By: DOROTHY GIOBBE
THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR Tribune is resisting calls to pay for a new election after it mistakenly placed a candidate’s photo within an unrelated story on charity fraud the morning of the election.
John Derus, who lost the state Senate primary by 104 votes, filed suit seeking a new election, based on alleged violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act, a Minnesota statute.
On Sept. 10, Derus’ picture appeared on page B3 of the Star Tribune below a headline that read “New Era Charity Fraud Case Settled.” The accompanying article had nothing to do with the candidate. The same picture of Derus had appeared several times in campaign news stories in the newspaper during the weeks preceding the primary, and in a voter’s guide.
The Star Tribune attributed the photo placement to a computer pagination error, and has apologized. The newspaper also ran a correction the next day.
Derus believes that Star Tribune readers casually glancing at the headline may have believed he was involved in charity fraud, and that misperception caused his primary defeat.
His complaint, filed Sept. 22, charges that the Star Tribune “intentionally, recklessly or negligently” misrepresented Derus to the public “and engaged in a fraud which obstructed or prevented the free exercise of the right to vote by the voters in the primary election . . . .”
“The Star Tribune abused its liberty of the press . . . [which] interfered with the liberty and rights of the voters to a free and fair election,” the complaint continued.
For now, Derus is suing only to win a new election. However, his attorney, John Rice, said the complaint “doesn’t foreclose a defamation action, which would be separate.”
The complaint asks that the Star Tribune be ordered to pay all costs of holding a new primary and attorney’s fees.
Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson has sided with Derus, even though Carlson is a Republican and Derus is a Democrat. A representative from the governor’s office estimated the cost of a new election at about $20,000.
Star Tribune editor Tim McGuire flatly rejects the idea of the newspaper funding a new election.
“This was an inadvertent mistake, it was an accident and not part of any conspiracy,” McGuire said. “There is no evidence at this point that this affected the outcome of the election. We think that it’s very dangerous for newspapers to become involved in the electoral process.
“A mistake was made, and we have apologized, but the mistake didn’t carry his name, the story had no mention of the candidate, there is no evidence nor is it fathomable that it affected the election,” McGuire continued.
“This is the kind of error that has occurred probably in every newsroom over the past few years. To get involved in the election is starting down a slippery slope that we don’t think we should start down,” McGuire added.
Rice believes Derus has a viable shot at winning a new election.
“I think we’ve put together a solid basis for a claim. State law prevents third parties from interfering with elections, and I think in this case, they did,” Rice said. “A fraud prevented or obstructed the right to vote.”
Even if the newspaper didn’t act intentionally, Rice said, “I believe we have an excellent shot at negligence. . . . I think they’re goofballs.”
Rice also cited unflattering treatment Derus received on the Star Tribune’s editorial page. A Sept. 3 editorial said, “the Derus record includes a long history of cronyism, bullying and abuse of co-workers and subordinates. Derus’ habitual misuse of power represented the worst of a repugnant and rejected political style.”
McGuire countered with a statement reading, “after three-and-a-half hours of meeting with Mr. Derus, I believe this case has come to be more about politics and past editorial positions of an editorial staff which operates independent of the newsroom, than it is about this photo mix-up.”
McGuire added that since the case is headed for the courts, he would not comment further
Candidate claims mistakenly published photo cost him victory; wants newspaper to pay for new election
?(Deleated Minnesota state Senate candidate John Derus has filed suit seeking anew election after the Minneapolis Star Tribune mistakenly included his picture (above) in an unrelated article on fraud.) [Photo & Caption]