Of suckers and sucker punches

I think that Saturday’s Star Tribune story by Paul McEnroe and Rochelle Olson on the expunged 1995 arrest of Republican Fifth District congressional candidate Alan Fine is a prime example of gutter journalism. I called Rochelle Olson to ask her a few questions about the story tonight and I want to point out a few anomalies in the story.
McEnroe and Olson state: “The Star Tribune learned of the arrest in a routine records check after Fine won the Republican endorsement in May.” I asked Olson how they could learn of an expunged arrest through a routine records check. I don’t think they could; Olson refused to answer the question.
Yesterday the Fine campaign issued a press release on the Star Tribune story. From the press release and from conversations with knowledgeable parties today, I understand that Alan Fine met with Star Tribune reporter Eric Black in May and July and discussed the 1995 arrest at length. Fine showed Black copies of documents from Fine’s divorce that bore on the underlying incident as well as additional documents involving his ex-wife’s subsequent history of assault. The judge who presided over Fine’s divorce apparently did not credit the allegations of Fine’s ex-wife concerning the incident; Fine was awarded the custody of his son in the divorce.
Black wrote no story concerning the arrest and the Star Tribune obviously either did not find it credible or did not find it newsworthy at the time. McEnroe and Olson state that they obtained “a record detailing the arrest two weeks ago” — apparently the police record of the expunged arrest. If an attorney or judge provided the record to the Star Tribune in violation of the expungement order, I think the attorney or judge would at the least be guilty of sanctionable professional misconduct. I asked Olson if she didn’t think that would make an interesting story. She refused to answer.
In her message below, Kate Parry implies that the Star Tribune has “corroborated” the abuse charge for which Fine was arrested, but in fact the Star Tribune simply rehashes it. The story adds nothing to the fact of the arrest itself, which Kate Parry takes to be evidence of the charge. It does not mention that the allegation appears to have been in issue before the divorce court — thus the affidavit of Fine’s ex-father-in-law (Judge) Thomas Wexler referred to in the story — or that the divorce court does not appear to have credited it.
What changed between May and October to make the story of Fine’s expunged arrest newsworthy? McEnroe and Olson imply it is their recent acquisition of the arrest record itself that has made the story newsworthy. In fact, however, the Star Tribune story appears not to add anything to what was known to the Star Tribune last May. A better clue to what made the story of interest to the Star Tribune at this time can be taken from its conclusion:

After state Rep. Keith Ellison won the DFL nomination, Fine launched a persistent attack on his character, focusing on his past ties to the Nation of Islam. Fine has repeatedly said “character matters.”

With its story on Alan Fine’s eleven-year-old expunged arrest, the Star Tribune is administering punishment to Alan Fine for raising the issue of Keith Ellison’s extensive ties to the Nation of Islam. The Star Tribune has not only failed to report Ellison’s extensive ties to the Nation of Islam, it has also reported Ellison’s misrepresentations concerning them as facts. This is the circumstance that goes a long way toward explaining the animus on display in McEnroe and Olson’s incredibly shabby story.
CORRECTION: In 1996 Fine’s wife was awarded full physical custody and Fine was awarded joint legal custody of their son. Based on a review of documents provided to me, I have ascertained that Fine’s ex-wife was herself subsequently charged with domestic assaults involving her boyfriend in one incident and Alan Fine’s son in another incident in July and November 2003.
Fine was granted temporary full physical custody of his son in 2003 as a result of the incident betweem his ex-wife and her boyfriend and a child protection order was issued prohibiting the ex-wife from “acts of domestic abuse against the child.” The November 2003 incident resulted in a criminal charge against Fine’s ex-wife for assault and for violation of the protection order; the November 2003 incident also resulted in a subsequent court order limiting his ex-wife to visitation only under supervision.
At the current time Fine has joint physical and legal custody and his son primarily resides with Fine under a court order entered in 2004. In short, I believe that the Star Tribune left so many relevant facts out of the story that it cannot withstand scrutiny.
ADDENDUM: The Star Tribune story ot this past Sunday does not cite a single fact other than the word of Fine’s ex-wife to support the assault charge against Fine; the only physical evidence cited from the police report fails to support the assault charge against Fine. In an April 2004 court order involving the divorce of the ex-wife’s twin sister, Fine’s ex-wife was prohibited from seeing her niece without supervision “because of alleged incidents of domestic violence.” For some reason the Star Tribune story leaves out all evidence suggesting that Fine’s ex-wife is a woman with a documented history of violence and anger management isssues.

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