MinnPost skewered by commenters over conflict of interest controversy

Categories: Media beefs
Dornfeld, reporting for MinnPost, criticized MPR's lawsuit against the Met Council despite just coming off the Met Council's payroll last year.
Quite the controversy developed on normally staid MinnPost yesterday.

The kerfuffle was over a piece entitled, "How MPR's legal misadventure is driving up the cost of LRT line," written by Steven Dornfeld. Framed as a straight news piece, it summarizes MPR's now-settled lawsuit against the Met Council in response to concerns LRT construction could negatively impact MPR's studios, points out a variety of reasons why "MPR's case was particularly weak," and details how the legal wrangling may have added close to a million dollars to the Central Corridor project cost.

But in the version of the piece initially published, MinnPost editors didn't disclose that Dornfeld worked from 2003 until last year as the Met Council's director of public affairs, meaning he clearly isn't in a position to write a conflict of interest-free news piece on the legal battle between MPR and his former employer.

As comments criticizing the lack of disclosure mounted, MinnPost editors went back and added this paragraph: "(Disclosure: From 2003 to 2011, I was the Metropolitan Council's director of public affairs. See my full professional bio here.)"

Here's what some commenters said about MinnPost's ex post facto disclosure:
MinnPost comment 1.jpg
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The backlash finally prompted Dornfeld to respond:
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But his response didn't go far enough for some:
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Commenters also skewered Dornfeld for snarkily writing that MPR's "annual 'pledge weeks' seem to roll around as frequently as Red Cross blood drives and often sound just as desperate" when his article sat right under a prominent banner imploring readers to "support MinnPost" with donations. Pot, meet kettle.

A thoughtful approach to news? Not in this case.

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Bob Collins
Bob Collins

You missed -- as did Dornfeld in his reply -- a major point. He intimates that the cost of LRT is being "driven up" by the expenses of having to , in this case, defend the lack of engineering data on the part of the Met Council prior to MPR's insistence that there be some. But while he provides some numbers, he doesn't provide any evidence that the cost is being "driven up." I asked him in the comments section, for example, how the cost can be "driven up" when the original cost and budget had a contingency in it just for the unplanned expenses. If memory serves. I think about $30 million went to the mess at the U. From his numbers, something like $1 million was spent on the 10th St to 7th St mess, which leaves a LOT of money in that contingency fund UNLESS all of it is gone... in which case Dornfeld should be writing about where it all went.

Look, everybody gets that Dornfeld and the Met Council and MPR exchanged harsh words here and that as PR boss for the MetCouncil, it was Dornfeld's job to be the architect of a strategy that painted MPR as anti-LRT wasting money.

Doing so was a lot easier than explaining to people why when you go bulldozing down University Avenue, and take a right into the heart of downtown Saint Paul, you shouldn't expect the people who've invested millions of dollars in their locations for the last 40 years to simply stand by and trust a government agency not to ruin that investment.

Dornfeld doesn't like MPR's pledge drives? That's his choice, of course. I work at the joint and I'm as proud as can be that one thing MPR would never do is assign a former agency flak with a direct hand in the public presentation of its side to write a story that just happens to perpetuate that strategy.

I don't care how long Dornfeld was at the Strib. It's not a get-out-jail card for bad ethics.


Ha... yeah the City Pages should do that with all the music news they post. 


I hate the word "kerfuffle," and recently it seems to be popping up all over.

Note: In the sake of full disclosure, you should know I used to be the Ruckus Coordinator at Hullabaloo Enterprises


Alannis Morisette could write a song about this blog post!

Mark Gisleson
Mark Gisleson

Worth noting. Now that you've pointed this out, I'd love to see CP start identifying all the conflicts-of-interest in how the Strib identifies their guest op-ed authors.


I appreciate your thoughtful comment, Bob. I took note of your bafflement about the unplanned expenses funds when reading Dornfeld's original MinnPost piece, and it's something I'm keeping in mind. For the sake of this post, however, I chose just to focus on the conflict of interest controversy.

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