Let’s just call it “Personal Attack Week” in the governor’s race.
The week began with Minnesota Democrats Exposed blogger Luke Hellier alleging Mark Dayton’s lawyer pulled documents from a 1999 divorce file. On Tuesday, rightblogger Sheila Kihne trumpeted news that New York City turned up no records of Dayton teaching there, though it’s been a part of the DFL governor candidate’s biography for decades. Finally, this morning, City Pages — no friend of GOP gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer — revealed that Emmer’s 20-year-old son Tripp had pleaded guilty to a petty misdemeanor for underage drinking in July. For good measure, CP published Facebook photos of the younger Emmer partying.
Beyond the fact that none of the stories help us figure out who can close Minnesota’s $6 billion deficit, each had its problems.
Hellier’s and Kihne’s pieces amount to insinuations. Hellier turned out to be wrong about who pulled the documents; it was Dayton’s ex-wife’s lawyer; conservative compatriots Power Line were more up-front about correcting the miscue. Kihne’s digging was incomplete; Dayton’s campaign quickly produced a teaching certificate and a program from a city school.
City Pages’ story wound up being confirmed, but it involved the candidate’s kid, not the candidate himself.
Nevertheless, MinnPost amplified Heller’s accusations in a Doug Grow story; Politics in Minnesota and other outlets vetted Kihne’s charge. City Pages’ allegation was recounted on Minnesota Public Radio, but only after the Emmer campaign released a statement acknowledging the incident.
One outlet that resisted the cavalcade of sideshows: the Associated Press. According to AP Minnesota news editor Doug Glass, the wire service’s reporters discovered the younger Emmer’s arrest last month but declined to run a story.
Here’s how City Pages editor Kevin Hoffman defends publishing his piece:
“Obviously, the family of a political candidate is off-limits. But we decided the candidate made it an issue by having his son star in a campaign commercial, [and] the campaign or someone else scrubbing photos from a Facebook page. [Candidate] Emmer’s two DWIs and reform for DWI laws in this state have been an issue in this campaign, and his son is now in the court system, a record freely available on the court’s public website. … If all those stars aligned, we might not have published it.”
AP’s view, according to Glass:
“We ultimately decided it wasn’t a story for us for a few reasons. I don’t see the younger Emmer as a public figure at this point. The arrest was not a DWI arrest; if it had been, we would have been more likely to run it given his father’s history. And the narrative of the arrest, with a citation issued right on the spot, appears to remove any chance that someone exerted influence in the case.”
Pat Lopez, the Star Tribune’s political editor, says that before she went on vacation late last week, the paper was unaware of the Emmer family allegations. Her boss, assistant managing editor Kate Parry, won’t say if the paper learned of the allegations between then and City Pages’ publication, explaining, “We just don’t talk about stories we haven’t published. … What I can tell you, as of this moment, this does not meet the bar of when a candidate’s children is news.”
Where is that bar? Parry says the circumstances are complex. If the arrest had been for a DUI, it would’ve been more serious and upped the chances of seeing print; had there been damage to property, same thing.
In 2002, the paper earned the then-Governor Jesse Ventura’s enduring enmity for reporting on Governor’s-mansion partying by Ventura’s son Tyrel. That involved a taxpayer-funded entity and alleged property damage. Also, Ventura was what Parry called an “older child” — he was 22 at the time.
Hoffman says City Pages came upon the younger Emmer’s conviction after getting the Facebook tip from an unnamed source not connected to a rival campaign. The weekly newspaper then did a check of court records and confirmed the linkage via a hockey website, which had the younger Emmer’s birthday.
For his part, Glass says AP did not learn of the arrest via a tip or a leak from a political campaign.
As for the GOP bloggers’ allegations about Dayton — which inevitably include the “Why isn’t the mainstream media reporting this?” — Glass and Parry say, don’t be so sure we’re not.
Glass says AP does monitor and follow up on stories that explode in the blogosphere. “We don’t want to rule out a whole bunch of things because personal things can be important as well. [But] we know the kinds of messages each side wants to frame about the campaign, and we say, ‘Let’s not be used to put out a story that’s not a good story, or would be thin.’ We want to spend our time writing about relevant issues, things that are important.”