On Monday, Fox 9 aired a seven-minute story by reporter Tom Lyden, a dramatic segment it termed an "investigation."
Unlike many stories where that term's used, the subject of Lyden's story is not trying to hide what it's doing. The Minnesota Freedom Fund is a bail fund. It puts up the money for people held in jail pending criminal trial or an immigration hearing.
Established in 2016, the nonprofit was accustomed to a certain level of fundraising and budgeting, raising six figures annually which it typically allotted by the thousands. Then George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers, thousands of people flooded the streets in protest, and the Minnesota Freedom Fund became the go-to resource to get arrested demonstrators out of jail.
At some point, celebrity Twitter caught hold of this notion. Lil Nas X, Janelle Monae, Chrissy Teigen, Steve Carrell, Seth Rogen, and Don Cheadle donated, among many others, and urged millions of followers to join them.
Money flooded Minnesota Freedom's bank account, in amounts (at least $35 million within a few weeks) they weren't prepared for. They regrouped, weathered criticism and a rumor campaign, staffed-up, and made plans -- all while continuing the same thing as always: paying people's bail.
Fox 9 caught the nonprofit fulfilling its mission red-handed, and turned its routine work into a scandal.
Midway through Lyden's report, the story poses that its angle, the thing it's exposing, is about public access to information.
Here's how he frames it (emphasis ours):
"Come to find out, when a third party like Minnesota Freedom Fund comes here to the jail and pays all cash to get someone out, there is no public record of that transaction. There is no transparency. We were surprised, too."
Imagine how surprised viewers were when the next words out of Lyden's mouth were:
"The only way the Fox 9 investigators found out about these Minnesota Freedom Fund cases was to dig deep into the individual court records to find a notation Freedom Fund was paying for the bail. Otherwise we wouldn't know. And who else is going to do that work?"
So, there is "no public record" of a bail payment... except for the one Fox found in case files. There are a lot of legitimate complaints about access to information in Minnesota and its county court systems. The fact you can't figure out who paid someone's bail without looking at court records is not one of them.
Really, though? This is fear porn.
Within 30 seconds, viewers have seen three mugshots of people whose bail Minnesota Freedom Fund has paid. One allegedly shot at a SWAT team during protests; another is accused of "stabbing a friend to death"; a third is a previously convicted rapist facing a new case of kidnapping and sexual assault. Later, two more faces (one blurred) are seen, both charged wtih domestic assault. All five are Black.
Lyden interviewed Jeffrey Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, which represents the insurance companies who underwrite bail bonds. That means their members profit directly off a cash bail system, and their revenue stream is threatened by Minnesota Freedom Fund's suddenly flush bank account.
And that means Clayton's willing to say shit like this on television:
"A judge or a prosecutor should know if it is Vladimir Putin’s henchmen posting the bond for this guy, or a co-conspirator, or if it is part of organized crime to bail this person out."
First of all, if Fox 9 was able to find out who's paying bail, are we to believe prosecutors and judges cannot? When Tom asks, "And who else is going to do that work?" the answer is: them.
Second, why did Clayton stop there? What if we find out the people paying for bail was paid by El Chapo? Or Sean Penn? Or ISIS? What if it's the Joker?
(The Heath Ledger one.)
The real mastermind exposed here is Greg Lewin, Minnesota Freedom Fund's bookish and placid interim director, who says charges against someone are "not the point, the point is the system that we're fighting."
Meanwhile, here's how Fox News repackaged Lyden's story:
Here, whatever misshapen angle Lyden had is bent further still, into a hook to catch anyone who ever donated to Minnesota Freedom Fund. That includes people who work or worked on Joe Biden's presidential campaign. They are now, by extrapolation, personally responsible for subsequent bail payments of people accused of crime.
Yesterday, Fox News revisited the story with a new development...
... the origin of which was this June 1 tweet.
Whether God's justice system accepts that sort of plea deal remains to be seen. The answer might be of interest to Tucker Carlson, who last night added his own spin about the "Democratic Party's new pro-criminal agenda."
Carlson cited two people ("satisfied customers," he called them, dickishly) bailed-out by Minnesota Freedom Fund. Both people "Kamala Harris helped" make bail were featured by Fox 9 -- which Carlson cruelly calls "Fox 5."
Ouch. Imagine having your hack piece swallowed and spat up as toxic agitprop by the worst, whitest man in cable news, and he doesn't even get the station right.
After noting that the convicted rapist had been prosecuted by then-county attorney Amy Klobuchar, Carlson opined: "He's the kind of person that Biden, Harris, and Klobuchar would like wandering around your neighborhood."
Beyond Fox News, the scary story's also being circulated by the Trump campaign, which calls it "more evidence your family won't be safe in Joe Biden's America."
Can't be long until this story is on Trump's thin lips, the same ones that keep confessing crimes of his own -- though criminals as rich as he is don't often have to worry about getting arrested, let alone bail. That's the whole point. Or it could've been.