Mayor says she doesn’t plan to stop pointing
By Charles Hallman
The fallout continues from a local television station’s airing a controversial story two weeks ago. The Hubbard Broadcasting-owned ABC affiliate, KSTP 5, aired a November 9 news story that claimed Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and a Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) volunteer organizer flashed gang signs at each other at a voter registration event prior to this year’s general election.
A photo showing Hodges and Navell Gordon (whose face at the time of broadcast was blurred), which the station said came from “a local law enforcement source,” subsequently went viral on social media. “The photo was snapped while Mayor Hodges and Navell were doing voter outreach work together,” explained NOC officials in their November 10 statement calling the story that drew national attention and criticism “outrageous and inflammatory.”
“Mr. Gordon is still not in a gang,” said a MN NOC spokesperson in an email statement to the MSR.
UCare, an independent nonprofit health plan, last week pulled its current and planned advertising from the station. Marketing Director Dan Ness told the MSR that the report “was an insult to our members and business partners. UCare serves a very diverse community across Minnesota and Wisconsin.” As a result, Ness added, “It would feel wrong” doing business with the station.
“We’d like an on-air apology to Navell from the station on live TV,” stated the NOC statement. Other community members also made a similar request.
“I would question their news judgment,” said Ness of the local station.
However, the local ABC affiliate, through statements posted on its website, remains firmly behind the story: “Neither Gordon nor the group was the focus of the story — Hodges was. But…others have made Gordon the focus.”
The story nonetheless “devalued” Gordon, portraying him as “a scary Black guy” by suggesting that he is a gang member, says National Public Radio Media Critic Eric Deggans. During a November 13 Minnesota Public Radio pre-taped broadcast at the University of St. Thomas, Deggans pointed out the report “was one toxic ball of all kinds of dysfunction, from bad journalism to racial themes that the people created the story may not have been aware that they were invoking.”
Later, when a woman in the audience asked the reporter what can be done Deggens responded, “There’s no official mechanism for reprimanding reporters beyond trying to convince their employer to do it. Journalists aren’t licensed.”
“Clearly the behavior of the reporter was irresponsible,” said Luz Maria Frias, the Minneapolis Foundation’s community impact vice president, who also attended last week’s taping, which was aired on MPR earlier this week. The Society of
Professional Journalists (SPJ) also strongly criticized the station’s use of “questionable evidence.”
“How is the hand gesture a ‘known’ gang sign?” asked Andrew Seaman on the SPJ “Code Words” blog. “A simple Internet search does not show that hand gesture as the sign of any large gang.”
Mayor Hodges wrote on her blog last week in response to the photo of her and Gordon and the criticism she has received from some local police and the head of the Minneapolis police union saying it constituted poor judgment on her part, “I’m not going to stop pointing. It is the earliest form of human communication.”
“It probably was poor judgment on her part,” says Rev. William Smith, pastor of Lily of the Valley AME Church, on the photo. “I felt bad because it reflected poorly on the office. I also didn’t feel good about how it reflected on the guy [Gordon] she was with.”
“I felt that there were a lot of basic journalism missteps in the story,” said Deggans. “There is a thin line between calling something ‘gang culture’ and connecting it to Black culture, the fact that the only authoritative voices in the story are White people [and] the only Black person in the story is treated as this anonymous scary-looking other.”
“The media too often will portray people of color — particularly Blacks and Latinos — as less than reputable, less than human, and really perpetuate the stereotypes…rather than normalize us,” said Frias.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.