Rochester Post Bulletin ‘unconditionally retracts’ inaccurate articles

There’s an old adage about never picking a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel, but sometimes the fight is warranted. That was the case when the Rochester Post Bulletin ran two articles in two days that were so full of “fake news” that we had to demand a retraction.

Thankfully, the newspaper complied with our request and ran a rare front-page retraction in today’s paper.

The Post Bulletin electronically published articles on March 14 (“Are ‘crime wave’ claims out of place in Rochester?”) and March 15 (“Lawsuit filed after Center of the American Experiment event canceled”), which contained a material factual inaccuracy concerning Mr. Jeffrey Van Nest, a 20-year FBI veteran and current policy fellow for Center of the American Experiment (CAE). The articles inaccurately linked Mr. Van Nest to a discredited conspiracy theory with which he has no connection. The March 14 article also included a subheading and a quote from a third party which improperly attributed non-mainstream policy views to Mr. Van Nest and a similarity between Mr. Van Nest and a racist political organization. The Post Bulletin regrets this inaccuracy and these portrayals and unconditionally retracts them in full.

The March 14 article’s subheading and quote also attribute non-mainstream policy views to the Center of the American Experiment and contain an implicit comparison between CAE and the same racist organization. To the extent this subheading and this quote could be interpreted as suggesting that CAE holds policy views out of the mainstream, or that the CAE event was in any away comparable to that racist organization’s meetings, those interpretations are unequivocally false. As noted above, the Post Bulletin unconditionally retracts these portrayals.

The articles were about American Experiment’s Crime Crisis event, which was scheduled for March 15 at the Rochester Golf and Country Club and was eventually canceled when the venue breached their contract with American Experiment.

Post Bulletin reporter Molly Castle Work called American Experiment Policy Fellow Jeff Van Nest on Friday, March 11 and conducted a phone interview about the event. She asked why we chose Rochester and if the choice implied a rise in crime in Olmsted County. Jeff explained that the reason for choosing Rochester was to highlight the cooperative nature of law enforcement in the area. It was a short interview.

On Monday, March 14, the Post Bulletin printed the story about the event from reporter Molly Castle Work. It turns out, it was her first real story with the paper. And it was a doozy. She introduced 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.

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 a notoriously racist organization.

After the second article appeared on Tuesday, March 15 (written by reporter Emily Cutts), American Experiment staff began the process of demanding a retraction from the paper. Online versions of the story were corrected that evening and today’s retraction is the result of back-and-forth discussions with the paper since then.

A front-page retraction from a major newspaper in Minnesota is very rare. In the Wild West of social media attacks, it’s nice to see a news organization own up to their mistakes and print a serious retraction. Hopefully the Post Bulletin and other Minnesota news outlets will think twice before printing outrageous allegations that can harm the reputations of good people and organizations.