Amy Senser's hit-and-run accident has been ruled "accidental" by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner. But Anna Prasomphol, owner of True Thai restaurant where Anousone Phanthavong was the head chef, doesn't think there's anything accidental about the way local media has covered the story.
Prasomphol spoke to City Pages about Phanthavong, the Op-Ed piece she submitted to the Star Tribune, and other coverage of the case, which she feels has been too sympathetic to the Senser family.
Obviously upset, and often flustered as she spoke in English, her second language, Prasomphol said she's the only public advocate the Phanthavongs have.
"There's no one to talk for the family," she said. "Everybody else -- the Senser famliy has a lot of people, friends in the media. And [Phanthavong] basically has just me."
Prasomphol repeatedly described Phanthavong, whom she calls by the nickname "Ped," as her "best friend," and said he was a great chef for True Thai, where he worked for more than 10 years.
"I have, like, 50 awards -- Best Thai, Best Thai, Best Thai," she said. "All of that is because of Ped. Right now, True Thai is True Thai because of Ped. "
Prasomphol first raised the issue of a Senser-friendly media in an Op-Ed piece she submitted to the Star Tribune last week, criticizing WCCO's Esme Murphy, MPR's Bob Collins, and the Star Tribune columnist Gail Rosenblum for their coverage. All three journalists have called for patience in allowing the legal system to run its course.
Prasomphol's patience has run out, as she wrote:
I miss my friend Ped, and I am angry that the woman who admitted to driving the Mercedes SUV that dragged him forty feet up an off-ramp still has her drivers license, and is still free to go about living her life.Yesterday, Bob Collins took to his blog to respond, writing that he was sympathetic to Prasomphol's feelings, and that he'd simply been writing "on behalf of the investigatory process and, ultimately, the judicial process." Collins said journalists have an obligation to follow the story objectively, and wait for the full truth to come out:
In journalism, there are only 6 elements to any story: Who, what, why, when, where, and how. Whatever action is eventually taken against Mrs. Senser will depend on the "why," the one question for which we do not yet have an answer. In the absence of an answer to any of those questions, we're not ethically licensed to make them up.Prasomphol says she's not asking for anyone to make up answers, only to report the harsh truths that have come out in the case, however badly they reflect on Amy Senser, wife of restaurant owner and former Vikings tight end Joe Senser.
"I feel like [Collins] is not being tough on the Senser family," she said. "[Collins] was saying, 'this is the proper way to do it.' To me, he's not being tough on the [Senser] family. What else do you need? There's blood on the hood, the head of the Mercedes came off. The lady took off, and let my best friend die on the side of the road."
In an interview with City Pages, Star Tribune opinions editor Scott Gillespie refuted the notion that the paper had rejected Prasomphol's column, which she posted on her own blog after not getting a response. Gillespie said the paper was still considering running Prasomphol's piece, though he had concerns about the length, and said he'd want to discuss some parts of what she'd written.
Any of that would be fine with Prasomphol, who said she'd be willing to modify her piece so long as she could get the Phanthavongs' side of the story in print.
Prasomphol said the Phanthavong family is grieving, and in shock. She said they're confused and frustrated by the American legal system and concepts like the Fifth Amendment. Prasomphol said she's heard and read "so many" comments describing the Phanthavongs as an "immigrant family."
"People," she said, "look at them as 'just another immigrant family.' I feel like I'm obligated to do this, to speak out for him, as his employer, as his best friend."