I have an update to the kerfuffle over a news report claiming that Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley was dodging reporters looking to ask questions about his affair, and it turns out that Wrigley did offer an interview though not necessarily in the medium requested.
Last night TV news station Valley News Live ran a story claiming that Wrigley had “dodged media questions about his affair and other things” after they tried to interview him at an event in Fargo. In response to that post, former Governor Ed Schafer (who is also a close friend of Wrigley’s) accused Valley News Live of “blatantly false” reporting.
The basis for Schafer’s criticism is his contention that VNL did not send a reporter to an event Wrigley was at in Grand Forks where they would have had another opportunity to question him. Valley News Live is based in Fargo but does have a reporter in Grand Forks.
This morning I spoke with VNL news director Ike Walker about Schafer’s accusations. He said he did not have a reporter at the Grand Forks event.
“We were never given a time or a guarantee that Drew would talk to us,” Walker told me in an email.
“As a matter of fact we asked Jeff Zent several times to give us the time and give us the place where we can meet him,” Walker said in a later phone interview. “He was very adamant that he wasn’t going to do that and that the Lt. Governor was not going to do an on-camera interview.”
Walker did admit, however, that an interview was offered.
“He offered up a phone interview,” Walker said. “I said no, this is television a visual medium and he wouldn’t go for it.”
Valley News Live did not mention the offered phone interview in their report which as I write this was last updated at 7:10pm yesterday evening.
Wrigley was scheduled to be at another event in Fargo today, but Walker said they didn’t send a reporter to that event either.
“No as a matter of fact I tried calling Jeff yesterday and I said look we understand the Lt. Governor is supposed to be speaking at this event in Fargo,” Walker told me. “He doesn’t appear on the official agenda. He wouldn’t give us that information.”
Walker also said that Zent, who is a state employee, did not want to handle inquiries about Wrigley’s personal life or his potential campaign for governor and directed those inquiries to Pat Finken, president of the Odney advertising firm who often handles public relations work for political figures.
Walker told me he did not call Finken, something Finken himself confirmed.
“The story stands. What I’ve said stands,” Walker told me. “Any time the Lt. Governor would like to stand in front of the camera and answer some questions I’d be more than happy to talk to him.”
I think Valley News Live has every right to ask Wrigley more questions about the affair, and I say that as someone who was among the first to report the affair and has been pretty tough on Wrigley in my commentary. But I also think that, were I in VNL’s shoes, I would have accepted the phone interview while noting that an on-camera interview had been requested. Or, at the very least, I would have mentioned that a phone interview was offered. Because if you’re going to say a candidate is dodging you, the fact of an offered phone interview needs to be part of that story.
I also would have sent a reporter to the Grand Forks event and/or to the Fargo event today. And I would have called Finken.
What we have from Valley News Live is a claim that Wrigley is dodging questions because he declined an on-camera interview at one public event. I think VNL’s case would have been stronger if they had Wrigley declining questions at more than one event, and it certainly would be stronger if Wrigley hadn’t actually offered a phone interview.
I get that it’s television, and that they prefer to get people on camera, and that politicians shouldn’t necessarily get to control the medium. But stil, an interview was offered, and that should have been at least mentioned by VNL.
When I first wrote about this incident, taking VNL’s initial report at face value, I was very critical of Wrigley for avoiding the questions. I would have felt very differently about the story had the fact of the offered phone interview been included in the original report.
Click here to read/watch VNL’s original report if you missed it.
UPDATE: Jeff Zent called me this afternoon to respond to Walker’s comments published above. He disputes much of what Walker says.
Zent addressed Walker’s claim that the governor’s office wouldn’t provide the location of the Grand Forks event.
“He asked what Drew’s schedule was yesterday for the rest of the day,” Zent told me. “I did tell Ike Walker that Drew was leaving for Grand Forks for the judge’s investiture. I didn’t give him the address, but he’s in the news business and I was pretty sure he could figure it out.”
Zent also addressed Walker’s claim that the governor’s office wouldn’t provide details about Wrigley’s event today.
“He told you I adamantly refused to tell him about Drew’s schedule today. Well if you read your column you can see the absurdity of that yourself,” Zent said. “He told me himself that Drew was speaking at the workforce development conference today. He told me they would ‘hunt him down’. Why would I need to tell him about the conference when he told me about it?”
“This guy doesn’t seem to get it straight,” Zent added. “He’s making this picture that I’m withholding information about the schedule and it’s just not true. He’s talking about hunting the Lt. Governor down. Why didn’t they have a reporter in Grand Forks? Why didn’t they have a reporter in Fargo? If he’s so bent out of shape because we wouldn’t allow access, where were they this morning or yesterday?”