RE: Confidential To Neil  


-------- Original Message --------  
Subject:
RE: Confidential To Neil  
Date:
Mon, 6 Oct 2003 16:57:52 -0400  
From:"Neil Skene" <nskene@comcast.net>
Reply-To:<nskene@comcast.net>
To:
<wilson@citicom.com>  

-------- Original Message --------  
Subject:
RE: Confidential To Neil  
Date:
Mon, 6 Oct 2003 16:57:52 -0400  
From:"Neil Skene" <nskene@comcast.net>
Reply-To:<nskene@comcast.net>
To:
<wilson@citicom.com>  

 Steve,  I'll share the blame on the web site. Our site is set up for one-person operation with the same features flowing to the same places each week. Our technology, unfortunately, does not link letters with the articles being addressed; that has to be done by hand. My original thought was to ask the webmaster to create a special link between the Sugg column and your response, so each would have a visible link to the other. Obviously we have to have the response to do that. When all this began, I figured we'd make the links, include any correction, and be done. The actual course of events has been more fragmented. We will certainly ensure that the related elements are all linked together.  You have written very good responses to the problems you see in John's work. I think we should publish them. This is a basic dispute over interpretation of events.  John's case is that the circumstances were misleading to people. The essence of the case you're making is that, yes you solicited contributions for your defense, yes you bought some property, and at least a jury sided with Jane even if the case was ultimately lost -- but your actions were open and above-board, weren't overzealous or whatever else might be stated or implied in John's presentation.  On an issue like this, the best corrective for undesirable speech is more speech -- a response to the initial one. That's what all of us in journalism rest our careers on. We've had on the table for a good while now the offer of space to respond. It is time for all of us to move to something else, including John. I would dearly love to see you get your response to Atlanta, and I'll urge Ken to make superhuman efforts to get it into this week's paper. Then we'll make sure we have the appropriate links on the web site. Neil

-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Wilson [mailto:wilson@citicom.com]
Sent: Monday, October 06, 2003 1:54 PM
To: nskene@comcast.net
Subject: Re: Confidential To Neil

 

Have you had a chance to review the emails to see if response more favorable to Jane and me is appropriate?  
Again, I'm especially concerned about the placement on the Internet of what efforts have been made so far.

I'm awaiting your response before finalizing my 500-word letter.

Thanks, Neil.

Steve

Neil Skene wrote:

Steve,  I have been out today and just read your letter. To tell you the truth, I have watched the exchanges between you and John go by as if it were a blur. I see an enormous expenditure of energy and verbiage, which seems to keep returning to such issues as whether the place is a "house" or a "townhouse," and whether the fund-raising began "immediately." >From the outset, both the editor and I have taken the reasonable position that you will have some space to respond. We went out of our way, probably unwisely, to give you a chance to help us  understand the nature of your concerns. And we've offered you space to respond -- more than we typically give to a  letter-writer. An error is an error, but these are pretty tangential to the main issues.  I appreciate Tom Julin's kind appraisal. Tom will also be the first to stick to his guns when he thinks he has a valid case, no matter how loud the clamor against him. In this case, there's a huge clamor, perhaps room for a more innocent interpretation of the circumstances than the column presented (which is the opinion you'll presumably set forth in your published letter), but you're a public figure and you asked people for donations for your cause, and I have a hard time finding John's commentary to be beyond the pale.  I will look at the volume of emails to determine whether I think the editor has acted unreasonably.Neil

-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Wilson [mailto:wilson@citicom.com]
Sent: Friday, October 03, 2003 11:06 AM
To: Neil Skene
Cc: Jane Akre
Subject: Confidential To Neil

 

Dear Neil,

Our mutual friend Tom Julin assures me he has the highest respect for you as a journalist, so I can only assume you must have turned over our request for corrections to an editor who apparently does not subscribe to the high ethical standards applied by you and most conscientious journalists. As you gather, I am sorely disappointed at your Atlanta papers’s response to the documentation we provided to show that corrections are clearly warranted as a result of the September 11 Fishwrapper column.  In fact, we believe what we provided was more than enough evidence to suggest even an apology is due in wake of what can fairly be described as nothing more than an unwarranted and malicious personal attack on Jane and me by your columnist. First, as I have mentioned to you before, I have serious concerns about the placement of what were termed “clarifications” in the current issue.  And before I go on, since we’re talking about corrections, why DID your paper label them as mere “clarifications?”  When your columnist writes that we immediately began a vigorous
 fund raising campaign and you determine the fact is that our effort began a year later, is it fair to soft-pedal that and mischaracterize it as a “clarification” and not the correction it really is?

But back to the placement issue.  You continue to allow Internet readers to easily access the original column with easy-to-find links from the current Fishwrapper.  Wouldn’t basic fairness dictate that visitors who do link to the original column should be able to either easily see on that page or easily link to another page where the corrections are as prominent and easy to find as the original errors still in the column?  Of course you could also simply edit the original column to incorporate the corrections instead of continuing to publish information you know is inaccurate or misleading.

We are also extremely disappointed with the fact that what efforts have been made have been buried.  Even knowing corrections were online somewhere on your site, neither Jane nor I could find it.

At least on the Internet, which is all I can see from here, it is buried at the bottom of nine letters to the editor in a section called Talk of The Town.  And what’s even more unfair about this placement: even if one were to click on Talk Of The Town from your homepage, one would have to know which of NINE separate links there would take you to the page where you could then scroll down and hunt for these corrections.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful and I’m sure you don’t welcome any journalistic advice from me but, please, do you and your papers not subscribe to a basic tenant of ethical journalism that errors should be corrected with the same general prominence as the original error?

And this isn’t just some wild idea of mine.  I note that while the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies has no Code of Ethics or published standards members should aspire to, Article IV of the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Statement of Principles says:

“Editorials, analytical articles and commentary should be held to the same standards of accuracy with respect to facts as news reports. Significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and prominently.”

The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists also makes it clear: “Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.” We sent you seven well-documented examples of errors in Sugg’s column.  What has been done with them is not,
 in our view, fair or responsible.

You accurately corrected the fact that our fundraising did not begin immediately upon filing our lawsuit—but you ignored clear evidence that Sugg’s characterization of our fundraising could not be honestly characterized as “vigorous.”  One mention on a website qualifies as “vigorous?”

You accurately corrected Sugg’s mis-reporting of our real estate as “a townhouse” but instead of telling your readers he was on notice of the inaccuracy of that information pre-publication and yet never even then bothered to check the primary source (assessors’ records easily available on the internet), your paper makes it appear there is still some question about the accuracy of your columnist's report by writing “Wilson says it’s actually a “house.” Come on Neil, do you have to go to lengths like that to protect your guy?  I sent you the record from the primary source Sugg never consulted.  It is a house, it's not just that I claim it is.  And more important, is that fair to your readers?

And that’s what little “good news” there is in your paper’s efforts to correct the slew of errors Sugg published.

We are amazed that instead of correcting Sugg’s report that Jane and I were fired for repeated acts of insubordination, your “clarifications” merely characterize that as the station’s position and goes on to say Jane and I claimed we were fired as whistleblowers.  Then, instead of accurately and honestly reporting that a jury agreed with Jane, your correctionignores that fact and jumps to, “The station prevailed when an appeals court ruled the state’s whistleblower statute didn’t apply.”

Don’t your readers need to know a jury heard five weeks of testimony, viewed all the evidence, and sided with Jane before an appeals court overturned their decision on a legal technicality which is totally unrelated to why we were fired?

Your “clarifications” also altogether ignored Sugg’s assertion, printed as fact, that our legal exposure of $3 million is “a gross exaggeration.”  We clearly documented it is not.  Any competent, independent lawyer would confirm that.  Do your readers not deserve to know that the assertion you published as fact is, indeed, incorrect?

And especially troubling: your clarifications also completely ignore Sugg’s grossly inadequate and unfair summarization of our response to his clear implications that we misappropriated funds donated for legal expenses.  Back to that ASNE Statement of Principals for a moment, do you and your papers not subscribe to the journalistic principle that:

“Every effort must be made to assure that the news content is accurate, free from bias and in context, and that all sides are presented fairly.”

Wouldn’t you agree that Sugg’s summarization of our responses to serious allegations and implications by merely reporting “Wilson last week refused to disclose any accounting of the money he collected for the lawsuit,” is far froman honest and fair report or interpretation of the response we actually provided?

You don’t think our statement that we have painstakingly kept our promise to spend donated funds only for legal fees and our offer to provide a full accounting to any donor of date should have been included in a fair report of how we responded when confronted with year-old real estate records?

Again, from the SPJ Code of Ethics:

“Give voice to the voiceless…”

Do you not fail to provide us a voice when you allow your columnist to ignore the statements we provide by not using even a single quote from us?  Does that kind of journalistic misconduct, apparently condoned by your editor, not lead the reader to believe we had no real response?

And I won’t even get into the convoluted details about Sugg’s false characterizations of the “reasonable belief” issue at trial, or the actual basis of what we decried as lies in the reports we were pressured to broadcast.

In closing, we do appreciate your paper’s offer of 500 words.  Please advise the deadline for that response to be included in your next issue.

But meanwhile, I again appeal to you personally to assure the corrections we have requested are made fully and fairly.  You can and should act immediately to assure whatever you publish in response to the material we sent is given reasonably the same prominence as the errors in the column you continue to publish on your website.

Thank you again for your time and consideration.  I look forward to your response.

Steve Wilson