SOUTH BEND, Ind. — REAL News Michiana has uncovered text messages between local reporters and leaders of the St. Joseph County Health Department, showing what appears to be a coordinated attack of a South Bend business that happens to be owned by a vocal conservative.
RNM submitted a public records request for phone records, text messages and emails from the leadership of the health department nearly two months ago. On Friday, that request was partially fulfilled with the release of some text messages regarding a local business. Those texts were from February 8th, 2021, to February 13th, 2021, and discussed Finnies Next Door Sports Bar in South Bend. The messages provided were from the phones of County Health Officer, Dr. Robert Einterz, and Deputy Health Officer, Dr. Mark Fox.
In one exchange, WSBT reporter, Selina Guevara, sends a message to Dr. Fox saying “Did the party at Finnies ever come to fruition?”
Dr. Fox responds by saying, “Yes, something like 350 people.”
The messages show the WSBT reporter and the health department had conversations about an “event” scheduled at Finnies, prior to the event ever happening. They then sat on that information, without announcing any concern prior about the event to the public or the business itself. And, instead, appear to have coordinated damning news coverage of the conservative owned business.
“Never. They never reached out to me to say anything before it happened. You would think if they’re trying to limit the spread, they would have said something and tried to work with me.” Rick Ruszkowski, Finnies owner, said.
Several days after the messages, Guevara published a story slamming Finnies. The article starts with the following:
A South Bend bar is in trouble with St. Joseph County health officials.
It’s accused of hosting a large party last week marketed as a way to celebrate being 100 days away from Notre Dame graduation.
The county says it’s working on an abatement order at Finnies Next Door for violating the governor’s orders and not filing an event safety plan, among other violations.
It goes on to quote Dr. Fox.
“They are in pretty thin ice,” said Dr. Mark Fox. “They could be closed based on these things with another violation.”
RNM spoke to Guevara on the phone Friday night.
RNM: “I found some text messages between you and Dr. Fox.”
RNM: “It obviously appears that you knew this party was going to happen. You did not reach out to Finnies. And, instead, just reached out to the health department. And, in a targeted fashion, went after Finnies in your story on the 17th.”
Guevara: “I’m going to have to get back to you and refer any questions you may have to our News Director.”
RNM: “So, you didn’t collude with the health department in this coverage?”
Guevara: “I don’t have a comment on that right now. And, I am really busy. I have to go. I’m sorry.”
Guevara’s story also claims Finnies never filed a COVID safety plan. In fact, the email correspondence below shows a safety plan was submitted and accepted by the county several months earlier.
Finnies has been at the center of attacks in several stories written and published by nearly every legacy media outlet in the area.
The South Bend Tribune publicly shamed Finnies for months. One story was published in June, before Governor Eric Holcomb’s COVID restrictions executive order was even issued. The paper also listed Finnies in a “Repeat Violations” section of an article published in August. Then, in February, the paper famously quoted Dr. Robert Einterz saying the following about Finnies customers:
“Have you ever had the good fortune of going to Kenya during the great wildebeest migration? The animals hip to hip, nose to nose, grunting and making all sorts of guttural sounds. Perhaps what was lacking was the very distinct odor that one notices in the wildebeest migration. It is a serious matter but that is what it was like,” he said. “The venue was packed on the main floor with probably 20% of people with a mask.”
RNM has reached out to the health department on several stories and never received comment back.
Requested phone records of calls made and received from Dr. Fox and Dr. Einterz were denied by the county attorney. The county claims those records do not exist. RNM is still waiting for email records to be released.
Kudos on some good old school investigative reporting👏! Utilizing today’s existing technologies. Texts and video don’t lie, do they? It was an in-your-face witch hunt going after Finnies…plain as day but terrifying in abuse to civil liberties.