Age is just a number to Duluth reporter

By Jessica Peterson A Chisholm man had a blood alcohol level of .23 when he woke his sons the morning of Oct. 2, 2003. That morning changed all of their lives forever.

David Menton and his son David Jr., 20, got into an intense argument on that day which escalated into a deadly dispute. What they were arguing about is unclear.

According to WDIO's script of the event, during the quarrel David Sr. pulled out a gun and fired a shot at his oldest son. The bullet missed David Jr., but while his father was reloading his weapon, David Jr. picked up a shotgun from his bedroom and fired back at his father in self-defense, killing him. The youngest Menton, Nathan, 13, called 911.

WDIO news anchor and producer, Sandy Drag, arrived at the crime scene later that day. As Drag gathered the facts of the story, Nathan arrived with his grandmother. Drag approached them, seeking an interview with Nathan. Nathan’s grandmother consented to Drag interviewing him and during the interview he stood with his grandmother, arm-in-arm.

The interview was broadcast on the 10 p.m. news the night Nathan’s father was killed. In the interview, Nathan described the relationship between his father and brother.

“They loved each other. They were like best friends. It’s just that my dad was drinking a little,” he said.

Nathan also explained the most memorable times he spent with his father.

“We loved to go fishing and play chess. We’d play chess a lot and play video games. He was the best dad in the world and he meant everything to me,” Nathan told the reporter.

Viewers at home were appalled that Drag had talked with a minor in regard to such a tragic event. Shortly after the interview aired, WDIO received many phone and email complaints from observers. One in particular was “disgusted” that WDIO aired the interview conducted by Drag.

In an email sent to WDIO, one viewer said, “I was shocked to see your reporter interview the 13-year-old son of the man that had been shot this morning. She clearly lacks professionalism, and should not prey on children to get a story…I can’t believe she would be so insensitive to this boys’ feelings!...SHAME ON YOU!"

Drag said that WDIO does not have a policy regarding naming and broadcasting interviews with minors. The ethical decisions they make in regard to children under the age of 18 are all decided based on specific circumstances.

“If it feels wrong in my gut then it probably is,” Drag said. “If I felt as a journalist that I was taking advantage of a child that couldn’t make a good judgment on their own, I probably wouldn’t interview them.”

Some viewers thought Drag’s story should have aired without the interview from Nathan, but Drag disagreed. To Drag, interviewing Nathan did not feel wrong because Nathan felt comfortable doing the interview.

In Drag’s response to the viewer’s email she said, “I understand your feelings about the interview I conducted last night...When I chose to be a reporter, it was not to do stories such as this one, and I know many of my colleagues agree. Unfortunately, talking with victims is part of the job.”

She also explained why Nathan agreed to being interviewed.

“They [Nathan and his grandmother] said Mr. Menton was a good father, and they wanted the Northland to know that…Nathan agreed [to the interview] because, as I said, he wanted to convey a special message about his father. As you may have seen in the video, Nathan stood arm-in-arm with his grandmother during the interview, so nothing was asked or said that she did not agree with,” Drag emailed in an explanation to the viewer.

In contrast to Drag’s decision to interview Nathan at the scene of the homicide, Chuck Haga, a reporter for the Star Tribune present at the time of the incident, wrote an account of the event without speaking to Nathan, or even naming him in the story. When describing Nathan in the story Haga identified him as David Jr.’s “13-year-old brother.”

In a phone interview, Haga said that he did not question Nathan about the fight that broke out between his brother and father because Nathan was not present at the scene of the crime when he arrived. Similar to WDIO, Haga said that the Star Tribune does not have a policy in regards to publishing interviews of minors.

“It was a policy out of long standing practice,” Haga said. “It was expected that we’d always use great care.”

Since Haga wrote this story more than six years ago, it was difficult for him to recollect his exact reasoning for the decisions he made when writing the article.

“I suspect the reason I didn’t name him was because we were unsure who was going to be charged with the crime,” Haga said. “At that point we were just trying to find out what happened.”

Haga said that there is a policy at the Star Tribune which prohibits the publication of minors' names who were charged with a crime or could potentially be charged with a crime. Since this case was still under investigation, the Star Tribune was not fully aware of the role Nathan played in the event; therefore Nathan remained unnamed in Haga’s story.

Haga said that if he would have been able to interview Nathan, he would have published the interview, but he still would have identified him as David Jr.’s “13-year-old brother.”

Haga said he has always tried to be careful when it came to identifying minors.

“It’s kind of a judgment call,” Haga said. “We have to weigh the value of identifying them against the harm of identifying them.”

In place of interviewing Nathan in regard to what happened earlier that day, Haga talked to one of Nathan’s friends who had known the Menton family for a few months.

“He was right there, and he saw it. He had the blood splatters on him. I know it’s something he’ll never forget,” Nathan’s friend Cassie Radosevich, 15, said in Haga’s article.

Haga also quoted Radosevich describing Nathan’s father.

“I thought his dad was cool – when he wasn’t drinking. We’ve been around him when he’s been drunk, and he’s not that nice a guy,” she said in Haga’s account of the story.

Haga said he interviewed Radosevich because she had visited with Nathan earlier that day and she was “clearly shaken by what happened and [Haga] wanted to get a sense of that.”

Different publications make different decisions regarding publishing or broadcasting the names or interviews of minors. Although Haga did not reveal Nathan’s name in his story, Drag stands by her decision.

“I don’t regret it because his grandma was there,” Drag said. “The reason [Nathan] and [his grandmother] decided to talk about it to us was because he wanted to share what kind of father he had.”

Drag enabled Nathan to share his message of love, and loss with a skeptical community.

Collaboration effective in changing newsroom environment