Panelists who gathered to discuss a KSTP-TV story that came to be known as Pointergate agreed it should have never aired as it did. KSTP’s story said a photo of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges showed her flashing gang signs while doing a get-out-the-vote drive on the city’s north side. Star Tribune Managing Editor of Operations Duchesne Drew said once Hodges’ office told KSTP-TV that the mayor was simply pointing, that should have been the end of the story.
“It isn’t a valid story,” Drew told journalists and members of the public gathered at the University of Minnesota Cowles Auditorium on Monday night. “And it isn’t the kind of story that speaks well of us as a profession or is helpful for beginning to talk about very real issues like gang violence.”
Drew said the problem was not so much the initial story that KSTP-TV did, but the follow-up stories that continued to draw a connection between the mayor’s pointing gesture and gang violence.
“When you realize that you’ve made a mistake, you correct it. It’s, really, we’re here not because they made a mistake — but because they kept holding to it. Right?”
The other person in the photo with Hodges was Navell Gordon, a man working with Neighborhoods Organizing For Change (NOC) who happens to be black. NOC organizer Anthony Newby agreed the story should have never aired. “Navell isn’t a gang member, hasn’t been a gang member. There’s no evidence of any gang activity. That’s also true of other folks on our staff. So this was not a story.”
“A Hit Piece”
Newby called the KSTP story “a hit piece.” “It’s a form of violence frankly when a publicly, FCC-licensed organization like KSTP is allowed to frame a story that criminalizes people with racial undertones and does it on community airwaves, public airwaves — it’s a form of violence.”
The story took on a life of its own on social media with the hashtag #pointergate. Most of those social media posts ridiculed the story. Many posted photos of celebrities and politicians pointing at each other. “Everybody from celebrities to organizers to journalists and soccer moms all had a pretty strong reaction,” said Newby. “It was all very similar.”
Jane Kirtley of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics said KSTP and reporter Jay Kolls did not respond well to the social media criticism, but that is not surprising.
“Journalists as a group are very, very thin-skinned. They invest themselves in their stories. They work very hard on their stories. They’re usually proud of the work that they do and they really don’t like to be criticized. So I think that while, again, social media and even just digital publishing has made that whole process much more interactive than it used to be, and in some respects that’s good. The fundamental human nature has not changed. And I think for most reporters… if I were an editor in that situation, I would be encouraging them to take a beat, or two, or three, or four before they respond to that angry tweet.”
KSTP-TV sent a letter, but declined to send a representative, to the forum organized by The Society of Professional Journalists – Minnesota Pro Chapter, along with the Twin Cities chapters of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association, as well as the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law and the Minnesota Journalism Center.
Mayor Betsy Hodges also declined to participate in the discussion.
The UpTake live-streamed the panel discussion. A complete recording of the panel and the social media discussion around it can be found here.