The Potluck

Media organizations send letter defending MinnPost Capitol reporter

By: - April 13, 2023 2:50 pm

Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

A coalition of media organizations, including the Minnesota Reformer, has sent a letter to Minnesota House DFL leadership, decrying the treatment of MinnPost Capitol reporter Peter Callaghan. 

“Journalists should not be forced to walk on eggshells for fear they will be removed or arrested by armed guards if they ask a question that someone on your staff believes is rude,” reads the letter, which was written by Leita Walker, an attorney specializing in the First Amendment for Ballard Spahr. 

Among the media organizations that signed the letter: Axios, Fox 9, KARE 11, the Mankato Free Press, the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, Minnesota Public Radio, MinnPost, the Pioneer Press, and the Star Tribune. 

A House DFL spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

The dispute between MinnPost and House leadership stems from an incident Feb. 9, during a House DFL news conference. After reporters were told they’d be allowed one more question, Callaghan responded, “No, we can take several more questions. We’re trying to understand this bill.”

Walker recounts in the letter how after the news conference, House DFL spokesman Matt Roznowski “approached Mr. Callaghan and, in front of his colleagues from other news organizations, upbraided him for his comment and threatened to call his editor. Mr. Callaghan perceived Mr. Roznowski to be visibly angry and physically aggressive and responded with a profanity.” 

House DFL responded by removing Callaghan from its press release email list, which left him in the dark as to the goings-on in the House. The move was later rescinded. 

On February 17, a House DFL official and the House director of human resources accused Callaghan of discrimination and harassment based on his objection to the end of the press conference. (Callaghan’s objection to ending the news conference, Walker writes, was both race and gender neutral.) In support of their accusation, the House officials cited a policy that applies to House members and employees, not independent media.

House leadership then sent a letter to MinnPost, asserting Callaghan’s comment during the news conference raised “serious concerns” under the House policy on discrimination and harassment. “House counsel, the House Sergeant at Arms, and Capitol Security were notified,” the letter reads.  

Walker writes that the notification could be read as a threat. 

“This sentence in your letter seems intended as a not-so-veiled threat to Mr. Callaghan and other journalists who your staff perceive as ‘out of line.’ One reasonable interpretation of your letter is that Mr. Callaghan is now under surveillance and should watch his step — a message that is alarming due to its capacity to intimidate journalists and chill the exercise of their constitutional rights.”

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children