A tough day for free speech and journalism in Rochester

Free speech and journalistic integrity both took a hit this week in Rochester, Minnesota as American Experiment attempted to host an event on public safety. As a think tank, that’s one of the main things we do. Pull together local experts, research, data and ideas and present them to the public so they can understand, learn and participate.

At noon on Tuesday, instead of putting on our planned event, part of our team was holding a press conference in the parking lot of our erstwhile venue, part of our team was at the Olmsted County Courthouse filing a breach of contract lawsuit, and the rest of us were trying to figure out what to do with a Rochester Post Bulletin story about the event that was full of errors, mischaracterizations and slander.

How did we get here?

For background, the event was supposed to be held at the Rochester Golf and Country Club (RGCC), a venue we have used numerous times over the years. Last summer, RGCC hosted one of our many stops on the Raise Our Standards tour, with over 100 people in attendance.

Tuesday’s event was announced on our website on Feb. 18, 2022, after we signed a contract with RGCC on Feb. 17. On Friday, March 11, there were around 50 people signed up to attend the lunch event, having registered and paid the $20 fee. Also on Friday, Jeff Van Nest and I conducted a phone interview with Rochester Post Bulletin reporter Molly Castle Work about the event. She asked why we chose Rochester and if the choice implied a rise in crime in Olmsted County. Jeff explained the reason for choosing Rochester was to highlight the cooperative nature of law enforcement in the area. It was a short interview.

On Sunday afternoon, American Experiment was informed that the Rochester Golf and Country Club would no longer host the event. On Monday afternoon, American Experiment filed a lawsuit against the venue for breach of contract. The contract lists the specific reasons the event can be canceled including “strikes, labor disputes, accidents, government requisitions, commodities or supplies, acts of war or acts of God.” That list does not include “the event generated controversy among Club members,” which is the reason RGCC gave the press for canceling the event.

An Olmsted County judge will now decide whether controversy qualifies as an act of war for purposes of the contract. Hopefully the judge they assign won’t be a member of the country club.  

An event on public safety turned into a press conference about free speech at the Rochester Golf and Country Club.

On Monday morning, the Rochester Post Bulletin printed the story about the event from reporter Molly Castle Work. It turns out, it’s her first real story with the paper. And it was a doozy. She introduced our policy fellow Jeff Van Nest saying, “sources interviewed by the Post Bulletin referred to Van Nest as a ‘right winger’ and attached him to a discredited conspiracy theory…”

That’s quite a description of a lawyer and 20-year FBI agent who is now a public policy fellow at Minnesota’s Think Tank. Care to back that up with some proof beyond what “sources say?” The gymnastics necessary to “attach” the issue (which involves alleged criminal behavior) to Van Nest is defamatory.

Work also interviewed the local DFL Party chair, who called the panel that included the Rochester Police Chief and the Olmsted County Sheriff a “right-wing” event. She also included a quote from Rochester’s liberal Facebook warrior Abe Sauer, who compared American Experiment to the KKK. Journalism at the Rochester Post is pretty simple — just call a few “sources” and reprint their wild claims in the paper without trying to verify the validity of the statements.

Owatonna event a smashing success

Later that night, 115 people in Owatonna got to experience a great event with the local sheriff, police chief, county attorney, and school superintendent talking about public safety in their community. The chief and sheriff talked about training programs and how they work together. The county attorney shared two stories that happened at the courthouse that day, illustrating the different approaches his office takes to keep the community safe. One was a successful jury trial against a violent offender who will now go to prison. The other was a successful diversion for a veteran who needed (and found) help in their Veterans Court. The superintendent pleaded with parents to be involved in their kids’ lives, especially as it relates to social media, which he called the bane of educators’ existence.

An expert panel in Owatonna included the police chief, sheriff, county attorney and school superintendent.

This is what the program would have looked like in Rochester if the RGCC hadn’t succumbed to liberal activists and shut down the event. Police Chief Jim Franklin said he was disappointed he was not given the “opportunity to provide local law enforcement perspective regarding public safety issues affecting our community and our response to those issues.”

The lead Rochester activist against the event, Erin Nystrom, told the Med City Beat: “We  celebrate a diversity of viewpoints and freedom of speech.”

Actually, you don’t.

The Rochester event will be rescheduled at a venue not afraid of the free exchange of ideas. Watch our Events page for more information.