The Twittersphere and radio waves mopped the floor with Jay Kolls’ November sweeps story suggesting Mayor Betsy Hodges was throwing out gang signs in a photo with a citizen.
There were clues everywhere that Kolls’ Thursday story was off-base, even with this juicy on-the-record quote from a police union official who has issues with the mayor: “Is she going to support gangs in the city or cops?”
As a member only of the journalism gang, I am no authority on signs. But it looked to me as though Hodges and Navell Gordon, a Neighborhoods Organizing for Change canvasser, were awkwardly gesturing at each other in the way that Isaac Washington shot (if that’s not too street of a word) his pointers around the “Love Boat.” I said that on Twitter Friday morning before Kolls’ story went viral with #pointergate and social media fans delighting in posting pictures of celebrities and at least one adorable beagle puppy “pointing.”
Friday afternoon I started trying to get a comment from Kolls, who I expect is loving the attention despite the heavy dose of ridicule. Kolls has not gotten back to me, but on Friday he did call into Joe Soucheray’s 1500-AM ESPN show, which like KSTP-TV, is part of Hubbard Broadcasting.
“Last night on 5 Eyewitness News Jay had a story that suggests the mayor of Minneapolis, pictured with a felon who’s not in prison, [was displaying gang signs]. Some police officers are able to convince themselves that was a gang sign, which I personally find preposterous,” said Soucheray, setting the stage for listeners before saying to Kolls, “Now begin. … ”
Kolls said the story came from “sources in the metro gang unit. It is according to law enforcement, Minneapolis PD and otherwise, a gang sign for the ‘Stick up Boys,’ ” he explained. Soucheray, no fan of Hodges’, interrupted.
“Then that gang needs a new sign,” Soucheray said. “Because that might be one of the oldest gestures in humanity.”
KFAN’s Dan Barreiro described Kolls’ story as “garbage.” At one point Barreiro was yelling on the air, about Channel 5 blowing the story out of proportion with the help of “a couple of cop officials. That’s a pretty bleeping serious charge, in effect saying whether she intended to or not she’s trying to be sympathetic to gang members, putting cops in harm’s way like she’s picking the gang members over the cops. There may be legitimate grievances that cops have, but you’ve blown your cover and your chance to get people to listen more closely if this is the thin reed you’re going to build on to say, ‘We’ve got a serious problem in the city of Minneapolis.’”
Back on Twitter, one of my favorite comments came from @jillybee72: “I for one am proud of Mayor Betsy Hodges. Not a lot of 45-year-old white ladies have what it takes to join a gang. #pointergate”
Also on Twitter was this post from Ashley Shelby, aka @millcitywriters: “I miss old-school Twin Cities journalists — who don’t betray their alliances on Twitter by insulting viewers and critics. #pointergate”
I tweeted her back: “Who’s your Daddy?”
“A better journalist than Jay Kolls,” she responded.
Later I caught up with Ashley’s daddy, retired WCCO-TV investigative reporter and anchor Don Shelby, who was honored Saturday by the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health.
“It’s just my opinion but I think Jay, who’s a friend of mine, got caught up in a controversy, and he was worked a little bit by various sides and took a story that had marginal value on its face and tried to turn it into a bigger story. In my considered opinion, I couldn’t understand the conclusion by the police officers [including police union president] John Delmonico, a friend of mine, that this endangered the police officers. Even if it were a gang sign, I don’t believe it endangers police officers. I think there’s a political issue there but not endangerment of police officers, the position of the story, the reason the police were upset. I would say if it is a legitimate gang sign, then the only person it endangers is Betsy Hodges, by aligning herself with one gang over another. I don’t see that there is any gang sign being flashed at all. I’m not the world’s greatest expert on gang signs, but I know most of the gang signs in Minneapolis and that doesn’t seem to be one. It is a symbol, of course, but also a symbol of a person just pointing at another person. I’ve had my picture taken 100 times, doing exactly that.”
And now some real footwork
Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau was one of the judges at Saturday’s “Let’s Dance” gala for CornerHouse, an organization that supports child abuse victims.
Harteau waved when she walked by me; I did not see anybody pointing at her.
KSTP-TV anchor Jessica Miles and her dance partner Shane Haggerty won. They defeated former Vikings punter Greg Coleman, whose routine included kicks, actor T. Mychael Rambo, who had jazz hands, and former legislator Ember Reichgott Junge.
Junge was a judge at the 2013 gala, where Harteau was a dancer. As Junge will no doubt notice, to get a lot of play in my startribune.com/video when you are doing the waltz, you pretty much have to be the police chief.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on FOX 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count. Attachments are not opened.