[Original item appeared Monday, 6:25 p.m.; updated Tuesday with Fox9’s prime-time newscast]
At one point in Fox9’s 5 p.m. news, anchor Jeff Passolt intoned, “It’s a joke in our newsroom …” As it turns out, he was introducing video of a water-skiing squirrel, not commenting on his station’s news judgment.
On a day when the Pioneer Press quoted Passolt’s co-anchor Robyne Robinson saying she’d been offered the lieutenant governor’s job on DFLer Matt Entenza’s ticket, Fox9 chose to leave Robinson on the air but not tell viewers a thing about what was up.
This despite Passolt narrating a story about Mark Dayton picking Robinson’s potential adversary Yvonne Prettner Solon as his number two, then tossing to the woman who could be Prettner Solon’s adversary. As MinnPost.com analyst Blois Olson tweeted, “How do Passolt and Robinson not just start giggling?”
Fox9 did publish a brief web story during the broadcast at 5:21 p.m. But geez, folks, you have the newsmaker on the set.
Earlier today, I perhaps gave the TV folks too much credit when I noted station contracts forbid journalists from political involvement, and that Robinson might not be back on the air. According to a KMSP spokesperson, “There is a clear difference between being invited to be a candidate and announcing that you are a candidate.”
Call it the Ventura principle; remember when the former governor kept his KFAN show until the day he filed in 1998? And there’s a more recent precedent at a Fox9 competitor. The town’s other departing anchor, WCCO’s Don Shelby, revealed two weeks ago at his going-away news conference two weeks ago that he was approached to be a gubernatorial candidate — by members of all three parties!
Still, Shelby seemed more bemused than seriously interested; because he only told us after the fact, he was not breaking news. Robinson’s drama, on the other hand, is unfolding before our eyes, and sounds much more real. As she told the PiPress, “I think that there are certain times when you’re called to public service and you have to weigh the offer with gravitas. So that’s what I’m doing. I am weighing it incredibly heavily.”
She gave an identical statement to her own station’s political reporter, Jeff Goldberg — but only on the web.
I suppose — to be extremely generous — Fox9 felt letting Robinson make a statement on the air might somehow be construed as an Entenza commercial. The better thing to do would’ve been to pull her out of the anchor chair as long as she is a newsmaker, not a news reader, and have Goldberg do a proper story with her as the subject. Let’s hope for much better at 9 p.m.
Update: Well, better — Fox9 mentioned the news at 9 — but still awkward. Passolt weirdly began with the news that Entenza communications director Bridget Cusick resigned (independent of the Robinson brouhaha, she says), then got to what everyone cared about. There was no back-and-forth: Passolt read a script, Robinson was off-camera, though she uttered an “aren’t I?” after Passolt concluded, “You’re just full of surprises.”
I realize this is the very definition of conflict of interest, but so many things were wrong with how Fox9 handled this. As I’ve written, Robinson should be sidelined as long as she’s a political newsmaker in play. If not, Fox9 political reporter Jeff Goldberg should’ve grilled Robinson (and Entenza) for a report — her statements (that she’s been offered the gig) are being dodged by the campaign, which only says it has a list of folks whose identities won’t be revealed yet.
Robinson did get to help introduce a Goldberg report on the Tea Party, and an analyst’s view of it, which is all kinds of weird. At least she didn’t contribute to the on-set interview with presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer, a guy she could soon be attacking.
Finally, when Fox9 did do its squib of a story, it mentioned Cusick but not the more straightforward lieutenant governor news of the day: that another potential Robinson rival, Mark Dayton, had picked Duluth legislator Yvonne Prettner Solon as his running mate. I can’t blame any news org for emphasizing Robinson over Solon in terms of pure viewer interest, but to ignore the latter was another bad editorial choice.
[Hat tip: Chris Steller]