Monday morning, local media outlet City Pages published an absolute dumpster fire of a piece of journalishm in which they quoted Minneapolis City Council Members anonymously attacking fellow Council Member Alondra Cano. If you haven't read it already, you may want to pull out an airsick bag first; it's gross.
The article, by City Pages's Cory Zurowski, seems to contain anonymous attacks from multiple council members (it doesn't say how many explicitly and it's unclear from the writing). The quotes include a council member saying they wanted to "shoot myself" because Cano was "clueless" and another saying Cano is "lazy."
If I were to try to come up with a pair of words that best hit the stereotype intersection of sexism and racism, "clueless" and "lazy" would be right up there.
Council Member Cano is the only woman of color on the Minneapolis City Council.
Beyond the misogynistic and racist stereotypes deployed, the irony of some ambiguous number of sitting city council members criticizing the professionalism of a colleague who's a woman of color by anonymously trashing her in the press is almost too much.
Council members are free to dislike Council Member Cano all they want; that's their prerogative. But as a resident of Minneapolis, it is unacceptable to me for those council members to lob stereotype-laden insults at her from behind a cloak of anonymity. That's cowardice.
It also happens to be stupid. This isn't some massive legislative body. There are only 13 city council members, meaning there are only 12 people who could be the sources for the story. So a few of us decided to start asking today.
I started tweeting council members asking them directly if they were a source for the piece. Fellow Minneapolis resident Jason Garcia started calling the offices of those without twitter accounts. NOC's Wintana Melekin started keeping a list and several others jumped in as well. Here's where we're at as of 11:00pm on Monday:
- Ward 1: Kevin Reich- confirmed he wasn't a source this evening in a Facebook message to Tony Webster after a staffer this morning told Jason Garcia by phone that the council member wasn't in today.
- Ward 2: Cam Gordon- confirmed he wasn't a source, both through a staffer on the phone to Jason Garcia and in a tweet directly to me.
- Ward 3: Jacob Frey- confirmed he wasn't a source directly to Council Member Cano and in a tweet directly to me
- Ward 4: Barbara Johnson- this one was a little murky- at first a staffer on the phone told Jason that Johnson wouldn't comment, but after putting him on hold, the staffer then said Johnson denied speaking to City Pages about this.
- Ward 5: Blong Yang- confirmed he wasn't a source. Yang's office didn't immediately give a response this morning, but this evening he denied being a source in a Facebook message to Tony Webster.
- Ward 6: Abdi Warsane- confirmed he wasn't a source in a tweet directly to me (he was the first to respond)
- Ward 7: Lisa Goodman- confirmed she wasn't a source to Council Member Cano directly
- Ward 8: Elizabeth Glidden- confirmed she wasn't a source in a call from her office to Wintana Melekin
- Ward 9: Alondra Cano- (I think it's safe to assume she didn't attack herself in the media...)
- Ward 10: Lisa Bender- confirmed she wasn't a source directly to Council Member Cano and in a tweet directly to me
- Ward 11: John Quincy- confirmed he wasn't a source directly to Council Member Cano
- Ward 12: Andrew Johnson- confirmed he wasn't a source in a tweet directly to me
- Ward 13: Linea Palmisano- confirmed she wasn't a source in a tweet directly to me
Waaaiiittt a minute....did you see what happened there? Yep, after just over 12 hours of asking, the collective We have gotten 12 of the 12 possible council members to deny they were a source (assuming Council Member Johnson's response was a denial). I may have dropped the idea of being a math major my sophomore year of college, but I'm still relatively confident that if City Pages claims to have two council members trashing Cano, but all 12 other council members say it wasn't them, something doesn't add up.
One possible explanation is that there are two or more sources on the City Council who said these things to City Pages and they're simply lying. Given the inflammatory language used and the now universal denial of using it, perhaps some more august reporting outfit could ask each of the council members about it. Repeatedly. Because sources trashing a colleague anonymously and then denying it publicly would say a lot about the character of those sources and the culture of the council.
Another possible explanation is that something went bad in the reporting process. Maybe a quote was gleaned second-hand, or came from someone who's not actually a member of the council but is connected somehow.
And of course there's the possibility, which I sincerely hope is not the case, that the quotes simply aren't true, in which case there would be some serious explaining to do.
Which gets us back to City Pages. Aside from click bait, I cannot imagine why they would run this kind of gossip anonymously.
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has a Code of Ethics for journalists. With respect to granting anonymity to sources, the code says journalists should "[i]dentify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources" and "[c]onsider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted."
I get that there are very compelling reasons why a source may need to remain anonymous. But it's hard to understand how calling a colleague "lazy" and "clueless" rises to that level.
In the article, Zurowski says one of his sources requested to remain anonymous "to maintain their working relationship." Somehow I doubt they've achieved that goal.
After spending a good part of a day on this, the whole thing is a disappointing mess. And Minneapolis deserves much better.