Anser commercials touting their seriousness as a news organization.

  • John Vincent

    Was Novell Gordon a public figure when KSTP sent that email naming him as a gang member and listing his past crimes?

    • No.

    • Matt

      No. Regular standards for defamation apply here. And Gordon cannot be made a public figure by reason of the coverage.

      • David Brauer

        Can an email never meant to be made public be grounds for libel? I’m not a lawyer, just want someone knowledgable to weigh in. And does it matter that the specific allegation wasn’t broadcast (I.e. there was some editing).

        • Phil

          Any email sent to the Mayor’s office and subject to FOIA requests should be assumed to be publicly available information.

        • DavidG

          Don’t forget, Kolls did call Gordon a gangbanger on twitter while defending his story.

  • Baba

    Kolls is just a ‘reporter’, albeit a bad one who will probably get a raise from his boss, Ron Hubbard. Delmonico on the other hand is a surreptitious weasel, who should be fired for undermining his boss.

    • FWIW, Columbia Journalism Review updated its interview with Stanley Hubbard, who called them back to say while KSTP doesn’t reveal sources, Delmonico was not the source.

      • Baba

        I didn’t think he was, but he surely tried to use it to his advantage, whatever that may be. I believe the story originated from a retired cop,

      • Dateless Nerd

        The issue isn’t whether Delmonico personally handed the “story” to Kolls. The issue is “what role did Delmonico play in the dissemination of it?”

  • Carl

    So Jay Kolls was lying to the mayor’s office? Great journalism, Jay!

  • Carl

    Bob, has anyone asked KSTP or the mayor’s office if the police brought their concerns to the mayor before reporters? Something that might be, you know, useful?

    • David Brauer

      Carl, I can tell you no one brought their concerns to the mayor first. I asked for this column: http://www.southwestjournal.com/voices/voices/what-we-should-take-away-from-pointergate

    • Matt

      This is the absolutely most frustrating part of this saga, and it is also the most indicative of the the source’s intentions. If the photo was so sensational and so inflammatory, why run to news orgs with it to publish to a wider audience?

  • Dulcinian

    Everyone should know where Hubbard and his employs stand. And the Mpls. police have been a problem for some time. Since those not of like mind know both are suspect, we should drop this non-story.

  • OWG

    Has anyone considered, that even if the gentleman in the picture with the Mayor is a “bad guy,” what benefit could be had by her reaching out to him?

  • Kris Troske

    Thank you Bob and MPR News for bringing these to light. KSTP, how has no one been fired or suspended for the lousy journalism demonstrated here on your own emails? Oh, wait.

  • JDan

    Wow, you are really following this witch hunt or should we call it

    McCarthyism.

    • So, you work for the police union or KSTP?

  • Tim Brackett

    Who is the editor at KSTP who should have stopped this story?