Why we ran Gauthier story -- and why he deserves empathy

Like a lot of irate callers, he didn't give his name. He knew more than a little about journalism, he said, because he was a former reporter. Where and when that was, he didn't say.

Like a lot of irate callers, he didn't give his name. He knew more than a little about journalism, he said, because he was a former reporter. Where and when that was, he didn't say.

That was it for the pleasantries.

"How could you run a story like that?" he demanded.

The front-page article had greeted readers on a Wednesday morning when few would have anticipated much beyond results of the primary election the day before. The headline told most of it: "Police investigate Gauthier in rest stop incident."

The only details were that it was at Thompson Hill off Interstate 35 late on the night of July 22, when Duluth police assisted the Minnesota State Patrol on a call about "suspicious activity," and that the District 7B state representative was a subject in an open criminal investigation.


Anything beyond that -- the authorities said "No further information is available at this time" -- would have been speculation in readers' minds. And that was the caller's point.

"We all know what 'rest stop' implies," he said. Why couldn't we wait until there was more information?

Well, we had waited, asking the authorities twice about the existence of any incidents involving a number of elected officials (not an unusual request for a newspaper to make), and twice being denied.

We repeated the request citing the Minnesota Data Practices Act, which requires the public release of certain information on police calls -- including the date and time of the call, the agencies involved, the activity being complained of, a brief reconstruction of the event and witnesses to the incident, regardless of whether the call results in a criminal investigation.

That finally resulted in the scant information that appeared in the first article on Aug. 15, though not before we also called Kerry Gauthier to ask him what happened.

There could have been any number of reasonable explanations. Maybe he'd stopped to clean out his car when someone called about an accident or an animal upsetting a trash can. Countless would-be stories about public figures have ended there, never making the paper or winding up as humorous items in News of the Weird or the Eh? column.

But instead, Gauthier said, "I think it's a private matter, and I don't need to talk about it" -- confirming that there was indeed an "it" to talk about, and that authorities said was part of a criminal investigation, though Gauthier claimed not to be aware of that aspect.

So at that point, it became a story. An elected official was a subject in a criminal investigation. Type in "state rep" or "senator" and "being investigated" in a Lexis-Nexis search of news articles and you'll get no shortage of hits, with names like Craig and McGreevey popping up.


Some of those result in prosecutions. Some, like Gauthier's, do not. Now, everyone in the Northland knows the rest of the story, involving a 17-year-old male and oral sex, details authorities made public after the St. Louis County attorney determined charges weren't warranted, a day after the first article appeared.

Don't we have empathy, the caller had asked. Absolutely, I told him. It's different from sympathy, which involves taking a side, and it doesn't mean soft-pedaling a story.

But I tell my staff to imagine themselves as the subjects of their articles, reading the paper the next day. That includes all parties in an incident, those harmed and those who cause harm, if only to themselves.

The political ramifications aside, that's where the story is now. While few have defended Gauthier's actions with a 17-year-old in a public place, albeit noncriminal, many have expressed concern for his well-being and future. I personally found moving his comments to NewsCenter's Barbara Reyelts about finally coming out as gay, at 56, in the wake of the story. After years of hiding his secret from most of his family and the public, he said his 85-year-old mother embraced him with the words, "You're my boy."

Though Gauthier is, I'm sure, no fan of the News Tribune right now, it's a story I hope he'll share more fully with our readers.

Because yes, we have empathy.

Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at .

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