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Lavender story still a talker

ALSO: DNR conference “price tag” rises again, a hoary campaign tradition and Michele Bachmann on socialism.

The irresistible but problematic story about Rev. Tom Brock — the anti-gay Lutheran pastor/talk radio host “outed” for attending a Catholic group for men struggling with homosexual impulses by an undercover reporter for the local gay magazine Lavender — is still a talker. Both dailies follow David Brauer’s Tuesday MinnPost story. The Strib story, by Jeff Strickler, recounts the basics and pokes at the ethics of the reporter and magazine. “Jane Kirtley, the Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, said the magazine crossed the line. ‘I’m a believer that the use of undercover reporting should be reserved only for the most important stories that you can’t get any other way,’ she said.” The Pioneer Press uses the Associated Press story, by Patrick Condon, says: “The Lavender article never explicitly said Brock confessed to homosexual activity. It quotes him at one point talking about a recent mission trip to Eastern Europe, of which he says, ‘I fell into temptation. I was weak.’ Hope Lutheran’s executive pastor, the Rev. Tom Parrish, said when confronted with the article, Brock ‘simply said he indeed has been attending this Christian group, both going there and being honest about temptations he has, and is being held accountable so he never would do anything with that temptation.’ “

Good piece by the PiPress’ Chris Niskanen on the long-running tale of the 2007 game warden’s conference that got tongues waggling over its $300,000 price tag. Well, the state (you and me) are now into it for $250,000 more, after one of the central figures, Cathy Hamm, settled with the DNR, which had fired her and forced her husband to retire from his job over the incident. “Hamm sued the DNR and Commissioner Mark Holsten in February for marital discrimination, defamation of character and violations of the Minnesota Data Privacy Act. The settlement means Hamm, who spent 35 years as a DNR employee, will retire from her job as central regional enforcement manager. ‘I absolutely feel vindicated,’ said Hamm, 51. ‘I’m pleased with the settlement, but I’m sad that the department placed me in a position that I had to file a lawsuit in the first place.’ ” Niskanen adds: “Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder and a former conservation officer, said Wednesday that Hamm’s superiors made her a scapegoat for the ill-fated conference, even after they gave her an award for her work on it. ‘I will do my best to assure the (settlement) funding comes directly out of the commissioner’s budget,’ he said.”

It’s a very arcane issue to the average news consumer, but Sen. Al Franken is making things difficult for one of those major media mergers — this time the combination of NBC (his former employer) and cable giant Comcast. These gargantuan deals almost never deliver the better local news coverage or greater diversity of news and opinion they promise. The generally pro-merger trade magazine RBR.com runs Franken’s conditions for allowing the deal to go through. If you’re a Comcast shareholder, they ain’t pretty. Among them: “8. To enable the FCC and public to assess the merged entity’s commitment to serving the public interest, it must file regular reports on the amount of local news and public affairs programming it airs on its broadcast stations. It should also disclose the amount of independently-produced programming aired over broadcast and cable platforms.” The FCC, of course, would need adequate staff to read and assess those reports.

Another media industry magazine, Broadcasting & Cable, reports on a recent Senate hearing. “During his questioning of Christine Varney, assistant attorney general for antitrust, Franken focused entirely on that merger and what he said was his ‘inherent distrust of NBC and Comcast’s promises.’ Franken said he could not stress enough that ‘it matters who runs our media companies,’ which he said influence how people looked at and understood the world. ‘So, it is a problem when the same company produces the programs and runs the pipes that bring us those programs,’ he said, adding, ‘at least it is to me.’ ” This isn’t exactly as simple as “fighting socialism to get our freedoms back,” but with barely a half dozen companies controlling most of what we know and how we know it, this is poking at the heart of the beast.

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MPR’s truth-assessing shtick, “PoliGraph,” checks out Independence Party candidate Rob Hahn’s math on his riverboat gambling idea. Catharine Richert writes: ” ‘The revenue to the state, cities and counties would be approximately $400 to $600 million annually,’ the Independence Party gubernatorial candidate said during a June 17 press conference. Hahn’s estimate isn’t unreasonable, but it’s on the high end.” She says, “[G]ambling in Illinois, Iowa and Indiana is different from gambling in Minnesota. Three riverboats right outside Chicago attract a lot of urban gamblers, for instance, inflating Illinois’ revenue, [Minnesota Lottery research and planning director Don] Feeney said. And in Indiana and Iowa, riverboats get a lot of business from out of state. In Minnesota, there’s no comparable place to put a boat that would draw that many gamblers across state lines.”

Hoary Tradition Check. It happens every time. The demand to release tax records. The inference being that your opponent is hiding something. Like those fat checks to the North American Man Boy Love Association, or something. Rachel Stassen-Berger writes in the Strib’s “Hot Dish Politics” blog that all the gubernatorial candidates have had the demand put to them. Matt Entenza, husband to a huge fortune acquired via the UnitedHealth insurance game, has declined. ” ‘We’ll follow the disclosures that exist now. We are happy to follow the law,’ Entenza said. Entenza, whose family wealth dwarfs that of most Minnesotans, would not answer if he was concerned that the number of commas in his tax returns would turn Minnesotans off.” Maybe not “turn them off,” but “jar a bit” with his flood of TV commercials and glossy campaign literature hyping his hard-scrabble roots.

Another day, another Michele Bachmann media appearance … this time in a new documentary from the Coral Ridge Ministries folks — James Dobson, Focus on Families, etc. Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent writes: “Bachmann appears in a new documentary … called ‘Socialism: A Clear and Present Danger.’ The film questions ‘whether socialism is the Bible’s prescription for the underprivileged and assesses socialism’s track record in Venezuela, Cuba and elsewhere.’ The film’s creators conclude definitively in the first few minutes that socialism is decidedly anti-Jesus.” In the film Bachmann says, “We’ve become indentured servants to the government. That’s not what the founders envisioned for us. They envisioned that we would work for ourselves, for our families, grow the nation. The new view that government has of those of us who are citizens is that now we exist to serve government. We need to reverse course so we can get back to freedom.” Yeah, and stop guaranteeing Christian charity for the underprivileged! The Lord has spoken!

Cool. The PiPress runs a story out of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about the discovery of a huge wooden freighter, the 281-foot L.R. Doty, upright and perfectly preserved in more than 300 feet of water in Lake Michigan. “Technical divers — breathing a special blend of mixed gas with equipment required to dive so far deep — shot video of the wreck site and snapped photos that give clues that could explain how and why the Doty sank in a storm so fierce it damaged part of the Milwaukee break wall and destroyed the boardwalk in Chicago. ‘It definitely goes to show there’s still these looming giants that have yet to be found — titans of the Great Lakes that are still out there,’ said Kevin Cullen, underwater archaeologist at Milwaukee’s Discovery World-Pier Wisconsin.” The story says the Doty’s cargo of grain is still in her holds.

Denny Hecker Watch: Attorneys met in court Wednesday to hash out procedures for Hecker’s October trial. Among the issues is whether to continue with the ex-car dealer’s buddy Steven Leach rolled into the case. The Strib’s Dee DePass writes that Leach’s attorney “also argued that fraud charges against Leach involving Hecker’s purchase of Suzuki vehicles in 2007 and 2008 should be dismissed because they related to crimes committed after Leach left Hecker’s organization in December 2007. Prosecutors argued that Leach was involved in the scheme prior to resigning and so all related charges should stick.”

The PiPress’s MaryJo Webster sees this news of the day: “The prosecutor in Denny Hecker’s federal criminal case said Wednesday that a superseding indictment would be coming soon.” She writes of one of the prosecuting attorneys, saying “that the revised indictment would remove allegations regarding tax, title and license fees that Hecker’s auto dealerships allegedly didn’t pay to the state of Minnesota. A court document [the prosecutor] filed earlier this week also indicated more bankruptcy fraud and wire fraud charges could be added. The current indictment refers to the tax, title and license fees only as part of a conspiracy charge, alleging that not paying the fees was part of a larger scheme to fund Hecker’s extravagant lifestyle.” Hecker junkies have long waited for something like that to drop.