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Duluth TV gets sloppy on Gauthier investigation


An excerpt of a Northlands NewsCenter story that incorrectly reported State Rep. Kerry Gauthier had been arrested.

So would you have done what Barbara Reyelts did? Would you have used anonymous sources to publish salacious allegations about a state representative when competitors waited for something more solid?

Reyelts, news director of Northlands NewsCenter, a Duluth TV station consortium, allowed “well-placed sources” Wednesday to allege DFL State Rep. Kerry Gauthier had sex with a 17-year-old boy he met through Craigslist near a highway rest stop. The Northlands story, noting police “refuse to say why Gauthier was arrested,” ended with this: “police are investigating the potential that money changed hands which could make it a criminal matter.”

Competitors, including the Duluth News Tribune, waited to report the details until the St. Louis County Attorney declined to prosecute, which triggered a document release. According to police, Gauthier told them he did have oral sex with a 17-year-old on a hill above a Highway 35 rest stop, and did meet the boy via Craigslist. According to the paper, Gauthier and the boy said the sex was consensual and no money changed hands.

So Northlands got it right and ahead of the competition, right? Journalists at the News Tribune and WCCO-TV clearly decided anonymity was not good enough Wednesday, while City Pages gleefully and unquestioningly reblogged the Northlands report Thursday morning.

Luckily, City Pages focused on the sex and not the “arrest,” the one unambiguous factual error in Northlands’ reporting. (See page excerpt above.) Reyelts confirms her operation got it wrong on the Wednesday 5 p.m. broadcast.

After police complained, the “arrest” was excised from scripts for the 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. broadcasts. However, there was no on-air correction — typical for TV — and a web “update” still listed the “arrest” until I called the station at 11 a.m. Thursday. There’s no correction on the web story, either.

Reyelts blames police for being “nebulous” in answering Northlands reporters’ questions about a possible arrest after the story broke Wednesday. The News Tribune also complained that police have not been not fully forthcoming, but did not use lack of clarity to put an incorrect conclusion on the record, much less keep it there for another 18 hours.

Only tabloid lovers would defend the station’s decision to include the prostitution bit, though readers might naturally ask the question given the other details. Standards on reporting crimes differ — the Pioneer Press reports arrestees’ names, while the Star Tribune often won’t until there are charges — but most editors in my experience would insist on at least one shred of evidence to put the prostitution allegation into the public domain. A tip-off to Northlands’ shadiness can be found in the weaselly construction that police were “investigating the potential.” 

Given that the anonymous sources got several things right, Reyelts is probably feeling more confident about the answer she gave me before the latest News Tribune story broke. Asked whether it was appropriate to use anonymous sourcing for such serious allegations, she replied, “It’s a very serious case, but we have a very serious source in a position to know. I think the public has the right to know as much as possible as to a public official’s conduct.”

Source or sources? “Three sources.”

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/16/2012 - 06:04 pm.

    Let’s see now

    Refresh our memories on how the Larry Craig case was handled in the press.

    • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 08/17/2012 - 07:00 am.

      Morality

      Refresh our memories regarding the political party that claims to have “Christian values.”

    • Submitted by David Brauer on 08/17/2012 - 07:04 am.

      Craig

      Roll Call, which broke the story, had an arrest report, so that’s one difference, the other is that Craig, unlike Gauthier, was arrested.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 08/17/2012 - 11:06 am.

      What is your point?

      Are you saying that the Larry Craig story was reported inaccurately? That the reporters jumped the gun on the story and made mistakes? My memory of the Craig matter is that the story did not break until after he was charged and pleaded guilty.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/16/2012 - 06:15 pm.

    Forget the television coverage…

    The St. Louis County Attorney’s office has some serious explaining to do:

    Police: Duluth legislator at rest stop with 17-year-old boy

    The St. Louis County Attorney’s office has decided not to pursue charges in an Interstate 35 rest stop incident last month involving state Rep. Kerry Gauthier and an individual police reports have confirmed to be a 17-year-old male.

    Bet you $10 this guy gets re-elected too.

    http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/240342/group/homepage/

    I guess parents just have to hope Chris Hansen brings his sting operation to Duluth soon.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10912603/

    • Submitted by Sean Huntley on 08/17/2012 - 08:16 am.

      What should he be charged with in your opinion? Do you know what the age of consent is in your own state?

      • Submitted by James Hamilton on 08/17/2012 - 11:03 am.

        Minnesota Statute on Criminal Sexual Conduct

        https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=609.342

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/17/2012 - 09:46 pm.

        Take your pick Sean.

        645.451 DEFINITIONS, CONTINUED.

        Subd. 2.Minor. “Minor” means an individual under the age of 18.

        609.344 CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONDUCT IN THE THIRD DEGREE.
        Subdivision 1.Crime defined. A person who engages in sexual penetration with another person is guilty of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree if any of the following circumstances exists:

        (e) the complainant is at least 16 but less than 18 years of age and the actor is more than 48 months older than the complainant and in a position of authority over the complainant. Neither mistake as to the complainant’s age nor consent to the act by the complainant is a defense;

        609.352 SOLICITATION OF CHILDREN TO ENGAGE IN SEXUAL CONDUCT; COMMUNICATION OF SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MATERIALS TO CHILDREN.

        Subd. 2.Prohibited act. A person 18 years of age or older who solicits a child or someon
        e the person reasonably believes is a child to engage in sexual conduct with intent to engage in sexual conduct is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced as provided in subdivision 4.

        Subd. 2a.Electronic solicitation of children. A person 18 years of age or older who uses the Internet, a computer, computer program, computer network, computer system, an electronic communications system, or a telecommunications, wire, or radio communications system, or other electronic device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to commit any of the following acts, with the intent to arouse the sexual desire of any person, is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced as provided in subdivision 4:

        Subd. 3.Defenses. (a) Mistake as to age is not a defense to a prosecution under this section.

        617.23 INDECENT EXPOSURE; PENALTIES.

        Subdivision 1.Misdemeanor. A person who commits any of the following acts in any public place, or in any place where others are present, is guilty of a misdemeanor:
        (1) willfully and lewdly exposes the person’s body, or the private parts thereof;

        (2) procures another to expose private parts; or

        (3) engages in any open or gross lewdness or lascivious behavior, or any public indecency other than behavior specified in this subdivision.

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 08/17/2012 - 08:57 am.

    If the boy had complained. . .

    that he had not consented to this act, that would be a crime. It would have been a crime too if he had been paid money or if he had not committed the act in question but solicited Gauthier and Gauthier had accepted. But the meta-story here is about the reporting and about Gauthier’s closeted sexual orientation. If Gauthier is gay, don’t his constituents deserve to know that in this day and age? It’s no use pretending in this country that things like sexual orienation and marital affairs are “private.” If a newspaper is going to report on an investigation by a law enforcement agency if an elected official, doesn’t the newspaper have a responsibility to explain this to the public?

  4. Submitted by Mark Azerty on 08/17/2012 - 04:10 pm.

    Cheers for Reyelts

    I’m cheering for Reyelts. She got the story out, and she got it right. Your quibble about the word arrest is nothing more than a quibble. Technically, whenever someone is stopped by an officer, it is an arrest. They are not free to go until the officer tells them.

    Good news reporting is getting the facts; getting them fast; and getting them right. The other news outlets in Duluth are p***ies for not reporting what they knew and going along with the official stonewall.

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