Sent Oct 3, 2003 to Neil
Skene, Creative Loafing by Steve
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.
you gather, I am sorely disappointed at your Atlanta papers’s response to the
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 byyour columnist.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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.”
Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists also makes it clear:
and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.”
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.
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?”
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?
that’s what little “good news” there is in your paper’s efforts to
correct the slew of errors Sugg published.
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 correction ignores
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?
“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?
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:
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.”
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 from an honest
and fair report or interpretation of the response we actually provided?
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?
from the SPJ Code of Ethics:
voice to the voiceless…”
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?
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.
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.
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.
you again for your time and consideration. I look forward to your