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Amy Koch media saga: Who did what and when

Rep. Matt Dean, Rep. Kurt Zellers, Sen. Amy Koch, Sen. Geoff Michel
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
State Sen. Geoff Michel, far right, had been blasted for lying about when he learned of the affair between Sen. Amy Koch, center, and Michael Brodkorb.

It wasn’t really front-page news that, 13 months after the fact, former Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch blamed fellow GOP legislators for publicizing damaging details about her affair with staffer Michael Brodkorb.

But buried in Baird Helgeson’s Jan. 27 story were 12 fascinating paragraphs of how information moves: from GOP Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel through DFL-affiliated p.r. exec Todd Rapp via lawyer/host Ron Rosenbaum to a (curiously unnamed) WCCO reporter, Pat Kessler.

“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” Koch told Helgeson.

How did she know? She hired the conduit, Rosenbaum!

In the piece's wake, there’s all kinds of media deliciousness. How could Rosenbaum work both sides of the street? Why did Rapp seemingly violate the first rule of crisis consulting: don’t talk about crisis consulting? What wasn’t Rosenbaum saying when he interviewed Michel on KTLK-FM? And why does Kessler now call Koch’s version of events “false”?

Friends and associates

Rosenbaum calls himself “nothing more than a bit player in this tale.” But there were a lot of bits.

Rosenbaum the lawyer eventually represented Koch. Rosenbaum the media consultant worked with Rapp on a Canterbury Park racino. Rosenbaum the talk-show host interviewed Kessler as well as Michel. Rosenbaum the agent never formally represented Kessler — as he has Dan Barreiro, Tom Barnard and Tommy Mischke — but provided unpaid advice over the years.

Rosenbaum notes he was not acting as an attorney when, in the wake of Koch’s Dec. 15, 2011 resignation that did not disclose the affair, Rapp called seeking the name of a reporter Michel should talk to.

“We’re friends, but that’s not why he called me,” Rosenbaum. “I’d handled media for Canterbury. He knew I had personal relationships with many reporters in town.”

Rosenbaum was not paid, and did not consider Rapp a client in this case. Rapp echoed that explanation in a two-paragraph statement. Calling himself Michel’s “long-time friend,” Rapp terms any advice given a “courtesy to friends of the firm’s, not as part of a client relationship.”

Rapp would not comment on whether he got Michel’s OK to discuss crisis advice in the Strib; Michel did not return calls left at his home and workplace. But both friends talked to Helgeson, so it’s reasonable to assume Michel was OK with Rapp talking.

Rosenbaum says Rapp disclosed that “Michael Brodkorb and Amy Koch were having an affair, but I knew nothing more. I couldn’t be a source. My only message to pass on was that Geoff Michel would be available to talk.”

Kessler would not discuss who he talked to or what was said. However, he objected to the impression left by Helgeson’s story that Rosenbaum spoon-fed the scoop.

“We never discuss the sources we use for our stories,” he says, leaning on the plural.

For her part, Koch insists news of the affair was “driven by my colleagues.” However, on Dan Barreiro’s KFAN show last week, Kessler made Senate leadership's action seem less like offense than defense.

“What do you want the senators to do, not say anything about [Koch] having an affair with a staffer, an inappropriate relationship on many levels?” Kessler asked rhetorically. “Are [senators] not supposed to say anything and let it leak out in dribs and drabs? This is the big leagues — if you’re having an affair, it’s going to come out.”

Kessler criticizes Helgeson — who offices across the State Capitol pressroom hall — for “never calling to verify what was said.” Asked why not, Helgeson deferred to his boss, political editor Patricia Lopez, who replied only, “The Star Tribune stands by its story.”

What listeners didn’t know

In what is now a much more interesting hour of radio, Rosenbaum interviewed Kessler the day after the scoop.

Rosenbaum opened his since-canceled KTLK show “Holding Court” by teasing the guy that — unbeknownst to listeners — he tipped.

“You know the reporter who broke this story? The guy who snubbed us for months? Hasn’t had the time of day for us?” Rosenbaum said of Kessler. “Now all of a sudden he gets a big scoop, and 'Oh sure I’m available, I’ll come on.'”

After calling Koch a “classy lady,” Rosenbaum asked: “Was it a mistake on her part to lead people to believe on Thursday that she was resigning because she was going to be a lame-duck senator, and more than that, there was some talk about an illness her mother had and other things? Wouldn’t she simply have been wiser to say  lessen the impact of yesterday’s story  if she’d said, 'I’m resigning for personal reasons?'”

Kessler: “Yes, in retrospect and in hindsight, certainly. But no one thought this would ever get out, so you get to the point if you make a calculated risk, as a politician, that no one will ever find out about this, then I suppose you could say when you’re doing this, politically [you’re] doing what you think [is] right. But as a reporter, I would think it’s much better to be transparent, and certainly by saying what she did and not saying what she didn’t, she made it a better story.”

Two weeks later, Rosenbaum interviewed the other end of the conduit, Michel.

The segment began as a defense of the interim majority leader, who by then had been blasted for lying about when he learned of the affair. (Michel said it was to protect a whistleblower.)

“Do you feel like a little bit like the victim here?” Rosenbaum asked Michel. “It’s almost seemed to me that much of the criticism, rather than being on the actual actors involved, has really centered on you.”

Rosenbaum  --  who, remember, learned of Brodkorb’s involvement via Rapp, acting on Michel’s behalf  -- then brought up the “other man”: “It’s been speculated is Michael Brodkorb, but no one has ever said that and I’m not asking that question.”

Later, Rosenbaum stated, “The part that would’ve made me angry, had I been involved — which I certainly wasn’t — when they’re confronted with inappropriate relationship in September, the only reason I take is that you had to deal in December is that nothing changed. Is that accurate?”

Rosenbaum is no stranger to transparency; I’ve talked to him many times over the years, and he’s been forthright about his interests. Listeners were well aware he flakked for racinos and had interests in many issues he covers. However — if he chose to interview Koch-saga players who benefited from his involvement — he should have told KTLK listeners that yes, he was involved.

Representing Amy

Four months later, Rosenbaum says he got a call from former GOP gubernatorial nominee and current KTLK morning host Tom Emmer, asking if he would consider becoming Koch’s attorney.

The terrain was tricky enough that Rosenbaum says, “I hired, on my own dime, an ethics expert, because I didn’t even want the appearance of a conflict.”

That expert, Hamline emeritus law professor Joe Daly, says he told Rosenbaum to “fully disclose in writing to his client any potential conflicts.” If Koch subsequently hired Rosenbaum (which she did), Rosenbaum could represent her under the lawyers’ rules of conduct, Daly opined.

Rosenbaum was free to tell Koch about his role as Rapp’s conduit because that information was unprivileged. Koch was free to tell Helgeson anything she wanted.

When she talked, Rosenbaum was no longer Koch’s attorney. Says Rosenbaum, “On the day of her meeting with Baird, I basically told her I did not feel comfortable sitting next to her for a story where I was to be named as source, and it was better if I not represent her anymore.”

Also on hand at Koch’s home that Martin Luther King Day was Republican lawyer and blogger John Gilmore. The following day, Gilmore became Koch’s attorney, a position he currently holds.

‘Beyond misleading; false’

In his interview with Barreiro last week, Kessler has dropped the circumspection Capitol reporters normally cloak themselves in, declaring, “It’s very clear to me Amy Koch is rewriting history, putting out a narrative; in many ways, it’s beyond misleading; it’s false.”

Kessler clarifies that in using the term “false,” “I’m talking about the Amy Koch story in general. I’m not referring to the Star Tribune story.”

For her part, Koch says, “I admitted my mistakes” but adds that what she told Helgeson was “confirmed by Todd Rapp, confirmed by Ron Rosenbaum and not denied by Geoff Michel. This was driven by my colleagues. That’s what I’ve spoken about, and they didn’t deny that.”

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Comments (25)

Wow. Just Wow.

This strange story keeps getting stranger.

What IS up with Kessler?

I don't know the arcane ins and outs of journalistic ethics. But I've had my doubts about Pat Kessler for years. I seriously questioned his actions on the night of the Paul Wellstone Memorial service at Williams Arena. From what I recall, he phoned Norm Coleman's campaign manager (wasn't that Cullen Sheehan?) cell-to-cell to prime him for a big response decrying the partisan nature of the event, as Kessler saw it. Before the event was even over, Kessler was on TV with Sheehan's big reaction, and a huge campaign issue had been created. It seemed to me that Kessler catalyzed a windfall for the Coleman campaign and turned what could have been a big moment for what ended up being Mondale's candidacy into the impetus for Coleman to win the seat.

Maybe there was nothing wrong with what Kessler diid and didn't do that night. But it seemed fishy to me.

This detail of the Koch story seems to me to hint that Kessler is in the business of creating and facilitating news to report. Maybe that's fine, and all long-time, well-connected reporters find themselves in these situations. But it really causes me to look at Kessler with suspicion.

Journalistic ethics? Don't make me laugh.

As a journalist for 14 years, I'll give you the four rules of journalism ethics as are practiced in modern newsrooms.

1. Get it first at almost any cost.
2. Get it right - or at least right enough that it won't blow up.
3. Give the other side an opportunity to say something - anything.
3. Don't get in trouble with the powers that be, inside and outside of your news organization.

Flexians!

Thank you for the link

I am watching the NetFlix House of Cards. It is sad when these sort of double dealing persona get mythologized. This has been successfully going on with the romanticization of organized crime, so why not involve the White House? At least everybody seems to be getting laid.

I'm not sure what newsrooms

I'm not sure what newsrooms Jeremy Powers has worked in, but the "four rules of journalism ethics" he cites are certainly no rules I've ever been told about. His "rules" seem a recipe for shallow and timid journalism and they certainly aren't the way we do business at the Pioneer Press.

Great Story

Your description of the conduit is apt and I keep getting this confusing visual. The conduit keeps getting piped back to the same location; Ron (I wasn't there) Rosenbaum. What is interesting is it can be hard to track this story, but actually it is simplified by the reduction of some players wearing many hats.

The hubris over deftly leaking this story in an unethical manor was based on maintaining the integrity of the legislature. This should not be lost in the morass of fingers pointing in all directions.

Obviously, many of the named are just ornamentation,i.e., Rapp, DFLer, bipartisan scandal! But there are names that are not coming up that benefited most from the shuffle.

And then there is the long sordid history of Michael Brodkorb. . . I am staying tuned.

Huh?

Can you repeat the part of the stuff where you said all about the things?

Exactly

Maybe my brain's a bit fuzzy this morning, but I found this article to read like a manic episode. I guess I got the vague impression that there was stuff going on that was maybe unethical, including a journalist, but I'm afraid that I'm not very certain about what I read.

heh!

My reaction precisely.

Really...pulp fiction or truth to tell?

Well, hey... hit me with a feather from Big Bird's tail...a titilating, tit-for-tat tabloid-tale from looney tunes trolley, whatever...frankly who gives a damn?

I'm confused about your distinction

How the media shapes news (and how players shape the media) is central to this blog. I think this is a particularly revealing case study in how that actually happened. It helped lead to the downfall of two legislative powers, and arguably helped change the party in legislative power.

A story to tell...

Maybe you aren't the one, but if one is still 'young' ,yes,and seeking better educational opportunities and professional turning points...may I suggest as only a reader... let's say, every time you write a story ask yourself...what would IF Stone say about this?

When you have the gift and the opportunity why not stretch the minds of your readership a little farther...and thanks for the response ; just a thought or two and then again who knows?

And I thought it was just me

But this whole article reads like soft porn for political junkies.

Perhaps Mr. Hanners can also give us a working definition of news. Because as Beryl John- Knudson said is this isn't it.

The one big lesson

There is one big lesson for all concerned: Don't hire Ron Rosenbaum. He may have "clients," but his one overriding "client" is himself. Self-promotion is what drives him, and this sorry sad chain of events is ample evidence.

Koch's new press offensive

Perhaps I'm not reading this carefully enough, but I'm curious whether Amy Koch contacted the various reporters who covered her "new" revelations on her own or if another did on her behalf.

Regardless of who made the contacts, I'm also curious about which journalists were selected for the interviews she gave recently.

Koch had had extensive contact with the media while Majority Leader, but journalist friends at the time mentioned that their access to her and to state senators in the districts they covered were tightly controlled by the senate communications director, Michael Brodkorb. Given that the interview at her home occurred before his terrible accident, I'm curious what role, if any, her former communications director had in setting up this new press tour.

Since she and her defenders are making much of her colleagues and rivals' communications aid at the time of the coup, I don't think it's unfair to ask.

Cullen Sheehan

I don't get the part about Cullen Sheehan. Did he blow the whistle, or not?

Norman, he's seen as a whistleblower

Sheehan, that is.

Koch has proven that she's a

Koch has proven that she's a dishonest person by lying and cheating on her husband. You'll forgive me if I don't believe a word she says.

She need not bother

A graceful exit into obscurity is what is called for now. As a family values politician, cheating on taxpayer time like she did, costing the taxpayer with questionable service, she should shut her mouth and go away. Her value is nil, and our time is wasted on her.

Does Gambling have some connection here?

Fascinating story here....a scriptwriters dream perhaps. One connection that keeps coming up in the discussion is the connection to gambling or racing at the time the Vikings were trying to get a stadium and the Tribes were jostling over gambling competition. Todd Rapp and Rosenbaum apparently connected over their work for Canterbury that eventually worked out a great deal in cooperating with Mystic Lake. Cullen Sheehan, blew the whistle, and then left government only to become involved with lobbying for Mystic Lake. At the time of the Vikings deal, there was some serious opposition to gambling expansion within the GOP, and perhaps Koch and Brodkorb had made some public statements too. Brodkorb complained that GOP co-chair (Anderson) signed on as a gambling consultant (lobbyist?) shortly after winning the job, which curiously was at odds with the official GOP platform. In the end, the Mystic Lake casino got a great deal with limitation of expanded gaming to pull-tabs and the outlying MN casinos got zip. Canterbury got a good deal too. And, as for David Hann, I think he strongly opposed gambling and had some say in Amy's resignation and now has Amy's old job too. She might have more to say, perhaps. Why does she need a connected Republican attorney blogger, Gilmore, who admits he is a personal friend of Brodkorb? This is a emerging script for sure and the Democrats seem to have no incentive to minimize the taxpayer cost of the Brodkorb lawsuit.

Kessler/Rosenbaum

Still trying to figure out why Rosenbaum's involvement was necessary -- doesn't a PR heavyweight like Rapp have Kessler's mobile phone number? Wondering why Rapp didn't just leak the news directly to Kessler. In any case, point is Rosenbaum DID inject himself into the leak pipeline, regardless of whether he did it without pay and just as a PR guy and not as a lawyer. It just looks bad bccause he later turns up as Koch's lawyer against the very same people who asked him (via Rapp) to leak the news. He's tried hard lately to emphasize how little he was involved. Spin, I think it's called.

What's false

I'm sorry, I'm missing the part of "The Koch Story" that is false. Is Kessler talking about her insistence that it was a power play or is he talking about the timetable and who talked to whom? Because if it's the latter, I haven't seen anyone pointing out where the timetable is wrong.

Sorry I was wrong

not soft porn but soap opera for political junkies.

Get a life people.

The news that isn't news

I agree with Jody about the "get a life" comment if she is just referring to Kessler's reporting about an affair. My guess is that reporters know about a lot of illicit affairs by important figures that never sees the light of day, because it really isn't news.....it's more tittilating than anything.

On the other hand, Kessler likely had more than one credible source to go with the story at all --and, more importantly, he must have seen some out of the ordinary news value in airing it.

The fact that this occured during a very contentious period in the legislative process where everyone knew the Vikings and expanded gambling were going to be big issues. The gambling angle gets further support from a Cyndy Brucato article in MinnPost from Dec 2011. http://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2011/12/stadium-politics-played-...

The news value here is considerably greater if the Koch/Brodkorb affair in fact did influence the discussion on expanded gambling or the stadium or both. You may recall that even Tony Sutton tried to get in on the gambling consultancy role before being ousted from the GOP.