A question for Jeremy Olson

Yesterday in part 76 of my never-ending series following COVID-19 in Minnesota, I wrote about Walz executive order number 20-81 regarding masks. The numbering indicates that it is Walz’s eighty-first executive order of 2020. We entered the era of one-man rule in Minnesota when Walz first declared a peacetime emergency in executive order 20-01 on March 13.

One-man rule is supposed to be a short-time affair, but that’s not how it’s working out. It’s a long, long way to temporary.

At his press conference announcing the executive order this past Wednesday, Governor Walz downplayed its enforcement provisions, as did the Department of Health in its summary. One has to read the enforcement provisions of the order in paragraph 20 on pages 13-14 of the 15-page order to understand the in terrorem effect that is intended. It’s not Minnesota nice.

The order was of course big news. Walz’s press conference constituted another display of the old-fashioned used-car salesmanship he displays in these situation. The long Star Tribune page-one story on the order by Torey Van Oot and Pulitzer Prize-winning health care reporter Jeremey Olson comported with Walz’s themes. Van Oot and Olson also had the assistance of a third reporter on the story. On enforcement, the story simply stated:

Individuals who flout the order could face petty misdemeanor fines of up to $100. Businesses that fail to comply could face misdemeanor fines of up to $1,000. Walz said the focus will be on compliance, not enforcement, and that he wants to see officers “handing out masks, not tickets.”

“We’re not trying to make anyone a criminal,” he said. “We’re trying to educate and get people to buy into this.”

Yet in addition to the $1,000 fine authorized in paragraph 20 of the order, businesses are also subject to criminal penalties including 90-days in jail for any owner, manager, or supervisor who violates the order. Paragraph 20 also separately authorizes Minnesota Attorney General and former Nation of Islam hustler Keith Ellison to seek “civil penalties up to $25,000 per occurrence from businesses” along with injunctive relief.

Olson left all this out of his article. I wrote Olson early yesterday morning to ask if he had actually read the order:

Dear Mr. Olson: I have been following your reporting as I cover events in Minnesota for Power Line. I wonder if you actually read the new Walz executive order before writing your long story with Torey Van Oot [with] further assistance from a third reporter today. I find it hard to believe you have.

The enforcement provision includes possible jail time up to 90 days for individual business managers and supervisors and another provision authorizing Ellison to seek a fin[e] of up to $25,000 per occurrence. Instead, you leave all this out in the two paragraphs [quoted above] and make Walz sound like Rodney King asking for us all to get along. Why would you omit that in a long page-one story like this one?

Scott Johnson

As of this morning I haven’t heard back from Olson.

UPDATE: A reader forwards us an email response from Olson. Olson’s message implies that he had read the order but intentionally omitted any mention of the imprisonment provision because of the unlikelihood of enforcement. He didn’t say anything about the $25,000 civil penalty the order also authorizes Ellison to seek. Olson wrote our reader:

Speeders can get 90 days in jail, too, but does that happen? You make a fair point that this could have (should have?) been included in the story. But for all practical purposes, that max punishment is unlikely to happen.

That said, this was only one story in an ongoing narrative. And if it does seem like these max penalties are going to come into play, I will be sure to notify the public. The New Mexico governor kind of threw down a few days ago with warnings of fines being handed out for mask scofflaws. If I get any sense of that kind of punitive approach in Minnesota, I will be writing about it for sure.

I’d welcome your eyes and ears on that front. And I do appreciate your feedback. Thanks.

Inferring that he hadn’t read the order, I thought I had given Olson the benefit of the doubt. Walz to the contrary notwithstanding, my point was in part the in terrorem effect of these provisions. I don’t understand how a competent reporter could knowingly omit these provisions in the context of the Star Tribune story on the order.

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