The Strib’s highly readable four-part series on alleged Minneapolis police corruption has been rich with detail about the department’s inner workings, but Monday’s installment seemed to indicate the paper — and Strib readers — had been the victim of police disinformation two years earlier.
According to the Monday piece, a 2007 story “describing a raid on a brothel. … The story had been planted by police as a smokescreen … [I]t was publicized intentionally to confuse cops who may be have been on the take that a rumored corruption probe was really about prostitution, not cops taking bribes.”
Whoa. “Plant” is a loaded term, implying that police dictated coverage and, at worst, got false information into print.
I went to the archives and dug out the original story, published July 7, 2007 with cops reporter David Chanen’s byline.
This clearly wasn’t a phony event, or press-release journalism: Chanen was an eyewitness to something real; his 1,138-word piece led with a 41-year-old 3M engineer “in his underwear, arms behind his back in handcuffs,” with vivid photos detailing same.
At the time, Chanen wrote these were the first of several planned raids on local brothels targeting prostitition and human trafficking. And indeed, the raids kept coming, eventually earning coverage in the New York Times.
“It was a real live bust,” Chanen says of the July 2007 incident. “I didn’t know they were doing this other investigation at the time. But the information [in the 2007 story] was 100 percent legitimate.”
Chanen acknowledges he had a longstanding reporter-source relationship with Minneapolis investigators Sgt. Grant Snyder and Sgt. Matt Wente, who worked on the human-trafficking case and — unbeknown to Chanen — on the internal affairs probe of several cops fingered by a sketchy drug dealer.
As any media-watcher knows, the police regularly offer ride-alongs to various TV and newspaper reporters for high-profile, reputation-burnishing busts. While these stories run the risk of being excessively friendly to the originating source, I wouldn’t call them “plants,” even if the motives were different in this particular case.
Hindsight being 20/20, I’d have left out the loaded and confusing term and just gone with “publicized intentionally to confuse” the suspect officers. As Monday’s story indicated and investigative editor Kate Parry confirmed, internal affairs documents establish the “smokescreen” strategy.
Seeking the cops’ confirmation of all this, I called police spokesman Sgt. Jesse Garcia, who said “I’m learning a lot about it from the paper.” He referred me to Assistant City Attorney Jim Moore, who in turn said his office knew “absolutely nothing” about the circumstances surrounding alleged media manipulation.