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Letter: Sen. Paul Utke rebukes Detroit Lakes Tribune for editorial

The following was submitted by Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, in response to a Detroit Lakes Tribune editorial, published on Nov. 10. in the Park Rapids Enterprise. We have published the senator's response in its entirety.

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District 2 State Sen. Paul Utke
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It is time the newspapers stop printing false information and censoring the public's free speech. Did you know that the Park Rapids Enterprise will decline your letter to the editor if their fact-checkers don’t like the content? Interesting considering what we just witnessed in the Nov. 10 Park Rapids Enterprise.

The Enterprise printed a guest editorial written by the Detroit Lakes Tribune Editorial Board. (This editorial was also inserted in the Detroit Lakes Tribune a few days earlier). It was titled “Green, Utke should quit spreading misinformation.” It is interesting how the editorial board can write something like they did and the reporter (from the Detroit Lakes Tribune) that actually attended the town hall wrote a nice recap of the event, and it was published Oct. 30.

Let’s look at what the editorial board (EB) published versus the truth. The EB refers to a room full of people. I believe there were 8 to 10 people in a room that would hold hundreds of people! The EB prints “Adding his thoughts on vaccine mandates, Utke said, this whole thing is criminal.” That supposed quote is completely false. Yes, I am against vaccine mandates, not the vaccine itself, because we have personal freedoms in our country and people have a right to determine for themselves what is proper for them to put into their bodies. That was said many times throughout the town hall. We do not tell anyone what to do when it comes to the vaccine. We tell everyone that they need to educate themselves on the vaccine and then do what is best for them.

And then the EB goes on to say, “But that’s because public health officials have consistently pushed back on these fringe treatments, like hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin and a regimen of zinc, due to the fact they are not drugs proven to treat a viral respiratory infection.” Why is the EB inserting their own commentary into an editorial that is supposedly written about the town hall Rep. Steve Green and myself held?

The EB didn’t like my comment on the COVID death counts. It is true that our medical providers were given special instructions on filling out a death certificate, which was outside the normal training and procedures they were used to doing and were taught in medical school, but for COVID our state health department was changing what they would report. This increased the number of reported COVID deaths when in reality the person died from something else. There is a difference between dying with COVID versus dying from COVID.

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Again, the EB goes off on their own commentary and talks about AIDS and HIV in relation to COVID. The EB continues with “Here’s the truth: Public health officials have been doing their best over the last 20 months to keep as many people as safe as possible from a deadly novel virus, and part of that is trying to persuade residents to take COVID vaccines to decrease their chances of severe illness and death. But, with placebo-questioning from leaders like Green and Utke, it has made the persuasion practically unattainable.” I never said one word about the placebo – a totally false statement by the EB.

In the last couple paragraphs, the EB accuses Rep. Green and myself of “spreading vaccine misinformation,” plus “approach to politics has become constituent confirmation bias in the absence of true, independent leadership. They have shown there are no longer Republicans who would defend an incorrect statement about Barack Obama being an Arab, which is an incident that occurred in Minnesota in 2008; instead, they would choose to cheer them on, sharpen their pitchforks and light their figurative torches just to send them toward the nearest state official.”

What? Unbelievable! How did the EB come up with something like this and attach it to our town hall, which was a discussion related to our current political climate and topics.

The Park Rapids Enterprise and the Detroit Lakes Tribune have now reached an all-time low in journalism when writing and printing something like they did concerning a legislative town hall that did not even include many of the topics the EB writes about and tries to attach to Rep. Green and myself. This was a slanderous, false attempt to totally discredit our town hall meeting in Frazee.

Editor’s note: Utke represents Minnesota Senate District 2, which includes most of Becker and Hubbard counties.

For clarification, if a reader submits a letter to the Park Rapids Enterprise making medical claims about COVID or vaccines, those claims will be verified by medical professionals.

Further, the Detroit Lakes Tribune stands by its editorial, which was published on its website on Nov. 6 and as a guest editorial in the Park Rapids Enterprise on Nov. 10.

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Mark Anfinson, attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, explains, “Slander, libel and defamation all mean basically the same thing – the dissemination of false facts that have the potential to seriously harm a person’s reputation. In the case of public officials, like Utke, the U.S. Supreme Court has erected significant barriers against legal claims they might bring for defamation. In order to succeed, they would need to prove that the publisher knew the harmful facts were false, or had a high degree of awareness of their probable falsity.”

The following is the complete audio captured during the Utke-Green townhall on Oct. 26, 2021 at the Frazee Event Center.

The following is an audio clip of 00:50:00 to 00:54:25 taken from the complete audio, which involved a constituent question on COVID-19 vaccines, and Utke and Green's response during the Utke-Green townhall on Oct. 26, 2021 at the Frazee Event Center.

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