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KSTP savaged for Mayor Hodges ‘gang sign’ story

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis president Lt. John Delmonico listens as Mayor Betsy Hodges talks about a police body cams pilot project that began Friday.

Have you ever had the experience of being so embarrassed for someone who has so completely stepped in it that you can’t even turn away from the scene? So it is with KSTP-TV’s Jay Kolls (and his managers) after last night’s report on Mayor Betsy Hodges flashing … “gang signs.” The hyper-liberal Daily Kos was one of the first national outlets to jump on it. Shaun King writes, “What you are about to read and watch is stranger than fiction. It’s so racist and so outrageous, that people are questioning whether or not it’s satire from The Onion. It’s real though, and that’s what is so shocking and heartbreaking about the whole ordeal. … Does the Minneapolis ABC affiliate KSTP not have a filter in which something that smells this bad gets flagged for poor journalism? Sadly, only racism allows such an ugly story and stereotype to be advanced about a young man who was clearly not flashing a gang sign with the mayor of Minneapolis. He deserves a public apology and heads should roll at this station for even allowing it to ever make it to the air.”

Paige Lavender and Nick Wing at Huffington Post say, “KSTP reporter Jay Kolls has defended the station’s interpretation of the photo, suggesting the point is actually a symbol of a local gang called the Stick Up Boys. Kolls did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.” Video is available at both sites.

For Jezebel, Anna Merlan says, “Kolls also spoke to a retired cop, Michael Quinn, who told him, ‘She’s putting cops at risk,’ adding, ‘The fact that they’re flashing gang signs back and forth at each other, showing solidarity with the gangs, she’s legitimizing what they’re doing. She’s legitimizing these people that are killing our children in Minneapolis.’ Or… she’s…. pointing. The hashtag #Pointergate has blown up on Twitter, and another Daily Kos reporter, David Waldman, has responded to the controversy by merrily digging up reporter Kolls’ own ‘criminal record,’ namely a DUI arrest from 2007.”

The photo in question

In the International Business Times (!) Julia Glum writes, “#Pointergate was trending on Twitter Friday morning as people across the United States reacted with outrage and humor to what some are calling ‘the most racist news story of 2014’ … Gordon is a felon, twice-convicted, on drug selling and firearm possession charges. He is under supervised probation until 2016. For the past two years, Gordon has been a member of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, a Minnesota charity aimed at fighting for racial and economic justice for low-income residents. Last weekend, the organization’s volunteers canvassed in Minneapolis along with the mayor and police chief, Janee Harteau.”

In Vanity Fair Kia Makarechi says, “Today from the file of stories that would be simply ridiculous if they didn’t reveal sad realities of life in America: during a get out the vote drive, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges posed for a photo with a black constituent, only to be slammed by local police as ‘throwing up gang signs.’ … Hodges had previously criticized the police force, and told residents that she was aware that ‘some officers abuse the trust that is afforded to them, and take advantage of their roles to do harm rather than prevent it.’ It appears as though some officers have found a way to strike back with an assist from KTSP, the ABC affiliate.”

For Talking Points Memo Brendan James says, “A Minnesota television station was met with widespread outrage and ridicule on Friday after it aired a segment claiming Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges had recently flashed a ‘gang sign’ while standing next to a convicted felon. What the report left out: the photograph was taken during an event put on by the Twin Cities charity Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), and the young man, identified in the news segment simply as a ‘criminal,’ was a volunteer.” The story is so far beyond a mere “dog whistle” it’s a “dog siren.”

In a fast commentary of the Strib, Nekima Levy-Pounds, a professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School, writes, “My eyes could not believe what I was seeing, but not for the reasons one may think. I could not believe that any credible news station in the Twin Cities would produce a segment like the one in question and attempt to pass it off as legitimate news. After the story aired, many in our community took to social media, with the hashtag #pointergate to express their outrage. … The daily replaying of the narrative of blackness as evil, dangerous, and in the case of Mayor Hodges, contagious, has a cumulative effect on the American psyche and permanently warps our perceptions of the ‘other.’” Somehow I don’t think the “others” are the target demo for that kind of story.

Also at the Strib, Eric Roper reports,Hundreds took to Twitter to lambast the story, which many said had racist overtones, under the hashtag #pointergate. Many also posted photos of celebrities with similar hand gestures, alleging sarcastically that they too were in a gang. Kolls defended the story in subsequent responses over the course of Thursday evening.” Some of these are pretty funny … if you’re not Kolls or KSTP.

KSTP’s official response to it all: “Law enforcement sources alerted KSTP-TV to a photo they believed could jeopardize public safety and put their officers at risk, especially given the recent increase in gang violence. Multiple sources from several law enforcement agencies told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the photo had the potential for undermining the work they are doing on the streets. 5 Eyewitness News blurred the individual’s face and did not name the group he was working for because police called into question only the judgment of Mayor Betsy Hodges.” Which, I think, is another way of saying, “We swallowed the internal cop politics strategy on this hook, line and sinker.”

Comments (32)

  1. Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 11/07/2014 - 01:49 pm.

    Is anyone out there pressuring advertisers on KSTP to pull their business yet? Because they should.

  2. Submitted by Pat Berg on 11/07/2014 - 01:52 pm.

    Fist bumping

    This whole fiasco flashed me right back to the infamous “fist bump” between Barack and Michelle that so many rabid right wingers immediately jumped on as apparently proving that Obama had some sort of nefarious hidden agenda.

    The more things change the more they stay the same . . . . . .

    • Submitted by Susan Maricle on 11/11/2014 - 04:03 pm.

      What this reminds me of

      is when a gang member riding a bus shot a passenger for supposedly making gang signs — the passenger was deaf and signing with ASL. Everyone marveled at how stupid the shooter was.

  3. Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 11/07/2014 - 02:08 pm.

    I am a member of a rural chapter of the Stick Up Boys, inadvertantly. And my Mom warned me about finger pointing, but I didn’t listen.

  4. Submitted by T J Simplot on 11/07/2014 - 02:10 pm.

    I’m no fan…

    I’m no fan of Mayor Hodges but do some people honestly believe that she would flash a gang sign??? Give me a break.

  5. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/07/2014 - 02:14 pm.

    Kolls’s Responses

    I didn’t read all of them, but most of the ones that I saw would have been rejected as juvenile by most middle school students (think “Oh, yeah?” and take it down a couple of grade levels). He also came across as awfully thin-skinned.

  6. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 11/07/2014 - 02:22 pm.

    Speaking about KSTP

    How did its polling for the governor’s race fare? US Senator? 8th District? No comment from the station?

  7. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/07/2014 - 02:58 pm.

    As Far As Things “Liberal” Go

    Daily Kos is very middle of the road, and far more fact based than most of what you’ll find coming out of Limbaugh’s mouth or see on weasel news…

    (sorry, that was an insult to weasels).

    Aren’t the studios from which the weasel broadcasts lovingly referred to as “fantasy island?”

    As far as KSTP goes, the old canard that things “rot from the head” definitely comes to mind.

    Considering the size of the police force of Minneapolis, I’m sure an enterprising “Nightcrawler”-type reporter could find a retired officer to back up any kind of whacked-out, racist theory that the reporter was trying to add credence to,…

    but that doesn’t mean that officer knows any more about what he or she is talking about than the average person on the street,…

    and of course there’s not a SHRED of racism to be found among retired police officers in Minneapolis, is there!?

    If I hadn’t given up watching ALL local TV news a few years back, because it ALL leaves a great deal to be desired, with far too much fluff, and far too little hard news, and far too much “if it bleeds it leads,”…

    I’d boycott KSTP news now. Perhaps others will make that choice.

    • Submitted by Laurie Swenson on 11/08/2014 - 10:39 pm.

      As Far As Things “Liberal” Go

      Daily Kos is liberal. That makes it not middle of the road, and I don’t think it presents itself as middle of the road (the way Fox News does with its “fair and balanced” slogan — what an awful choice for a slogan). MPR is left-leaning middle of the road. Daily Kos leans more to the left than MPR. Which is fine. I also agree with you that liberal sites like Daily Kos are more fact-based than conservative ones like Fox News, and their points are generally based on more concrete principles. But the only reason I would see to call any liberal organization “middle of the road” is perhaps a generation or so from now when the middle of the road may not be between two heavily polarized sides and more are on the liberal side. Although I’m not convinced we’re not creating new conservatives with the recession and aftermath and the “me first” hunkering down that resulted.

      That said, I’m disturbed that Kolls and KSTP chose to do this. It’s the least controversial “news” I’ve seen in ages, in terms of people taking sides. People are overwhelmingly hating on the news station.

      And I don’t get the cop response at all. Creepy.

      I don’t watch primetime “news” like Dateline and 20/20 because it’s not news, but I generally like local news. C’mon, they have the best bloopers on YouTube. Seriously, I think local news is important for the community. I’m a newspaper journalist, and I’ve covered the same events the local news covered. A lot of the TV news people work their asses off to bring quality coverage to viewers who want to read about death, scandal, sex crimes and drugs. Same with newspaper reporters. It sucks.

      And I’d boycott KSTP too. I’m just flabbergasted they allowed this to go on. Bad, bad move.

  8. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 11/07/2014 - 03:39 pm.

    Hubbard is probably happy!

    The Kos piece says “heads should roll at this station for even allowing it to ever make it to the air.”

    Hah. As MinnPost reported in Feb. of 2012, KSTP owner Hubbard Broadcasting donated $100,000 to a Karl Rove PAC, plus another $100K to a Tom Emmer-linked group.

    These were not private contributions by the billionaire chairman or the Hubbard family (they give, too, of course). This was direct corporate money, profit earned selling viewer eyeballs to TV advertisers, going directly to GOP and right-wing groups.

    If anything, given all the flack, I can see the news director getting a big ol atta-girl from Stanley.

  9. Submitted by jason myron on 11/07/2014 - 04:32 pm.

    Delmonico didn’t come off

    looking good in this either. As for Kolls, he should be working for Inside Edition as he’s certainly not a serious journalist.

  10. Submitted by E Gamauf on 11/07/2014 - 04:51 pm.

    What boneheads came up with this Inquirer storyline?

    Ridicule is too easy on these clowns.
    The new Fox? They have no journalistic standards, I guess.

    “Retired cop” – leave the old guy alone, he’s retired.
    Why involve him to embarrass themselves?

    KSTP needs a new slogan after this.

  11. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 11/07/2014 - 07:35 pm.

    KSTP owes the mayor and apology

    I never watch KSTP, but I did see ‘pointergate’ video. It has to be one of the most idiotic things I’ve seen in some time. It almost defies belief.

    That no producer at KSTP apparently noticed a problem with this “story” is a stunning fact in itself. What does this say about news reporting standards at KSTP?

    All the more reason to not bother with local television news.

    KSTP owes the mayor an apology for this ridiculous nonsense.

  12. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 11/07/2014 - 08:57 pm.

    Would it …..

    be any different if Minnesota Public Radio reported this?

  13. Submitted by Joe Musich on 11/07/2014 - 10:27 pm.

    I think I ….

    am on year 15 of not watching local tv news. It goes back to Shelby and his funeral tirade. It just all so much horse hockey. Maybe if they could take their beauty budget and give to social studies teachers we would all be better informed. No doubt tho now of the influence of money ala Hubbard and news reporting is there ?

    • Submitted by Terry Hayes on 11/10/2014 - 10:53 am.


      Speaking of Shelby’s funeral tirade, isn’t it odd that so many commentators responded the same way.
      Horse hockey is right.

  14. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/08/2014 - 08:43 am.

    Gang sign

    I confess I watch local TV news only for the weather segment, having decided many years ago that the “content” of most local news outlets was pablum at best, mind-rotting drivel at worst. This looks like an example of the latter…

    So far, I like the responses of Pat Berg and Ralf Wyman the best.

    Pavel Yankovic has a point worth noting – or would, if

    A) I listened to radio; and

    B) if MPR had no producer, or editor, or whatever job title decides what goes out on the airwaves, who has a functioning brain. MPR apparently does a better job with this second point than does KSTP-TV.

    Maybe, as Brian suggested, Mayor Hodges – a grandmother, for heaven’s sake – was just… you know… pointing.

    I understand that the police are often dealing with what a police officer with whom I’m acquainted has described as “badly-educated people with no social skills,” so Mr. Delmonco’s self-serving umbrage is understandable, but it’s also a huge overreaction to what was intended to be a simple photo op – one of hundreds, if not thousands, of such photo ops that mayors of good-sized cities are expected to take part in.

    Give the Mayor a break, and file this whole affair under either “local silliness.”

  15. Submitted by Jim Million on 11/08/2014 - 09:03 am.

    Brainless Body Language?

    Whatever… Not too long ago this photo would have been taken by most people to be simply ironic, not sinister, and certainly not “viral.”

    What fun we have these days, venting all over ourselves for little cause, or for inflated causes. Reasonable people chuckle–others chide.

    We should note, however, that conventional “finger pointing” is done with the thumb parallel to the index finger, not raised in the cocked hammer position.

    The Mayor might consider that gestures do matter in communication, they really do, even these mindless movements. We really should dismiss this story as tripe, not news. Should she be captured using both index and middle fingers in the double-barreled version with thumb cocked; well, we might then have cause for some concern. She may well mean that message.

    Happy travails to you…

  16. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 11/08/2014 - 10:49 am.

    Actually, to my mind the winners in all this are that young black man who’s trying to get his life back together, and our Mayor.

    If you’re not a paranoid Minneapolis cop who hates the idea of being filmed during work encounters and is afraid that the new mayoral and chief regime might get you reprimanded or fired, it’s easy to see the playfulness and comaraderie in that Get Out the Vote occasion (with the Chief right there!).

    My question: Who from the Minneapolis Police Department planted this story?

    • Submitted by E Gamauf on 11/09/2014 - 08:24 am.

      Cameras remove all discretion? Except on KSTP

      Are there dots to connect in this?
      The station had a journalistic responsibility & they failed.

  17. Submitted by David Therkelsen on 11/08/2014 - 11:33 am.

    A little more transparency from KSTP, please?

    If multiple sources from several law enforcement agencies legitimized this story, may we know who they are? So far we only know they talked to a retired Minneapolis cop, and the head of the Minneapolis police union. That’s barely plural, hardly multiple. And it’s not even one law enforcement agency, since neither of these individuals can speak for MPD, let alone any other.

  18. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 11/09/2014 - 06:20 pm.


    I don’t think that Betsy Hodges was flashing gang signs intentionally. She made the gesture to be “cool.” A mayor of a major city should be above being cool.
    Substitute Michelle Bachmann for Betsy Hodges in this photo with a convicted felon and what would the response of the pious left be?

    • Submitted by Mike Supina on 11/10/2014 - 01:45 am.


      …a mayor is not obligated to be “above” goofing off in a photograph. Her job is to be out their mingling among her constituents – ALL of her constituents, not just those pre-approved by some squawky local reporter – and maybe even have some fun while doing so. Any reporter who would purport this to be encouragement of gang activity is either an idiot or has a political axe to grind. In this case it appears to be both.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 11/10/2014 - 06:52 am.

      Keep tossing out hypotheticals

      You couldn’t make silly MPR “What if?” stick, so now you’re moving down to the next thing on the list?

      It depends on the rest of the reporting. A large part of the criticism of KSTP – beyond the absolute ludicrousness of the thing itself – was that they left out significant amounts of context and did a sloppy job of finding reliable sources for their reporting.

      An answer to your hypotheticals (both of them so far) would also require a knowledge and consideration of the surrounding context before a meaningful response can be offered. That’s what “thoughtful” people do.

      • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 11/10/2014 - 02:43 pm.


        You know a well as I do that the minute Michelle Bachmann opens her mouth someone from the left is all over her. The “shoot first and ask questions later” approach is not unique to KSTP. She has been the preferred target of the left since she began her career as a “public servant” and has handled her critics a lot better than those on the left would do under similar circumstances.

    • Submitted by Terry Hayes on 11/10/2014 - 10:26 am.


      I really don’t think Bachmann would ever voluntarily get that close to a young black guy, convicted felon or not. And start calling him what he is, a kid trying to turn his life around and make a difference.

  19. Submitted by Mark Ohm on 11/10/2014 - 12:40 pm.

    What’s even more amazing is that there is video of this photo still to show the context AND the Minneapolis police chief is standing RIGHT NEXT TO THE MAYOR and KSTP STILL went ahead with this story, which shows that it is indeed a hit piece with little research and thus embarrassing to the station.

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