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Ventura visits "ground zero;"opens new rift with media
By Tom Scheck
Minnesota Public Radio
October 3, 2001

During Gov. Jesse Ventura'svisit to New York, Ventura met with a bond rating agency and toured the area of the World Trade Center disaster site, where he handed out memorial cards written by Minnesotans to relief workers. But on Wednesday, a spat with Minnesota reporters over access to the governor, led to Ventura vowing never to talk to the Minnesota media again.

Gov. Ventura greets Salvation Army relief workers near the site of the World Trade Center towers collapse. Ventura toured the site Tuesday with New York Gov. George Pataki. See additional photographs and hear audio of the governor.
During an interview on ABC's Good Morning America, Ventura delivered a message to the nation that many politicians have been trying to convey over the past few weeks, which was to resume their daily routines.

"You've got to start traveling again," he said. "You've got to start living your lives and going to New York and going around. One-tenth of our economy is based on the tourism and travel industry and if we cease to do that, it's going horrible economic result for our country."

Ventura was featured prominently on Good Morning America. In addition to his interview, an ABC-TV crew taped the Venturas and New York Gov. George Pataki on their visit to the World Trade Center site on Tuesday.

The morning show hosts said repeatedly, that Ventura made the trip to New York City to deliver the cards and see the site. What they failed to mention was that ABC paid for Ventura's trip. That left some Minnesota reporters, who were not allowed to accompany Ventura on his tour of the disaster site, questioning whether the governor was giving special access to a news event to the company that paid fo r his trip. Ventura and his staff rejected any implication that access to Ventura was for sale.

"They didn't compensate me. Where do you get that nonsense," Ventura said.

Ventura went on to say that he would no longer grant interviews with the Minnesota media. Ventura's press secretary, John Wodele, and an official with Good Morning America, said it was customary that the show pay for a guest's travel, and Wodele says lawmakers have complained in the past when the governor charged the state for trips. Wodele says he also worked hard to give Minnesota reporters and photographers access to the World Trade Center site, but it was refused by Pataki's office. He said there is no link between Good Morning America paying for the trip and having exclusive access.

"For you to take the leap from that to say that I participated - or the state of Minnesota has participated - in any exclusive arrangement for access to the governor or to that site is completely wrong. And if you report that, you are going down the wrong path," Wodele said.

Outside of ABC's studios, Ventura was given a rousing cheer by members of the local pipefitters union who were standing in line to start work on the building across the street. One yelled, "Hey, it's the body slammer and he's wearing a NYPD hat." Others walked up to Ventura and shook his hand.

Ventura's television appearance capped a two-day New York visit, which started with a meeting with the state's bond rating agency, followed by the tour of the World Trade center site with officials from the Salvation Army, members of his staff and New York Gov. George Pataki. Ventura and his Minnesota contingent hand-delivered nearly 9,000 memorial cards to relief workers, who were cleaning up part of "ground zero."

"You realize that it is reality now," he said. It's not on a box that you look at on a screen. It's not a person interviewing someone anymore. It's standing out there amongst it and you look up and they're gone. They're gone. And I think the most difficult think is that it's a graveyard and that there's thousands of bodies in that rubble."

New York Gov. George Pataki said he was happy that Ventura made the trip to New York City and says the city and state appreciate his goodwill gesture. He said many of the workers were excited to meet the celebrity-turned-politician. Pataki added that it also heightened many of the relief worker's spirits to be given a hand-written card from someone a half a country away.

"From a compassionate standpoint. From people who have been through enormous suffering. To have someone like Jesse Ventura come out and give them a personally drawn card, pat them on the back and tell them how proud he is of what they are doing means an enormous amount. And I am just extremely grateful - and I'm sure millions of New Yorkers are grateful - that even in these difficult times the governor made the effort to be here today," Pataki said.

Gov. Ventura shows a newspaper to document a memorial service held at the Capitol in September, during his appearance on Good Morning America. Afterwards, Star Tribune reporter Kevin Diaz questioned Ventura's spokesman John Wodele about why Good Morning America was granted exclusive access to Ventura's visit to the World Trade Center site. Listen to the audio.
(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Both Ventura and the division commander of the Minnesota and North Dakota Chapter of the Salvation Army decided to hand deliver the memorial cards to Pataki and other New Yorkers.

The Salvation Army's David Grindle says three people in the Minnesota division are working at the World Trade Center site. He said the Minnesota and North Dakota chapter will also give $1 million in total contributions to help with the clean-up.

Grindle says he hopes the money, effort and personal messages help people get through the tragedy. "Is it going to completely change the situation with the firemen who feel so emotional about this situation or families who lost a loved one? No. But every bit of encouragement keeps lifting a person up and the people of New York need to be continually lifted up," Grindle said.

Minnesota reporters had little access to Ventura during the first day of his visit. After meeting with officials to discuss Minnesota's credit rating, the governor said it's always important to meet with bonding officials regardless of the economy.

Ventura answered only one question about the state workers' strike in Minnesota. That comment was in response to critics who questioned making such a trip with most of the state's work force off the job.

"These people here in New York have orphaned children today and I take offense to anyone who would question why I'm out here. I take great offense to that. To anyone who would question the fact of why I came out here representing... I lead the state of Minnesota and I came out here representing the state of Minnesota. How dare them," Ventura said.

A Ventura spokesman said Ventura's schedule was at the mercy of Gov. Pataki's office. He said Ventura's staff worked hard to give the local media greater access, but says their hands were tied.