Minnesota journalism group condemns KSTP story

The Minnesota journalism community has been surprisingly silent on #pointergate, KSTP’s botched police-union-planted story contending that Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges was flashing gang signs during a north Minneapolis get-out-the-vote effort last month.

But today it finally arrived at the same point journalists around the country reached weeks ago when the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists issued a statement condemning the KSTP story, although it pulled its punches in assessing the motivation for the story.

The Minnesota Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is deeply concerned about the story that aired on KSTP-TV on Nov. 7, 2014 alleging that Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges appeared recently in a photo flashing a gang sign.

The Twin Cities chapters of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association join MNSPJ in expressing their concern and calling for KSTP to disavow the story.

The story was fundamentally flawed and based on a faulty premise — that a silly gesture made by the mayor in a candid photo amounted to a gang sign. The SPJ code of ethics urges all journalists to never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information. This story did just that.

Although KSTP is able to attribute the accusations to identified police sources, in airing the story KSTP failed to exercise its journalistic duty to ensure that the stories it airs are worth telling. Instead, KSTP allowed itself to be used by one political group to make points against its political opponent.

We have watched the reaction to this story with deep concern, but with appreciation for the challenges journalists face. We had hoped KSTP would realize this story never should have aired and take steps to acknowledge its mistake. But more than a week later, we feel compelled to speak out. KSTP needs to apologize to Mayor Betsy Hodges, the other person in the referenced photo, and to the public
that relies on accurate, relevant information about public officials.

We do not suggest that reporter Jay Kolls or KSTP are driven by an agenda in reporting this story. In fact, both have made invaluable contributions to the local journalism community through years of solid reporting and good journalism. But this story missed obvious clues about the motivations of the sources proffering the information and cannot be defended. In addition, Kolls’ characterization of the other man in the photo merely as “a convicted felon” creates the appearance that the reporter is a mouthpiece for members of the police force who have an axe to grind with the mayor’s office.

Kolls and his editors should have applied much more skepticism to the elements of this story as it was presented to him. Again, the SPJ Code of Ethics says, as journalists, we should acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. This story was deeply flawed, and KSTP and Kolls need to acknowledge that.

The organization announced it will hold a forum next month on how to avoid similar stories in the future. It’s unlikely that KSTP will participate, and the story itself was so egregious and so out of bounds and so journalistically bankrupt that no journalist should need a refresher on how to avoid falling into the trap KSTP did.

Related: What we should take away from #pointergate (Southwest Journal).

  • “We do not suggest that reporter Jay Kolls or KSTP are driven by an agenda in reporting this story.”

    “This story was deeply flawed, and KSTP and Kolls need to acknowledge that.”

    To summarize:
    We’re not saying it’s Koll’s or KSTP’s fault, but it’s their fault.

    • BReynolds33

      I’m not saying it was aliens, but…

      • …it was aliens…

  • BReynolds33

    “KSTP failed to exercise its journalistic duty to ensure that the stories it airs are worth telling.”

    That one hurt a little. Of course, it’s been about 15 years since KSTP was worth watching, so maybe they’ve just given up.

    • JDan

      Pointergate has made me decide to stop listening to MPR. This is getting rediculous and unprofessional. I can’t believe this liberal opinion group gets even a shred of government funding.

      • And yet… here you are.

        This, by the way, is the journalism version of Godwin’s Law.

        • JDan

          Sorry not following your Godwin’s law bit?

  • Jeff C.

    I received an email today that said, “We know now that Jay Knolls did not write this story…” Can anyone tell me more about that?

    • I can tell you that if someone writes that and doesn’t provide additional info, that you have material for the shredder there.

    • theoacme

      Actually, that’s 100% accurate – Jay Knolls doesn’t work for 5 Liewitless News, broadcast live from the Belsen Broadcasting Studios…

      …but there is a person, Jay Kolls, who works at 5 Eyewitness News, broadcasting live from the Gehenna that is Hubbard Broadcasting.

  • Nick K

    Just a point of order on this statement: “But today it finally arrived at the same point journalists around the country reached weeks ago when the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists…” The original story ran 12 days ago (Nov 7), therefore, it is misleading in the worst way to suggest that anyone had any opinion on it “weeks ago”.

    • Sure. Fine. Two weeks ago.

      And eight days after the national SPJ condemned it.

      But they arrived at the party. Late. But they arrived.

    • Greg W

      It’s misleading in the worst way to say “weeks ago” instead of “two weeks ago” or “twelve days ago”?

      If only there was something in the original post that was a better example of being misleading in the worst way…

      • So “months ago” or “years ago” is OK, right? Because “weeks ago” to denote more than one week is the “worst”.

        • Greg W

          What a tangled web you weave.

  • John

    Bob, thanks for covering this. This is the type of thing that interests me about the local media. I’ll bet we’d never hear it on any of the local t.v. news. We may now because of your coverage. A few of them seem to follow MPR news.

  • northside resident

    KSTP aired a legitimate story. The question is really whether what Mayor Hodges exhibited was a known gang sign. Yes, she pointed but she did so in a styled manner that certain police spokesmen said was a sign used by a particular gang in north Minneapolis. If the mayor did not know it was a gang sign, she should say so explicitly. Or else, ask chief Harteau if it was a gang sign. It’s irresponsible of journalists simply to follow the herd and rush to judgment about something where there were real ambiguities. Can the other side be heard?

    • No, it’s really not irresponsible journalism to say to a journalist : “prove it.”

      It might be a gang sign. It probably is a gang sign somewhere if not in Minneapolis.

      The story wasn’t that the mayor did or didn’t know it was a gang sign. Or whether it is is or isn’t a gang sign. The story is whether the mayor was flashing a gang sign.

      You see the difference, right?

      The “other side” WAS heard. It’s the one that directed the story.

      I mean, you HAVE to bring some common sense to this. What would be the reason that a mayor would knowingly flash a gang sign if — as the cops who planted the story maintain — if would unleash a wave of gang crime upon north Minneapolis?

      What would be her motive for doing that?

      She doesn’t HAVE to answer that question in any journalism with a shred of integrity.

      YOUR side does.

      Unfortunately, Channel 5 never asked a similar question of the police union: What would be your motive for planting this story?

      This was a truly crappy piece of journalism and just about every journalist in the country has said so. They’re not following the herd. They know what journalism is and they know crap when they see it.

      The question is, why do the very few — mostly police-connected — apologists for the story, not get the hint that maybe — maybe — if every journalist is pointing out that it’s a crappy piece of journalism, isn’t KSTP thinking, “maybe they know something we don’t”?

      • JDan

        Wow you are very unprofessional. “Crappy” wow. So you steal tax payer dollars and you spend it on a witch hunt of a journalist that is reporting and coming to a different conclusion than your politics supports.