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Hubbard defends KSTP-TV’s Hodges story after SPJ seeks disavowal

The following is a letter that Stanley S. Hubbard, chairman and CEO of Hubbard Broadcasting, sent Nov. 26 to Jonathan Kealing, president-elect of the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists, after the SPJ chapter called on Hubbard to disavow KSTP-TV’s recent coverage of Mayor Betsy Hodges at a community event — coverage that quickly was dubbed #pointergate. It is republished from the SPJ website with permission. The SPJ’s earlier call for disavowal, dated Nov. 19, is reprinted on the righthand side of this page.

Dear Mr. Kealing,

Stanley Hubbard

As a member of the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (Minnesota SPJ or Chapter), I am disappointed in how the Chapter has responded to KSTP-TV’s coverage of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’s participation in a get-out-the-vote event with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC). I believe the Chapter lacked professional protocol in its actions regarding same.

On November 19, 2014, the Minnesota SPJ asked KSTP-TV to “disavow” its reporting, saying that our story was “fundamentally flawed and based on a faulty premise.”  This, because you decided the image in the report showed Mayor Hodges making what the Chapter called a “silly gesture.” KSTP-TV reported that gesture as a known gang sign. We were informed of that fact by several law enforcement agencies. You even went so far as to suggest that we would try to mislead. To suggest that KSTP-TV would ever deliberately distort any fact in any story is totally out of line. We have never done so and we never will do so.

Putting aside the question of whether it is an appropriate role of the Chapter to decide whether any particular news story should or should not air, we acknowledge that our reporting resulted in a great deal of criticism.  As a responsible news organization, we understand that appropriate public critique, criticism and scrutiny of the media’s work play an important role in society. However, when professional journalists themselves criticize another news organization, I hope we can all agree that it is incumbent on those journalists to follow the highest standards of professional journalism.

We know that social media is able to control Internet conversation on any given topic. As I am sure you know, much of what appears on the Internet lacks credibility. We have read all too many Internet messages about our coverage from people (and, in many cases, “bots”) who obviously had not seen our coverage, or who came to the Internet with a predetermined point of view. Sadly, a number of respected news organizations  have engaged in what any  unbiased professional journalist would recognize as inadequate independent reporting about our story. The fact that our report was the “top trending” story in the Twittersphere for a day or two does not lend veracity to the tweets, blogs and posts it engendered.

Two national news organizations reported critically on our coverage without bothering to ask us about our coverage. One such organization interviewed a law enforcement source used in our first report, and did not include his interview in their on-air product — perhaps because what he said did not support the tone of the Twitter comments.

I am concerned that some members of the Minnesota SPJ and its board have been “taken in” by a deliberate attempt through misinformation on the Internet to embarrass and discredit KSTP-TV. The SPJ Code of Ethics itself says that a journalist should verify information before releasing it. Had you done so, you would have found that KSTP-TV has not, in this instance or ever, allowed itself to be used by one political group to make points against another political group, however, KSTP-TV will always welcome any credible and corroborated critique of its work.

Truth be told, those in the Chapter who have criticized us have not addressed any of the facts pertaining to our coverage.

•   This story was brought to us by law enforcement personnel not affiliated with the Minneapolis Police Department or Police Officers Federation (POFM) — and not, as you contend, sources who “cannot be defended.”

•   Our reporter’s source informed him that the reason the subject photograph created concern in law enforcement was the then-current feuding between rival Minneapolis gangs, including the Stick Up Boys. Because of the ongoing investigation being undertaken by law enforcement at the time — which we now know resulted in 11 federal indictments last week — our reporter was asked not to report that specific fact in order not to jeopardize the investigation. We did, however, accurately report on November 6, 2014 that, “5 EYEWITNESS NEWS was alerted to the photo by law enforcement after they discovered the photo on the man’s Facebook page while doing investigative work.” Especially in this context, our reporter was told that the Mayor’s use of a gesture that local law enforcement associated with the Stick Up Boys “could create serious problems for guys on the street and the public.”

And given the U.S. Attorney’s actions on November 21, 2014, it should now be clear that KSTP-TV did not, “deliberately distort facts or context,” as you assert.

•   We were aware that there was friction between the Mayor, the Chief of Police, and the POFM, but we determined that should not deter our reporting on what we were told by multiple credible sources was an incident that had the potential for jeopardizing public safety.

•   As for KSTP-TV’s use of the President of the POFM in its report, he was the only
uniformed, active duty police officer willing to go on the record.  To be clear, we did not seek out a representative of the POFM for our story, and, again, nor was the POFM our source. Given the U.S. Attorney’s actions on November 21, 2014, it should now be clear that KSTP-TV neither “deliberately distort[ed] facts or context,” as you assert, nor “allowed itself to be used by one political group to make points against its political opponent.”

•   We contacted the Mayor’s office two days before the story ran. Following the
exchange of a few emails and one phone conversation with a spokesperson from the Mayor’s office in which the spokesperson claimed not to understand the story, the Mayor did not talk to us. As a result of a subsequent Data Practices Act request, we have since learned that our email exchanges with the Mayor’s office were shared with NOC prior to the airing of our story, as well as emails between the mayor’s office and NOC evidencing their coordination.

•   We tried to contact Navell Gordon through his employer, NOC, which was the only contact information we could find for him.  In response to our request for an interview with Mr. Gordon, the NOC’s executive director replied, “Not a chance.”

•   Our reporter spoke to eight different law enforcement officers from three separate law enforcement agencies, each of whom independently confirmed what we had been told about the hand gesture. Not one person associated with  law enforcement we interviewed characterized it as a “silly gesture.” The Minnesota SPJ offers no attribution for its characterization of the gesture in the relevant context of its use by Mayor Hodges with Mr. Gordon. (Nonetheless, we note that in our November 13, 2014 coverage, we reported that, “5 EYEWITNESS NEWS admits, and reported, that the poses struck by Hodges and Gordon appear to be playful — simple pointing — and it’s hard to understand why such a seemingly innocuous photo could bepotentially dangerous. But police say the mere existence of it could put the public, and possibly police, in danger.”)

•   What we were told by local law enforcement was corroborated by the president of  the  Midwest  Gang  Investigators  Association,  an  out-of-state  voluntary association of law enforcement agencies that researches and addresses gang violence in nine Midwest states, including Minnesota.

•   Prior to our story airing, Mr. Gordon’s social media posts featured pictures of himand others making the hand sign in question, plus offensive, provocative and derogatory comments about the police, with what appears to be a gun in his belt, along with numerous photos of what appear to be automatic weapons.

•   Public records reflect that Mr. Gordon had been arrested for aggravated armed robbery on August 2, 2014, two months before the picture in question was taken.

•   KSTP-TV made the editorial decision to blur Mr. Gordon’s image, not name him, and not name his employer, because the story was never intended to be about him or the NOC.  Instead, as noted, our story accurately reported what several law enforcement personnel were telling us was an incident that they felt created the potential for creating a risk to public safety. And, again, the Mayor and her office were given ample opportunity to respond, but chose not to. We do not know who initially identified Mr. Gordon as the person appearing in our report, or who was behind making it seem that he was the focus of our story, but it was not us.  Only in response to criticism of our reporting did we address Mr. Gordon’s presence in the report, long after it had already been made public, including by Mr. Gordon himself.

Since our story first aired, a number of prominent community leaders have expressed support for our coverage, confirmed that our story raised a legitimate issue of public importance and was not “deeply flawed,” and commended us for airing this story. Similarly, we have received support from many different law enforcement personnel, as well as a number of reporters, all of whom are members of the Chapter.

We do not make editorial decisions based upon popular opinion, Twitter trends, or potential social media backlash. We recognize our obligation to our community to report the news responsibly, and that’s what we did.

Finally, it is important to consider the context in which this tip was brought to us and in which our report aired. This tip was brought to us by law enforcement (to reiterate, not by the MPD or POFM) shortly after the Brooklyn Center shooting referenced in the U.S. Attorney’s November 21, 2014 news conference. We do not know whether the tip we received was in any way related to that shooting, but it does reveal the context in which law enforcement was operating — as the StarTribune reported on Saturday, November 22, 2014, “a foothold of area gangs clashing over control of the local drug and weapons trade” — and the information with which law enforcement was working, at the time.

Perhaps most disappointing of all is the fact that most, if not all, serious news organizations that addressed our coverage — including, the board of the Minnesota SPJ — simply “followed the herd” and tracked the trend on Twitter in their derision of our coverage. Rather than responsibly questioning law enforcement’s motivation in bringing this story forward, and digging deep into whether it truly represented a public safety issue, they instead chose to simply ignore that which was reported, and go with the much easier and much more popular “silly gesture” angle.  We respect other media’s right to do just that, but object to the Chapter’s “rush to judgment” in the absence of any of its member organizations or board members doing any independent, critical analysis prior to publishing its demand for a disavowal.

Clearly it is disturbing to many that otherwise playful gestures presumably innocently made by a public official can have a totally unintended meaning in a different context.  Nonetheless, that is exactly what our reporters were told by numerous law enforcement sources. Namely, that while a “gun” gesture may be funny and innocent in many contexts, it is neither funny nor innocent in a neighborhood plagued by gun violence and a “foothold of area gangs.” The recent announcement by federal officials that the indictment of 11 high profile individuals from two warring gangs, allegedly involved in the North Minneapolis drug and weapon trade, underscores the seriousness of the current gang situation. Our decision to broadcast the story stemmed from law enforcement comments that that they were seeing a significant uptick in gang related activity and the picture of the Mayor making the gesture they believed could be used by one of the gangs to “disrespect” the other, possibly sparking a new round of violence.

I have a great deal of  respect for the many fine journalists and news organizations that are members of the Chapter. But I believe that, before the Chapter and its board take the drastic and unprecedented step of calling on another member organization to “disavow” a report, they must first conduct a thorough, thoughtful, critical and independent investigation.

I note that there is to be a forum at the Silha Center regarding the so-called “Pointergate” story. I was a friend of Otto Silha’s. He and I had mutual respect for each other. Otto Silha was a great journalist. Based on my friendship with him, I am sure that if he were alive today, he would be sadly disappointed at this non-professional criticism of a respected news organization by those who either haven’t done their background work properly or have an axe to grind. It matters not whether a mob is on the street or on the Internet.

I believe that any news organization which is concerned with the news, and not political correctness, would run the story that Channel 5 ran.


Stanley S. Hubbard


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Comments (38)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/05/2014 - 08:25 am.


    He seems to be arguing that he has the right to report, even if it’s bad reporting.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/05/2014 - 08:27 am.


    Great letter, Mr. Hubbard. I agree with your remarks 100%.

  3. Submitted by David Therkelsen on 12/05/2014 - 08:57 am.

    Who are these law enforcement agencies?

    KSTP’s defense, now mounted at the highest level, continues to be that its information came from “several law enforcement agencies.” Then why can’t we know who they are? The only sources cited in their stories are the police union president and a retired cop.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/05/2014 - 09:07 am.

    The way the world works

    Here’s the deal. People have their pictures taken with politicians all the time. People point at each other all the time. On occasion, politicians and regular people have been photographed pointing at each other. None of these things are ordinarily considered to be newsworthy. Now it is possible to interpret this photograph or any photograph in different ways. But such efforts tell us a lot more about the person doing the interpretation, than the people who were captured in the fleeting momen required to take a photograph.

    There are lots of substantive issues relating to gangs, and crime in general that news organizations could report. Mr. Hubbard has discussed some of them. But none of those issues are illuminated by a picture of a casual encounter of a political candidate with one of her potential constituents.

  5. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 12/05/2014 - 09:13 am.

    Well stated.

    Thank you Mr. Hubbard for not backing down to the PC crowd.

    • Submitted by Brian Stricherz on 12/05/2014 - 09:44 am.

      Not backing down, but doubling down.

      Hubbard: “KSTP-TV made the editorial decision to blur Mr. Gordon’s image, not name him, and not name his employer, because the story was never intended to be about him or the NOC.”

      Then why bring up his social media posts and arrest record? Use of “guilt by assocication” logical fallacy directed at the mayor? Yeah, congrats on doubling down on a most ridiculous and rightfully mocked “news” story.

  6. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/05/2014 - 09:24 am.

    Frame-up fail

    Shorter Stan Hubbard.

    “We made a mistake and we got caught at it using yellow journalistic tactics but we will never apologize or admit we made a mistake by not at least asking the Mayor if she knew what these cops told us about this gesture.”

    Who knew that Hubbard or KSTP actually even cared about anything like journalistic integrity? How does it expect to win any race with Fox News for distorting the truth and spreading propagandistic right wing lies if it’s going to pay lip service to honesty and integrity?

  7. Submitted by Matt Haas on 12/05/2014 - 09:40 am.

    In a few words

    Boo hoo, Mr. Hubbard. You live in an interconnected world where political horse manure can and will be refuted and ridiculed at a moment’s notice. Adapt or pay the penalty. Also, your reputation precedes you, you may want to keep that in mind.

  8. Submitted by James Hamilton on 12/05/2014 - 09:57 am.

    If you think Hubbard wrote this

    you don’t have a lawyer.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 12/05/2014 - 11:11 am.

      Oh no

      I think ol’ Stanley is conceited and narcissistic enough to fire away at his detractors, legal and pr torpedoes be damned. He may not have penned every note, but the song and dance is most definitely his creation.

  9. Submitted by Luke Ferguson on 12/05/2014 - 11:05 am.

    You say – I say

    Hubbard said:
    “Rather than responsibly questioning law enforcement’s motivation in bringing this story forward, and digging deep into whether it truly represented a public safety issue, they instead chose to simply ignore that which was reported, and go with the much easier and much more popular “silly gesture” angle.”

    I say:
    “Rather than responsibly questioning law enforcement’s motivation in bringing this story forward, and digging deep into whether it truly represented a public safety issue, KSTP instead chose to simply ignore dissenting sources, and do what the cops told us to do.”

    Even if we stipulate to the rest of Hubbard’s patently ridiculous BS, they’ve done NOTHING to prove that anything negative has happened as a result of the picture. And no, unsourced speculation from un-named cops doesn’t count.

  10. Submitted by Michael Friedman on 12/05/2014 - 11:47 am.

    The investigation needed

    If various police agencies believe Mayor Hodges met the criteria of signifying gang membership or sympathy, then we need to find out who these police officers are and who they have testified against as “gang experts” so that anyone convicted on a similarly superficial basis may have their cases revisited. Knowing the names will also help expose, for future cases, the lack of expertise of the so-called experts, a pervasive problem in criminal justice that goes hand in hand with racial disparities.

    A true journalist would have recognized that this was the story to pursue once the allegations were fed. But Mr. Hubbard’s KSTP is motivated by politics and shock “entertainment”, not journalism.

  11. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 12/05/2014 - 11:51 am.


    I’m curious as to what harm to public safety can come from this photo. The police, Hubbard, and KSTP all cite this as validation for publishing the story, yet no one explains exactly what harm will come to me from the mayor posing with some guy.

    Hubbard’s piece above just strikes me as a lot of huff and gruff to protect his territory. So the guy has a track record. Is the mayor supposed to vet every single person she poses with at an event or just walking down the street? That’s not realistic. I still haven’t seen any real justification from any source on why this is supposed to be such a hot story. Until they cough something up, it appears to me that their detractors are justified with their criticisms.

  12. Submitted by John Edwards on 12/05/2014 - 11:57 am.

    An excellent explanation

    What a clear and concise explanation of the issue. Minnesotans are fortunate to have at least one news organization that will tackle an issue the liberal media (that would be the Star-Trib, WCCO, MPR, KMSP, AP and to a lesser extend the Pioneer Press) lack the will and courage to examine.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 12/05/2014 - 03:34 pm.

      There is no issue.

      This is a completely unfounded, allegation that KSTP put forth with no proof whatsoever. The reason that no other media outlet has covered it other than ridiculing Hubbard for retching it up has nothing to do with will or courage, but more common sense and journalistic integrity. Perhaps he and his employee masquerading as a reporter will have someone define those qualities for them. By the way, a simple google search will lead you to countless photographs of people, including many politicians that you Mr. Edwards, enthusiastically support, making the same gesture. Like this one…

      Perhaps that “liberal leaning paper” the Milwaukee Journal, will jump right on this…or maybe Hubbard himself. Kolls could have uncovered a vast political conspiracy that would make McCarthy himself smile from his grave. There’s clearly a story here somewhere.

  13. Submitted by Leon Webster on 12/05/2014 - 11:57 am.

    I am still confused as to what KSTP thinks this story is about, and why they thought it was/is newsworthy. Originally the notion was that this somehow reflected on Mayor Hodge’s judgement. But when you see the wider context — that this was a casual encounter during a get out the vote drive, that notion falls flat on it’s face. I don’t think that anyone has suggested that a) Mayor Hodges knew about any sort of prior criminal record or b) that Mayor Hodges knew that pointing was a gang sign (if in fact, it truly is a gang sign)

    If the story isn’t about Mr. Gordon, then the fact that he was arrested in August, or had prior convictions is irrelevant.

    So, we are left with the notion that “the picture of the Mayor making the gesture they believed could be used by one of the gangs to ‘disrespect’ the other, possibly sparking a new round of violence.” If that is the case, then the responsible thing to do would have been to not air the story and give the photo wider circulation/publicity than it already had. And the responsible thing for a law enforcement officer to do would have been to get in touch with the mayor (or the police chief) and have a talk about whatever the issue was, and ask the mayor to be more circumspect in the future.

    Look, if your concerned about gun violence, then reporting about a politician whose friend pulls out the politician’s gun, and uses it to threaten people is probably a pretty good story. I mean, that is about pointing a real gun, and not a finger

    • Submitted by David Wintheiser on 12/05/2014 - 01:09 pm.

      Exactly the point

      The fundamental question, and one that really hasn’t been answered despite all the justifications of the story from KSTP, is exactly the one Mr. Webster is driving at: “What was the public interest in this story that made it newsworthy?” Journalism isn’t just the reporting of random facts, but the reporting of facts in the public interest, and it’s hard to see how this story rises to that level without revealing the worst in KSTP’s reporting and their assumed audience.

      It’s clear that KSTP’s reasoning is that the story is about the Mayor accidentally making a gesture that might be misinterpreted by a local gang. However, a good deal of the editorial decisions surrounding the handling of the story suggest there is more going on:

      – Mr. Hubbard’s open letter makes it plain that the reporter was informed about the reasoning behind why the gesture was considered ‘dangerous’, but that information didn’t appear in the story. The implication is that including this information might jeopardize a federal investigation (which resulted in arrests a couple of weeks later), but it’s difficult to see how identifying a gang sign in a news story equates to endangering an investigation. Does this mean that if KSTP had reported that “Federal investigators inform us that U.S. Bank serves customers in the greater Minnesota area,” that it means the bank is being investigated for money laundering? The gang sign information seems equally unconnected. Instead, we’re treated to a suggestion that a gang might view the sign as evidence that the Mayor actually supports them, which while provocative, seems illogical. Despite Mr. Hubbard’s assertion to the contrary, the ‘we didn’t want to jeopardize an investigation’ explanation seems ad-hoc and after-the-fact in light of the explanation actually included in the story.

      – The official explanation for blurring Mr. Gordon’s face and not mentioning his relationship to NOC is that the story wasn’t about him, and KSTP only started talking about him once critics brought him up. Admirable if true, but I can’t help noting that, had Mr. Gordon not been talked about but his face left unblurred, he’d have been a smiling constituent on the North Side of Minneapolis, not an anonymous, potentially menacing black man posing with the Mayor. It’s also somewhat disingenous, since while the story didn’t identify Mr. Gordon, it did mention (as did the announcer’s lead-in) Mr. Gordon’s criminal record (including an unrelated drug conviction) and that “he has connections to gang members.” If the story wasn’t about Mr. Gordon, why mention these things at all? Unless what you need is to establish the unnamed man in the story as a scary threat rather than an example of, as the Mayor is quoted in the story, “people who are making better choices.”

      – Mr. Hubbard’s explanation strongly suggests that the ‘law enforcement personnel’ that passed information on to KSTP’s reporter were either Brooklyn Center police or Hennepin County Sherriff’s officers; he unequivocably states they were not Minneapolis cops. Yet the implication that law enforcement personnel would not look out for the interests of other law enforcement personnel suggested by this assertion is contradicted by the content of the police warning — “guys on the street,” as quoted by Mr. Hubbard as coming from local law enforcement, doesn’t just mean BC or Hennepin county cops. There’s no reason to assume that the statements from the current and former Minneapolis cops in the story itself are credible if one doesn’t believe that cops look out for each others’ interests regardless of jurisdiction.

      – Mr. Hubbard’s explanation also ignores what was learned shortly after the story aired; whomever approached the KSTP reporter was apparently ‘pitching’ the same story to other local media — metro columnist Jon Tevlin Tweeted that two reporters at the Star-Tribune also received the same pitch but refused to bite. The closest that Mr. Hubbard comes to even addressing this point is to decry “[t]he fact that our report was the ‘top trending’ story in the Twittersphere for a day or two does not lend veracity to the tweets, blogs, and posts it engendered.”

      – That other experinced journalists would refuse to pursue the story after it was pitched to them also suggests that Mr. Hubbard is being disingenuous when he states that, while asking the Mayor’s office for comment, “the spokesperson claimed not to understand the story”. A more accurate observation would likely be “the spokesperson claimed not to understand why the story was news”.

      – Lastly, a full review of the actual story (which is still available on YouTube) leaves one with the certainty that KSTP is reporting on a difference of opinion between the Mayor’s office and the Minneapolis police department, despite Mr. Hubbard’s allegations to the contrary. Both on-camera police members worked in Minneapolis, and both were harshly critical of the Mayor.

      The letter is a wonderful bit of rules-lawyering, and I hope the Society of Professional Journalists responds with a substantive criticism so we can find out the real reason why KSTP thought this story was newsworthy journalism.

      • Submitted by Michael Friedman on 12/05/2014 - 02:03 pm.

        More blurring

        “The SPJ code of ethics urges all journalists to never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information”

        Note too that the v and o in the word vote on Mr. Gordon’s shirt were also blurred. KSTP clearly wanted to remove the context of why he was with the Mayor — more evidence it violated journalist ethics and was intended as a hit piece.

  14. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/05/2014 - 12:25 pm.

    What’s it about

    I think you see the genesis of the story in Mr. Hubbard’s piece. They were fed a story by the police union, but decided that wasn’t enough of a reason not to run it. Rather than reviewing the story independently, they chose to relay the police union spin on it. As a result, they really lost track of what really happened here, and it’s lack of newsworthiness.

    Let’s look at the original incident. A politician has her picture taken with a member of the public. There is absolutely nothing at all newsworthy about that. Had a KSTP reporter taken that picture, there would be no way that it would get on the air. And nothing we have learned about what occurred when that picture was taken changes that. If Ms. Hodges was somehow conspiring with her constituent to commit a crime, that hasn’t been reported. What drew the attention of the KSTP reporter occurred later and anything newsworthy happened then. What we have learned since is that the police union doesn’t like the mayor and is seeking ways to embarrass her, and that’s the story for whatever it’s worth.

  15. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 12/05/2014 - 12:27 pm.

    Otto Silha

    The most offensive part of this piece is the the implication that former Star Tribune publisher Otto Silha would have defended this garbage reporting. In the absense of living journalists to defend him, Hubbard has resorted to speculating about the beliefs of a man who died 15 years ago, who, of course, can’t refute this nonense.

    I won’t stoop to Hubbard’s level and tell you what Silha would have thought. Rather, I will just ask people to read his obituaries and consider that during his lifetime Silha donated millions to the study of media ethics.

  16. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/05/2014 - 12:33 pm.


    Basically, the problem here is that KSTP allowed themselves to be manipulated by a source.

    • Submitted by Joe Musich on 12/05/2014 - 11:46 pm.

      Now who or what news source will …

      explore the motivation behind the choice of “allowing themselves to be manipulated on the part of KSTP ?” that will be the news story. In in depth examination of what brings KSTP to report the news as they do. I am ready to read that.

  17. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 12/05/2014 - 02:26 pm.

    Hubbard digs in, but he’s only burying himself and KSTP

    Hubbard’s entire piece is a sustained attempt to somehow escape from the logical fallacy that drove KSTP’s misguided reporting. In his attempt, replete with irrelevancies whose collective argumentative weight adds virtually nothing to his case, he fails. What began as farce ends in minor tragedy. And in turn questions of integrity persist.

    The fallacy is simple enough to understand. Context changes meaning. X means something in one context, and can mean something different in another. Yelling during a ball game means something different than a parent yelling at a child. A car honking in traffic doesn’t lead to the deduction that every time a car horn is heard that the horn is due to a driver’s response to traffic.

    This is so elementary it’s painful to think that a news crew couldn’t see it, or that now Hubbard refuses to.

    Hubbard brings forward various facts that he believes fortifies his case. They do nothing of the sort, and in fact they are irrelevant.

    At best, for KSTP and Hubbard, the hand gesture was ambiguous in the context of the photo—which would call into question the newsworthiness of the piece to begin with. If the hand gesture was playful in nature, which is the best interpretation we have from the context of the photo and the fact that that same gesture is publicly popular, then KSTP failed in its journalistic duty. It became a mere stenographer, passing along a questionable interpretation without adequate scrutiny.

    The great irony here is that in either case, if there was a risk to the public, then KSTP was grossly irresponsible in broadcasting it in the first place. If the alleged gang sign threatened to incite violence, then what could be KSTP’s point in maximizing its exposure?

    “But police say the mere existence of it could put the public, and possibly police, in danger.”

    Then, why in the name of reason publicize this further?

    By insisting that the hand gesture was indeed a gang sign in this context, Hubbard runs the risk of forcing Gordon into a stereotype. Gordon can’t be a citizen standing next to the mayor flashing a popular “I’m in a photo with this person” hand gesture, he must be a gang member at all times. Being a gang member defines everything about Gordon. There are some elements in the police department for whom such characterizations are unreflective impulse. It would truly concerning if this were also the case with Hubbard.

    Playing the role of the unjustly aggrieved, Hubbard writes, “And, again, the Mayor and her office were given ample opportunity to respond, but chose not to.”

    Is is really that difficult to imagine why? We have plenty of people in the Twin Cities who can readily see KSTP’s avoidable mistake. But even acknowledging this blunder gives it legitimacy, at least to some small degree. Why should the mayor’s office waste the public’s time?

  18. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/05/2014 - 12:48 pm.

    Mountains and molehills

    In olden times, KSTP’s alleged “story” would have been labeled for the publicity-seeking yellow journalism that it is, and quickly forgotten. Mr. Hubbard can defend it because, after all, he’s a rich man who owns a TV station, so he can broadcast pretty much whatever he pleases. Wealthy people don’t like it when their judgment is questioned (see Torii Hunter and Arkansas). Some realize they’re in a privileged position, others, like Mr. Hubbard, tend more toward the “entitlement” meme.

    My own 2¢ is that Hiram Foster has pretty much nailed it.

  19. Submitted by Peter Pesheck on 12/05/2014 - 01:15 pm.


    From my perspective, the credibility of both KSTP and the Minneapolis Police Department have been damaged in this incident. The journalistic issues have been well treated by the SPJ and others; all I can add is that I will not be looking to KSTP for reliable news in the future.

    I think we’re all in trouble if this incident reflects the way Minneapolis police collect and evaluate evidence.

  20. Submitted by Curt Carlson on 12/05/2014 - 01:13 pm.

    The bottom line for me is that KSTP’s credibility as a news source is completely lost.

  21. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/05/2014 - 02:21 pm.

    It’s pretty simple

    On a very basic level KSTP simply failed to verify a source. Hubbard claims:

    “This story was brought to us by law enforcement personnel not affiliated with the Minneapolis Police Department or Police Officers Federation (POFM) — and not, as you contend, sources who “cannot be defended.”

    So the original source wasn’t the MPD or the Union and the original source was wrong. This was in fact an innocent photo with a citizen, yet somehow despite all it’s efforts and considerable resources KSTP failed discover the actual nature of the photo and it’s context, and in the end ran a false story fed to them by some as yet unidentified source. Everything about KSTP’s conduct here betrays a fundamental lack of journalistic integrity.

    The attempt to blame their failure on someone else likewise demolishes any claim they could make for any kind of integrity. Hubbard’s response is long winded but devoid of substance… like the story he’s defending.

  22. Submitted by David Hanegraaf on 12/05/2014 - 03:25 pm.

    KSTP has become our local Fox News

    KSTP lost all creditability. This was just the most recent example of poor reporting and misinformation.

  23. Submitted by Rachel Weisman on 12/05/2014 - 04:21 pm.


    I am grateful to Stanley Hubbard for bringing this to our attention again for another spin in the news cycle. I had almost forgot about it.

  24. Submitted by Michael Hess on 12/05/2014 - 04:30 pm.

    read the emails

    Hubbard references the emails to the mayors office and says the spokesperson “claimed not to understand the story”. if you read the emails available here you see why. The start is very much “she flashed gang signs I want her on camera to explain shy she’s flashing signs with a bad gang member”. It was not, as he suggests – “the police think this is a problem what’s the Mayors take”. it was stated as fact she was making gang signs, or gun signs, with a known gang member. Maybe if KSTP had approached the Mayors office with less misplaced rightous indignation they would have gotten something useful and spared us all this waste of a story.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/05/2014 - 05:33 pm.


      If hey had approached the Mayor’s office with a modicum of professionalism… well, if they had that they wouldn’t be contacting the Mayor’s office about this in the first place.

    • Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 12/06/2014 - 04:12 pm.

      The tone of the emails

      was certainly one of yellow journalism – not of authentic investigative journalism.

  25. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 12/05/2014 - 09:45 pm.

    What is this about?

    The story was about the mayor and if a guy she was pointing at were white, no one would have noticed it except a few mayor’s supporters who would have denounced it on their never read blogs. But to their delight, the guy she was pointing at was black and that gave them an opportunity to bring up the race and racism. And as soon as this genie got out of the bottle, the whole world got to know about that… Seriously, can we stop looking for (and finding) racism everywhere? Without racism (non-existent in this report) this story would have been dead in a day.

  26. Submitted by Kathy Speed on 12/06/2014 - 03:01 pm.

    Really??? Mr. Hubbard you find it hard to understand???

    “We know that social media is able to control Internet conversation on any given topic.” What????

    “hard to understand why such a seemingly innocuous photo could be potentially dangerous. But police say the mere existence of it could put the public, and possibly police, in danger.” Don’t you think that may be the point of context and point of view —- and really goes to the contention that we have allowed our police to become overly militarized and no longer a police force OF the community but rather a policy force that occupies certain parts of the community ???

    “We do not make editorial decisions based upon popular opinion, Twitter trends, or potential social media backlash. We recognize our obligation to our community to report the news responsibly, and that’s what we did.” Notice that he did not say OBJECTIVELY…..the editorial choices made definitely slanted the story towards an overly conservative perspective and continues to defend the conservative context…..people are criticizing him for NOT being objective and for making choices that slant the story towards attitudes that reinforce a conservative point of view. The criticism is only briefly on the original story itself, it is about the slanting and the lack of objectivity in news that SHOULD be balanced so that the audience in the community can form their own opinions about the subject matter.

    “Our decision to broadcast the story stemmed from law enforcement comments that that they were seeing a significant uptick in gang related activity and the picture of the Mayor making the gesture they believed could be used by one of the gangs to “disrespect” the other, possibly sparking a new round of violence.” If I sat in the editorial chair, whoever this law enforcement source was is making a pretty big LEAP of connection to say that a gesture by the mayor is POSSIBLE causation of FUTURE violence. With an editorial hat on, I would be making the argument that news organizations report TODAY’s news and not suppose or conjecture about possible causation of future events. IF they had a GANG member interviewed who did say that individuals outside of “gang” affiliations eg, the mayor or Joe Sixpack on the street making a casual gesture DOES directly cause violence within or between gangs….then the reporting by KSTP might have had a point. However, without that definite connection the law enforcement source is peddling manure that no responsible journalist should have aired as it is all about LEAPS of connection for possible FUTURE events.
    “It matters not whether a mob is on the street or on the Internet. I believe that any news organization which is concerned with the news, and not political correctness, would run the story that Channel 5 ran.” Circling back to Mr. Hubbard’s initial statement in this piece, social media should just be able to shift the conversation on this around to Mr. Hubbard’s liking….forgetting that individual have free choice and critical thinking skills to form their own opinion. I do not know of ANY objective news organization staffed with professional journalists who would take it upon themselves to attach their reputation to a source’s concern (even if it is law enforcement) that is making a LEAP of connection that a gesture is POSSIBLE causation for a FUTURE event. It was not political correctness that held back other news organizations from doing that kind of a story. It was their ethical responsibility to be objective and not follow a source in their LEAPS of connection. ONLY an organization that has an editorial bias would be willing to take that LEAP with the source and slant the story to buttress their point of view.

    The original story was bad enough, but for Mr. Hubbard not to get this is why the community is upset with KSTP means that he is missing the community saying very loudly that KSTP is losing their respect and trust to be OBJECTIVE in reporting the news of their community. Once you lose the trust and respect of your community it is really, really hard to get that back.

    Can an owner make anything worse??? Where are the On-Air personalities in this mix? I know to speak up would likely cost them their jobs, but really… are they oblivious that this damage to the reputation of KSTP spills over onto them???

  27. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 12/06/2014 - 08:32 pm.

    Looks to me like…

    Hubbard received no positive response from his own ‘rhetorical gang sign’ to the Society of Professional Journalists and they didn’t flash back in approval?

    Live with it Hubbard , yours was far from ‘professional” and tabloid style dumpster diving for a news clip smear?

    Go kick a garbage can and then apologize if you can still hope to scrape up any dignity out of this.You have turned the word NEWS into another four letter word and that is not good…

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