In attack on KARE reporter, Star Tribune columnist crosses the line

[5:34 p.m. — C.J. has issued the following apology]

A column I wrote and that was briefly published Wednesday has created a lot of anger and confusion among some readers. I want you to know that I’m sorry it hurt Jana Shortal and I have told her so. At the time, in my own sadness about the horribly tragic Jacob Wetterling news, I was trying to urge maximum respect for the family and that led me to comment on someone’s attire. In hindsight, that was a mistake and I understand the perspective of those upset by it.

[8:33 a.m. — This post has been updated to include Shortal’s response to the Star Tribune apology.]

Jana Shortal introduces a Breaking the News segment on KARE 11 on the discovery of Jacob Wetterling. Jana Shortal introduces a Breaking the News segment on KARE 11 on the discovery of Jacob Wetterling.

If ever there was a time for everyone to cut everyone else some slack, the last few days was it. Indeed, in the wake of the recitation in court on Tuesday of the last minutes of Jacob Wetterling, one could almost feel Minnesotans pulling just a bit closer, trying to shield themselves from the indecency and depravity of it all.

So the attack on Wednesday evening by Star Tribune gossip columnist C.J. — she never uses her real name — on KARE 11 journalist Jana Shortal because of her clothing while reporting the Wetterling story seems an indecency and cruelty all its own.

“She looked great from the waist up in a polka-dot shirt and cool blazer, but the skinny jeans did not work,” she wrote, saying that she heard the same thing from other “media types,” whom she did not name.

As the blowback erupted on social media, the paper took the unusual step of pulling the online column without offering an explanation.

(Update: Around 11:30 p.m., the Star Tribune posted on Facebook and Twitter that the column was pulled because it was “inappropriate, insensitive and did not meet the standards of the Star Tribune. We have apologized to Ms. Shortal and her station. And we apologize to you.”)

A screenshot of C.J.'s online column just before it was removed from the Star Tribune website. A screenshot of C.J.’s online column just before it was removed from the Star Tribune website.

On Twitter I asked Shortal if she wished she’d worn different pants: “IDK what my clothing has to do with covering the tragedy of Jacob’s death. My only ‘wish’ on Tuesday was for Jacob’s family.”

My thoughts are also with the Wetterling family. While I cannot imagine they’ll want to read or watch every media take about the horror they have been living, I would think that hipness wouldn’t be a priority while covering one of the biggest, saddest stories in Minnesota history.

Edginess is the mandate of “Breaking the News,” but there is a line. Shortal has her defenders who are having their say on Twitter. To refresh memories, I have written flattering items about Shortal. Recent correspondents who have not been kind to Shortal have not found a compadre in me.

Shortal, who wears her heart on her sleeve, was justifiably upset, particularly with the suggestion that she was somehow disrespectful to the Wetterling family. She responded on her Facebook page.

On Tuesday morning I got dressed. The light on my porch woke me up. Jacob’s light, his sign, to come home. Sick to my stomach I got dressed. Dreading the day I got dressed. Knowing I would learn, with all of you, what really happened to Jacob Wetterling. I dressed. I prayed. I went to work. I kept my head down. I learned what happened to him. I prayed again. I went on the air. I did my best. I gave that newscast every single shred of hope and love I had for Jacob. For his family. And for every single one of you who was hurting. I left everything I had on that newsroom floor.
And today.
You took that away.
You made it about my pants.
You. You, whose name I will never write again.
You. You with the column I will not link to.
You. The bully with the keyboard who took this night, this story, and made into gossip about my pants.
Shame on you.
You suggest this: “I would think that hipness wouldn’t be a priority while covering one of the biggest, saddest stories in Minnesota history.”
You are at least correct on that.
It wasn’t.
I wore my clothes. The clothes it took me a very long time to feel comfortable in no thanks to the bullies like you who tried to shame me out of them.
But have you no dignity, person with the name I won’t write?
You wrote about clothes in the darkest moment of Minnesota news history.

You wrote about jeans.

You were asked to create joy.
Help your neighbor.

You wrote about jeans.

You took the life out of what was meant to be a tribute to a life lost.

I won’t let you do that to me.
I’m going to create joy.
I’m going to help my neighbor.

I’m going to go turn my porch light on now.

And remember why I did that show the way I did it.

And I promise you, what I won’t remember, was the cut of my jeans.

C.J. dialed it up a notch on Twitter.


By then, most everyone had read the column, and the reaction was near universal in the condemnation.

Neither C.J. nor officials at the Star Tribune have yet responded to a request for comment.

[Update 8:33 a.m.— Shortal responds to the Star Tribune apology via Facebook.]

I have spoken with the Star Tribune and I accept the apology – I accept it. But this isn’t about me. It is about the blatant disrespect of the Wetterling family and our greater community. It is about the fact that our newspaper of record employs a woman who has for decades cashed a paycheck by bullying others.

The Star Tribune is sorry. But that woman is not. She continued with this line against me from 11:30 AM yesterday — until well into the night on her social media feed.

The solution here is to end her column. Give her a ‘re-assignment’ so she can keep her job if you so choose…but take away her bully pulpit. In 2016 there is no longer a place for this.

And this is not for me. I’ll be fine. It’s for all of us. We are better than this Minnesota. You are better than this Star Tribune. It’s time to give that byline space to something that builds joy. Not tears it down.

(h/t: Patti Spicer)