Kysylyczyn v. Minnesota Law & Politics
Case #1650 / Hearing #137
June 17, 2004
Council upholds complaints by former mayor of Roseville
against Law & Politics magazine
The Minnesota News Council today upheld two complaints against Law & Politics magazine by the former mayor of Roseville, John Kysylyczyn.
He complained that the magazineís June/July 2003 article "The Day the Strippers Tried to Take Over City Hall," a summary of bizarre political disputes in three Twin Cities suburbs, was unfair because it reported ethics charges against him without allowing him or his attorneys to tell their side of the story. Several News Council members said they had a hard time deciding the case because Law & Politics operates not as a newspaper with well established journalistic standards, but as a niche publication whose audience understands its irreverence and humor.
Editor Steve Kaplan said the story was designed as a roundup that depended upon clippings from newspapers of stories much of its audience would have remembered.
But Council member Jon Austin, a public relations counselor, said that when Law & Politics went beyond those clippings and quoted new sources in its story, it took on the responsibility to be fair and balanced. The Council voted 7-3 that the magazine should have included the mayorís views.
Kaplan told the News Council that since this complaint arose he has created a new editorial position: fact checker.
"The mayor should have been contacted," said Kaplan. "I assumed he had been, he wasnít, and thatís a shame. If we were inaccurate, thatís a very serious matter. We did make two corrections. While we do not want to be unfair, I do not believe we were inaccurate in describing the ways the mayor acted."
Kysylyczyn, who served as mayor from 2000-2004, was a lightning rod for controversy. He was charged with a breach of ethics for allegedly having lobbied the legislature for tax breaks for developers who were suing Roseville. He denied it; the cityís ethics commission voted down the charges; and he filed a claim for reimbursement of $8,000 in expenses for defending himself.
Kaplan said that what seemed to him to be a political circus in Roseville prompted him to commission the article, which he said exemplified the magazineís style: "We mix gravity and levity."
"Even if you publish that kind of story," said Council member Reed Anfinson, editor/publisher of the Swift County Monitor-News in Benson, "does it give you the right to paint someone in a false light? I get riled when someone writes that small-town politics is funny. Iím from Benson, where we have under 3,500 people, and I can tell you, politics there arenít funny."
Pat Berg, a journalism teacher at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, said, "I donít want to come out against outrageous publication. Itís the lifeblood of our democracy. If youíre the mayor, you expect to get nicked once in a while, if you swim with the sharks."
Kysylyczyn objected to the articleís stating things as fact without documentation or attribution. He said the magazineís correction of that matter did not go far enough, and the Council agreed with him, 6-4.
Editor Kaplan said that Law & Politics offered to publish a letter from Kysylyczyn on its web site and to direct readers to it from the corrections column in the print edition. Kysylyczyn said he declined the offer because he sensed that the readers of the print and online versions of the magazine were different.
Kaplan said that the magazine distributes 17,000 copies free to lawyers and business people and sells 600 on newsstands.
Kysylyczyn said he was hurt that members of the public might have seen the article on a coffee table in his lawyerís office and read a one-sided story.
Vicki Gowler, executive editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and Ben Taylor, vice president for communications of the Star Tribune, agreed that Law & politics should be transparent in presenting stories, by announcing the magazineís standard and by labeling articles clearly for what they are.
"We separate types of stories by use of pictures, graphics, the cover," said Kaplan. "We signal to our audience that weíre having fun."
Gowler said, "Is there enough shared understanding among the readers? I thought [the storyís] underpinning was solid, [but] I will read this publication differently in the future. What did you owe the readers? Itís confusing, but not necessarily wrong if readers know what youíre doing."
Anfinson said he thought a story like the one in Law & Politics, appearing in an influential publication aimed at an influential audience, could ruin a young manís political career.
The News Council is an independent agency founded in 1970 to promote fair, vigorous and trusted journalism. Half its voting members are journalists, half lay persons. All represent only themselves. Half the complaints heard have been upheld, half denied.
©Minnesota News Council, 2002 - all rights reserved