Notes on the Chauvin leaks

Minnesota federal district court Judge Patrick Schiltz has ordered an investigation of apparent leaks of grand jury information to the New York Times and the Star Tribune. I posted his five-page order here yesterday. The subject is serious. Moreover, knowing Judge Schiltz, I think he will treat it with the seriousness his order suggests it deserves.

The Star Tribune published Rochelle Olson’s May 21 story on the order without more. It is a story in which the Star Tribune itself is a player. Reporter Andy Mannix’s source for the underlying story is highly likely guilty of serious professional misconduct, though one would have no idea from Mannix’s April 29 story.

The lack of follow-up is understandable insofar as the Star Tribune is a protagonist and an understanding of its performance places it in a light that is not altogether flattering. One might want more, but more will not be forthcoming on its initiative. I intend to focus my own attention on it in notes for which I can find an occasion.

Olson’s story quotes Star Tribune managing editor Suki Dardarian: “I have no comment on the court’s actions, but I will say that the Star Tribune stands resolutely behind its pledge not to reveal the identities of anonymous sources.” That’s it. I wrote Dardarian on Monday afternoon:

Dear Ms. Dardarian: I write for the site Power Line and have been covering the Chauvin prosecution and related cases. I have written a lot about the fair trial issues. I was struck by the jaunty tone of Andy Mannix’s April 29 story that is part of the investigation undertaken by Judge Schiltz.

News of the planned indictment reported in Mannix’s story relied on one unnamed source (“a source said”) with no affiliation even hinted. No reason for protecting the source’s anonymity was given in the story. Judge Schiltz’s show-cause order asserts that Mannix’s story provides reason to believe that “matter[s] occurring before the grand jury” were disclosed in violation of Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e). But for Judge Schiltz’s show-cause order, your readers would have no idea of the professional misconduct and possible contempt of court underlying the leak.

Your quoted statement in Rochelle Olson’s story relates solely to the Star Tribune’s commitment to protect its sources. The interests protected by grand jury secrecy bear in part on the rights of third parties that Mannix’s Star Tribune story arguably compromised. The federal civil rights indictment was bound to become public in short order in any event. I wonder what public purpose the story served and how your editorial policies take them into account.

I intend to write about this tomorrow. I would appreciate any comment you may have for public consumption.

Thank you for your courtesies.

I may be mistaken in my comments and I can think of several appropriate responses Dardarian might have made to my inquiry. As anticipated, however, I have received no response from Dardarian.

I also wrote Tasha Zerna, the spokesman for the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota. I asked her if she had a statement on Judge Schiltz’s order. Unlike Dardarian, she responded. She wrote:

Hi Scott,
Thanks for your email. I will decline to comment on the order.
Regards,
Tasha

I would have expected at least a statement of intended cooperation, but I appreciate the response.

Responses