By: Joe Strupp
On most days, the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press is out to beat up on its nearby rivals at the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis, with whom it constantly competes for scoops, readers, and advertising.
But when it comes to press rights, apparently journalistic unity is thicker than newspaper competition. A case in point is an editorial in today’s PiPress, which defends the Star-Tribune in its recent dustup with Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch, who has refused to answer questions about a parking ticket he received several years ago.
The Star-Tribune has yet to write about the ticket, which may have little news worthiness. But its reporters asked about the ticket after it came up in some research done by a fellow Democrat looking into the background of Hatch, who is running for governor, the editorial stated.
“The reporters asked in an e-mail whether Hatch might have ‘fudged a little’ in his explanation of the ticket,” the editorial said. “His office has said he and his wife met in separate cars at a Mississippi River overlook, drove off in one car and retrieved the second car, with the ticket, the next day. The reporters’ e-mail asks whether he was there to console a daughter who was upset. Hatch says it’s nobody’s business.
“Hatch … felt the questioning crossed the line separating his public life from his family life. So the attorney general, whose very title carries an accusatory suggestion, fired off a packet to the Minnesota News Council, seeking a ruling that the newspaper was ‘trying to throw dirt and raise innuendo’,” the editorial continued. “The News Council, a voluntary group that looks into complaints about published or aired reports, told Hatch it takes complaints only about reports — not about reporters’ methods before reports appear.”
The editorial then went on to criticize Hatch for his secrecy and, in an unusual move, support its competitor’s ongoing requests.
“There are some questions of a personal nature that a public official may have good reason not to answer,” the editorial stated. “We cringe at celebrity ‘journalism’ that knows no such bounds. And we know that news media sometimes blow things out of proportion. But there are quite a number of steps between gathering information — that is, asking questions — and publishing a report. And sometimes — not always, of course — private behavior has public relevance, and the only way to find out is to ask questions.”