Pointergate: 'Digital' Revolution Erupts After KSTP Report

UPDATED: The “Pointergate” situation out of KSTP Minneapolis is simply not going away.

As you probably know, the station got in hot water when it reported that Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges flashed gang signs while being photographed during a voter registration drive in early November. What exactly Hodges and volunteer canvasser Navell Gordon were doing when they pointed index fingers at each other is open to interpretation, but KSTP — and several law enforcement officers, according to the station — saw the photo as problematic.

Tweeted reporter Jay Kolls Nov. 6, the day the story ran:

“Mayor Hodges flashes gang signs with 2x convicted felon. Police not happy. Details on 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS at ten.”

Others have seen it as two people simply hamming it up a bit for the camera.

Decide for yourself. The fateful points happen at around 35 seconds into this clip.

Hodges told Minnesota Public Radio that the KSTP story wasn’t really about hand signals. "It was about judgments based on race,” she said.

Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter called KSTP out for “shoddy journalism.”

Jon Stewart weighed in on The Daily Show too, sharing a photo of Stephen Colbert making the same gesture, and quipping that for years, Stewart had been the lead-in to “a notorious gang member.”

Stewart also noted that Hodges had called the Minneapolis police on the carpet not long before the story ran, suggesting that the “law enforcement sources” cited in KSTP’s piece may have been looking for some payback for the mayor. Stewart concluded by saying that it is “time once again to update the list of innocent things that black people do that look suspicious,” then whipping out a long, long, paper scroll.

KSTP has, all the while, stood by its story, saying it showed the photo to as many as nine police officers, who agreed that the hand signals looked gang-related. KSTP owner Stanley Hubbard defended the report in a speech at a Minnesota college Nov. 13, saying the controversy has been built up by the media.

"I think it's a good story," GM Rob Hubbard told me a moment ago, carefully vetted by a "good number" of legit sources. The initial tip, he added, did not come from the Minneapolis Police Department, over which Hodges presides.

At least one advertiser has pulled its spend off the ABC affiliate, according to the Star Tribune. Healthcare outfit UCare said it “didn’t want the UCare brand associated with an organization that appeared to denigrate an entire (segment) of the community.”

Stanley Hubbard called UCare's decision "unbelievable," according to Minnesota Public Radio.

GM Rob Hubbard said he's heard from a couple advertisers who expressed discomfort with the story, but stressed that advertisers don't dictate station news content. "It's nothing that will change the way we do business," he says.

The story has been on fire on social media, with countless people sharing photographs of themselves imitating Hodges’ point pose. "The social media campaign makes you feel like the whole world [is against you]," says Hubbard. "It's really a very small number."

For her part, the mayor said she will not allow KSTP to stop her from expressing herself with her fingers. “Lots of people point," Hodges wrote in a blog post titled, simply “#pointergate.” "The President. Bill Clinton. Stephen Colbert. Babies. It is the earliest form of human communication. I’m not going to stop pointing."

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.