Politics in Minnesota: MnDOT Suffering Under Strib Attack

Whoa. Sarah Janecek’s Politics in Minnesota newsletter sure lobbed one into the Strib newsroom late Friday. In a Weekly Report item entitled “MnDOT Under Seige: The Star Tribune’s Agenda,” Janecek writes that MnDOT personnel are getting pretty fed up with certain pushy, expletive-spewing Strib reporters.

According to an email sent by a MnDOT mucky-muck to an unnamed GOP legislator and passed along to Janecek, agency employees “have been subjected to professional and unnecessarily harsh name-calling, hostile phone conversations and phone and email harassment. MnDOT employees have come to me with reports of enduring profanity in phone conversationsand having their professional and personal integrity questioned.” Among other charges leveled: When MnDOT employees did grant interviews and provide information, “they feel their work has been mischaracterized in print and facts have been disregarded in lieu of predetermined story lines.”

In particular, according to Janecek, employees singled out Strib investigative team members Tony Kennedy and Paul McEnroe as particularly egregious offenders in the offensive language category, uttering phrases like “bullshit,” “you’re lying” and “you’re stonewalling.”

MnDOT has been under investigation on so many occasions by the Star Tribune that I wonder why its employees aren’t more desensitized by now to the journalistic speculum. However, another part of me sympathizes with MnDOT worker bees.

Kennedy and McEnroe are not the warm and fuzzy feature writers the paper uses to staff the booth at the State Fair or provide whimsical insight into the paper at Rotary Club luncheons. No, Kennedy and McEnroe are the baying hounds from Hell that are released from their heavy chain link kennels by leather-gloved handlers when the prisoners escape.

Thinking of them working a story brings to mind the description given Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator: “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever.”

That’s McEnroe and Kennedy. Especially McEnroe. This is the man the paper has sent to cover two wars—and not as an “embedded” correspondent. When rookie Minnesota Viking Dimitrius Underwood went AWOL to Philadelphia in 1999, McEnroe was dispatched with a pocketful of cash and orders to find him in that city, with no other information. He did. McEnroe is relentless. So is Kennedy—ask Northwest Airlines, which he covered like a blanket when assigned to that beat.

That’s good news for Strib management, which has been reaping the benefits of their exhaustive, scoop-filled bridge collapse reporting and is gearing up to nominate the pair in all sorts of Pulitzer categories, according to staffers. The bad news is, when you unleash the dogs, sometimes people get bitten.

In this case, according to Janecek’s report, the victims are MnDOT employees who are either potty-mouth adverse or just plain tired of being—pardon the pun—hounded by the pair. Is that a crime? Should the Stribsters be sent to journalistic charm school for a refresher course? It’s doubtful the paper will pay much attention to the PIM report, other than to write it off as political polemic.

Neither McEnroe nor Kennedy responded Friday afternoon to an email containing the PIM story. Kennedy, reached at home Sunday night, seemed more poodle than pit bull. He said he hadn’t received the email, wasn’t aware of the PIM report and didn’t want to hear about it. "I work hard during the week; I don’t want to deal with anything on the weekends," said the reporter, who is well known for making calls at any time, day or night (or weekend), when he’s working on a story. "I’ll deal with it Monday, if I have to deal with it at all.

Of course, I was tempted to yell at him, “Stop stonewalling me with that bullshit!” but I guess he wouldn’t have gotten the joke.

However, the part of Janecek’s story that did gave me pause involved claims that story coordination at the Strib seems so poor that everybody and their mother at the paper appears to be asking for the same documents, which is making for costly extra work at MnDOT, an agency funded by tax dollars.

That may be the point where this story rises above the partisan pool.