MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota News Council on Thursday dismissed five complaints by the Minnesota Department of Transportation against the Star Tribune of Minneapolis over a story about the handling of some road construction contracts.
The complaints arose from a March 15, front-page article headlined "MnDOT contracts called illegal." MnDOT said the story unfairly implied a widespread pattern of wrongdoing in the department.
The story focused on criticism by some Department of Administration officials about contracts awarded without competitive bids. At the news council hearing, MnDOT Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg said the Star Tribune's report relied too heavily on Department of Administration sources. Those sources, he said, are interested in protecting their ability to exercise control over MnDOT contracts.
For several years, the Legislature has wrestled with whether the Department of Administration should continue to have oversight on MnDOT contract decisions.
Tinklenberg also said the story emphasized illegal acts that he said never occurred rather than focusing on a dispute between state agencies over standards for awarding contracts.
Chris Ison, projects editor at the Star Tribune, defended the tone and conclusions of the story to the News Council. He noted the paper's reporters discussed the allegations with MnDOT several times well in advance of publication.
Most of the News Council's votes on the five complaints were decided unanimously in favor of the newspaper. The closest vote involved a complaint that the Star Tribune failed to report that an independent audit concluded MnDOT had done nothing wrong. The council rejected the complaint on an 8-4 vote.
Vicki Gowler, editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and member of the News Council, said she agreed with MnDOT's challenge of the Star Tribune's headline. In controversies, she said her paper tries to impart both views in a headline.
The Minnesota News Council is an independent watchdog group that holds public hearings on complaints about news coverage. It is comprised of people who work for news organizations and people who work in other professions. Its findings carry no sanctions and people who bring complaints to the council waive their right to sue.
On the Web: http://www.mtn.org/newscouncil
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