Attorney General Mike Hatch took the unusual step Monday of attacking a news outlet for a story it hasn’t printed, accusing Minnesota’s largest newspaper of “sleazy” reporting.
Hatch, the Democratic endorsed candidate for governor, filed a complaint with the Minnesota News Council, an independent body that reviews allegations of unfair media coverage.
In his complaint, which included an e-mail from the paper’s reporters, Hatch criticized Star Tribune reporters and an editor for inquiring about relationships of his adult daughters and raising other questions he described as “the most sleazy type of innuendo.”
“Is it so important to the newspaper to have a Republican governor that it is permitted to ‘swiftboat’ my family?” Hatch asked, in a reference to TV ad attacks on John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race.
Hatch wouldn’t comment beyond the written complaint, a spokeswoman said.
Star Tribune editor Anders Gyllenhaal said the newspaper is doing its job by asking questions of candidates pursuing high public office.
“You are constantly asking questions about all kinds of things you are hearing about and you run only that which proves to be true. We hadn’t run a story,” Gyllenhaal said. “We didn’t know what to make about a lot of this.”
The Star Tribune’s reporting stems from the controversy that led state Rep. Matt Entenza to end his campaign to replace Hatch as attorney general. Entenza, also a Democrat, came under fire for hiring a Chicago-based research firm for a covert look into the workings of Hatch’s office. The firm also made a public-records request for a parking ticket Hatch received in 2003 for leaving his car at a scenic overlook in Dakota County.
Gary Gilson, executive director of the News Council, said he doubted the council would take on the matter.
“We don’t handle cases like that,” he said. “We handle cases that have to do with published material. It does seem to all be about reporting methods.”
After trying to interview Hatch in person, two Star Tribune reporters sent him a detailed list of questions. Hatch released their e-mail to his office.
“And please don’t take offense if aspects of these scenarios are partly true or completely false,” the reporters said in a note prefacing the questions. “We are seeking your response because we want to identify the truth.”
In his letter to the News Council, Hatch said public officials have an expectation of privacy. “As a father, I have every right to use any means possible to protect the privacy of my daughters,” he wrote.
Hatch’s preemptive strike on the newspaper perplexed Jane Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota. She said Hatch risks alienating one of the largest newspapers in the state just as the gubernatorial campaign heats up.
“It’s a very strange tactic,” she said. “It’s hard for me to quite grasp exactly what it is that Attorney General Hatch is trying to accomplish here beyond trying to discourage the Star Tribune from pursuing this kind of reporting.”