KARE11 doesn’t fully identify sports-subsidy consultant in Vikings report

Aron Kahn and Jay Olstad

[4:30 p.m. Friday update: Jay Olstad note appended at bottom.]

This seems to be my week for Vikings stadium reporting problems; this time, it’s KARE11, who used a stadium analyst Thursday night without identifying him as a spokesman for two sports-subsidy initiatives.

On paper, it must have seemed like a good idea: Get former Pioneer Press sports-business reporter Aron Kahn to opine about the state Capitol’s escalating Vikings drama. I’ve known Kahn for years, he’s a smart, plugged-in analyst and a great tale-teller; since leaving the paper years ago, has polished his resume with teaching stints at Macalester and the University of Minnesota.

And that’s basically how KARE reporter Jay Olstad identified him — without noting that Kahn’s media and crisis management clients include current subsidy-seekers St. Paul Saints and previously, a developer pushing a Farmers Market site for the Vikings.

Kahn says he told Olstad about his Saints gig, and previously informed KARE about his work for Bruce Lambrecht, a part-owner of the land Target Field now sits on. Kahn says he has not worked for Lambrecht for “eight or nine months.”

“My judgment is not skewed,” Kahn says. “The Saints are a completely different issue” from the Vikings, in part because the subsidies are separate bills and the Lowertown baseball stadium is a $27 million “drop in the bucket” next to the state’s $400-plus million NFL subsidy.

You might agree with Kahn; I don’t. Like it or not, the Saints are currently in competition with the Vikings for taxpayer funds, and even a recent client with football interests is material. In any case, the public should’ve been given the information to judge for themselves.

Let’s face it: citizens have ample reason to distrust the major media whose Vikings coverage drives ratings and page views. Journalists heighten the suspicion we’re shills if we don’t bend over backwards to identify those who have helped shill.

To be fair, Kahn didn’t say anything all that spinny or especially controversial; even his prediction — “The Vikings will stay. Minnesotans love the Vikings. They’ll eventually get their stadium, but it may not be this year” — is one opponents might also make.

I don’t know what Olstad knew; he and boss Jane Helmke didn’t get back to me in the 90 minutes before I wrote this story, but if I find out more, I’ll update this item. Olstad only joined the station five months ago, though as with the Star Tribune’s Jim Souhan incident, veteran employees around the shop should’ve provided a second line of defense.

Update: After touching base this morning, Olstad sent me this note Friday afternoon:

My apologies to you and our viewers. When you told me Mr. Kahn did inform me of his consulting work with the Saints, I realized maybe he did tell me and I didn’t remember him saying so. I went back and listened to the interview where he did say, “I have done some consulting work with them.” This came after I asked him a broader question about how Minnesotans are used to stadium issues from the Vikings to the Saints. I did not know about his relationship with Target Field landowners and I should have. Regardless, we will be airing a clarification tonight on KARE 11 News at 10 p.m.

I appreciate you bringing this to my attention.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Steven Dornfeld on 04/24/2012 - 09:17 am.

    KARE’s Quotes From Kahn

    As longtime friends and former media colleagues of Aron Kahn, we may be biased. But we fail to see that Aron did anything unethical in granting an interview to KARE-TV and providing his views on the political challenges in passing a Vikings stadium bill. He said nothing that would benefit any of his public relations clients, past or present.

    Aron has a unique historical perspective on the topic, having covered the stadium wars for 30 years during his career at the Pioneer Press. It is not surprising that KARE turned to Aron for his expertise, as the station’s reporters have on several occasions. When contacted, he always has disclosed his sports media clients, none of which are directly involved in the current Vikings stadium debate.

    Indeed, the email signature block Aron uses (even to his close friends!) reads “Aron J. Kahn, media and sports business consulting.” But it could easily add that he’s a respected former journalist, political analyst and teacher.

    — Steve Dornfeld and Doug Stone

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