After 20 years at Fox affiliate KMSP (Fox 9), Twin Cities news anchor Robyne Robinson announced her retirement from broadcast journalism on May 11, 2010, shortly before being named gubernatorial candidate Matt Entenza’s running mate for lieutenant governor on May 27. The timing of Robinson’s departure, as well as Fox 9’s decision to allow her to remain on the air briefly without acknowledging the offer from the Entenza campaign, prompted criticism of both Robinson and her employer over a potential conflict of interest.
Robinson announced on air on May 11 that she would leave her position as an anchor of Fox 9’s evening broadcast, “News at 9,” on May 26, citing her growing jewelry business, ROX Minneapolis, as the impetus behind her decision. By Monday, May 24, local media were reporting that Robinson was considering running on the gubernatorial ticket with Democrat Farmer-Labor (DFL) candidate Entenza, according to a May 25 post on the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages blog, The Blotter. By Monday afternoon, Robinson confirmed rumors that Entenza’s campaign had offered her the job, but said she had not made a decision, according to a May 24 story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. A May 24 post on Fox 9’s website mentioned that Robinson was considering Entenza’s offer to run for lieutenant governor. However, that evening, Fox 9’s 5 p.m. news broadcast failed to report the offer, even as Robinson’s co-anchor, Jeff Passolt, presented a story about other gubernatorial candidates’ choices for running mates. During a broadcast the following night, on May 25, Passolt mentioned the offer from the Entenza campaign. On May 27, the day after Robinson’s final night as an anchor at Fox 9, Entenza made a formal announcement via Twitter that he had chosen Robinson as his running mate. Entenza dropped out of the race on August 10, after taking third in the state’s DFL primary.
In a May 25 post on the Minnesota news website MinnPost.com, David Brauer commented on Robinson’s confirmation that she had been offered the position, noting that Fox 9’s contracts forbid journalists to become involved in politics. In a May 25 story broadcast by Minneapolis television station WCCO, Jane Kirtley, the director of the Silha Center and professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, said that if Robinson’s plan was to become Entenza’s running mate, she should have left Fox 9 immediately. “I know she is scheduled to leave, but she should leave right now as an ethical matter,” Kirtley said. WCCO quoted a Fox spokesperson in New York speaking on behalf of Fox 9 who said, “there is a clear difference between being invited to be a candidate and announcing that you are a candidate.”
Brauer called the decision “the very definition of a conflict of interest,” identifying ethical mistakes Fox 9 made in its handling of the story before Robinson’s final night anchoring the news. “Robinson should be sidelined as long as she’s a political newsmaker in play,” Brauer wrote. He also wrote that Fox 9’s political reporter, Jeff Goldberg, should have pressed Robinson and the Entenza campaign for comment on early reports that she had been offered the position, and that Fox 9 should have been clearer and more straightforward in its coverage of all lieutenant governor choices.
In a May 26 post on the Star Tribune blog Artcetera, contributor Neal Justin wrote that, by aligning herself with Entenza, Robinson “showed her political colors as a Democrat.” Justin also wrote that Robinson undermined her credibility as a journalist by blurring the line between journalist and political campaigner in interviews she gave to other Twin Cities media prior to her departure. “The minute she said openly that she’d think about it should have been the minute Fox officials thanked her for her service and showed her the door,” Justin wrote.
Several media outlets, including City Pages, MinnPost, and the Star Tribune, identified another case that may have created a conflict of interest for Robinson. A March 29 story published online by City Pages said Robinson had designed jewelry for musician Beyonce Knowles. The story was written by Robinson’s publicist, Kate Iverson, but ran on the City Pages website without acknowledgment of Robinson and Iverson’s relationship. After the story attracted criticism, City Pages added a disclaimer that disclosed Iverson’s relationship with Robinson: “It came to light after this post ran that the author is Robinson’s publicist, but we are leaving the post online since it’s an informational interview and the disclosure has been made.”
In a May 25 story on The Blotter, Kelly McBride, a journalism ethics expert at the Poynter Institute, said Fox 9 should have hastened Robinson’s retirement once it learned she was considering Entenza’s offer. “While she’s making the decision, take her off the air, especially since she’s publicly known,” McBride said.
- Ruth DeFoster
Silha Research Assistant