Media access in one state: Notes (5)

The Minnesota Department of Health originally included me in its daily press briefings upon my request from April 11 to April 27. They sent me notices with the conference call call-in information, they took my questions by email, and they provided written responses. My questions focused on the nursing home crisis implicit in the data. I wondered why Governor Walz had instituted a statewide shutdown when the crisis involved a limited at-risk population.

On April 27 I submitted this question by email following the briefing: “Referring to the 286 total deaths to date, [I note that] every decedent under age 70 has died in long-term care or similar setting. The youngest person to die outside long-term care was in his 70’s. Why is it necessary to close the schools and shut down the state to protect the at-risk population?” I posted MDH press officer Doug Schultz’s response to my question verbatim in part 24 of my Coronavirus in one state series.

The Department of Health excluded me from the daily briefings on April 27 without any explanation to me. MDH press officers have failed to respond to any of my messages asking why they have cut me off. Nothing. Zip. Nada. The sound of silence.

On May 4 I filed a Minnesota Data Practices Act request with Governor Walz and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm seeking documents bearing on my exclusion from the daily briefings. On May 19 I received Governor Walz’s response to my Data Practices Act request. I have embedded it below via Scribd.

It is completely unilluminating except in one respect. On page 8 MDH press officer Michael Schommer forwards my question (the one quoted above) to Jeremy Drucker and Emmalynn Bauer in Governor Walz’s office. Schommer’s message reads: “Flagging as an FYI for future discussion.”

I draw the following inferences. My exclusion from the MDH briefings comes after consultation with Governor Walz’s office. They didn’t like the question(s) I was asking or my commentary on their answers. They knew not to put the reason for my exclusion in writing and have withheld it from me because it is unflattering to Governor Walz. It would not make him look good.

My exclusion from the daily MDH press briefings goes right to the door of Governor Walz. We see it here in documentary form. The players are careful to keep the substance of their deliberations oral. They don’t want anyone looking over their shoulder. They think they are quite clever, and perhaps they are.

We shall see how Judge Frank assesses this in the lawsuit I brought against Schommer and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm following my receipt of the response to the Data Practices Act request. At the hearing on my lawsuit this past Thursday morning, Assistant Attorney General Oliver Larson assured Judge Frank that there is nothing to see here; it is all routine.

Responsive Data Redacted by Scott Johnson on Scribd