TV stations have never been very good at covering the Minneapolis police.
In 2014, in what Vanity Fair dubbed as “…the Most Pathetic News Story of the Week,” a retired police officer told KSTP that then-Mayor Betsy Hodges flashed gang signs in a picture with a black constituent. The picture? A photo of the two standing with each other, one arm over each other’s shoulder, pointing at each other. The pointer finger was a “gang sign,” the officer said.
This week, WCCO publicly cemented its own dishonesty with a conflict of interest. In a profile of outgoing Minneapolis Police Union head, Lt. Bob Kroll, the Star Tribune’s Libor Jany noted a curious fact: Kroll is married to WCCO-TV anchor and reporter Liz Collin. Their relationship has not formally been disclosed to the public.
Collin has reported on a number of stories related to the Minneapolis police. According to a January 2018 compilation of tweets made by local freelance reporter Becky Zosia Dernbach, Dernbach found out about their relationship in June 2017.
The list of stories that Collin has reported is unnerving, given her relationship to one of the most powerful and public police officers in the state.
In June of 2017, Collin reported on the legal team of Jeronimo Yanez, a St. Anthony Police Officer who was acquitted of his manslaughter charges in the death of Philando Castile. Collin described how a legal defense fund from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association was paying for Yanez’s lawyers. The MPPOA is separate from Kroll and Yanez’s union, but two Minneapolis police officers sit on its board of directors. Kroll later defended a Minneapolis police officer in the media in a similar case to Yanez's.
In perhaps a more flagrant conflict of interest story, Collin reported a "look back" on Janee Harteau's five-year stay as the chief of Minneapolis police. Harteau had been requested to resign by Mayor Hodges, who one year earlier, called out Kroll for “jackass remarks.” Kroll even started selling “#jackass” t-shirts. Somehow, despite this complex web of connections, WCCO allowed Collin to give the recap on what Harteau’s tenure was like.
None of these articles contain any notices about conflicts of interest, yet they were on TV and have sat online since.
When the Star Tribune’s Jany asked Kroll about his marriage, Kroll told him that “...he’d no longer talk to the Star Tribune if it reported they were married.” This is funny because Kroll is a loud guy who loves the spotlight. He frequently butts heads publicly with mayors and blabbers to a national audience on Fox News. He even stood on stage with President Donald Trump at his rally in Minneapolis.
This kind of conduct contrasts with another recent conflict of interest case in Minnesota journalism.
In January 2018, MPR learned that the host of one of its popular weekday morning shows Tom Weber was in a relationship with then-DFL state representative and candidate for lieutenant governor Peggy Flanagan.
To avoid a conflict of interest, MPR took Weber’s show away from him and reassigned him to work that did not involve politics. A couple of months later, Weber left MPR. As City Pages put it in 2018, “In the #MeToo era, it’s nice to see a prominent media figure lose his on-air gig for a good reason. The best one: He fell in love.”
But, Collin and Kroll were never upfront with the public about their relationship, even though both are prominent figures in Minnesota media. This is in opposition to what public journalism is about. Journalists and public officials can marry whoever they want, but they should be transparent with the public. Weber and MPR did the right thing. Collin and WCCO haven't.