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Monday, January 18, 2010

Gazette Editor's Claims Don't Hold Water

Sunday's Janesville Gazette contained a response editorial to accusations of partisan driven journalism made against the newspaper by the Rock County coroner's father after the paper ran a full investigative article about unfounded accusations. I can't speak for the coroner or her father, but in my view Sunday's editorial contained little new or game changing information.

Still, certain facts remain. The county coroner's office is a partisan elective office. It's undeniable. Wishing it weren't or thinking it's silly to be a partisan office in the first place aren't good enough reasons to justify the kind of article the Gazette published.

At first I was under the impression the newspaper attempted to appear they reported on the coroner unprovoked. Instead it turns out the newspaper was acting on "tips." Not that that changes the combative flavor of the article, but it is one of only two new things disclosed by the editor. But before I continue, I want to be clear here. I felt the newspaper owed their readers a two, maybe three paragraph brief about the personnel complaints made against the coroner including the results of the investigation. But only providing they regularly publish all personnel complaints made in city and county government. Which they do not, of course. We don't want to appear partisan now do we? Especially not the fully blown trumped-up investigative take-down and the ensuing "re-enforcement" editorial they ran against the coroner. No way. Not on those kind of complaints.

I certainly can't speak for another's definition of partisanship either, but it also appears the editor and the rest of the Gazette's editorial staff have a very narrow definition of partisans and partisanship. You don't have to identify yourself with a party to be a partisan or to practice partisanship. Sometimes just carrying their water is enough.

For the sake of not sounding redundant here, the only other point the editor made that caught my eye was the last sentence in the editorial. It read...
JG Editor's View Excerpt:
In fact, if you asked me whether Keach was a Republican or a Democrat on the day the story ran, I would have had a 50-50 chance of being right.
I suppose for someone who adamantly claims partisan politics play no role in the newspaper's decisions, that defense might work with some. But that still doesn't mean that the partisan aspect of the subject's office can be ignored.

For the sake of argument, I won't dispute the editor's 50-50 claim. But claiming ignorance of the coroner's party affiliation is a poor defense against an accusation of partisan journalism. If you don't know the coroner's party affiliation, or care to know, why would you bother to know the party affiliation of your supposed informants and tipsters? Or their underlying personal, political or partisan intentions? Or speak on behalf of their non-partisanship? Perhaps you don't care to know their party affiliation either, right? Because that makes the story officially non-partisan. Please don't tell me this is true.

Pleading ignorance to those details doesn't allow you to carry their water without being associated with their motivation. Plus, it does journalism a major disservice. For someone who's primary job is to be informed and to inform others, that's an extremely poor defense. On the other hand it does explain some things.

With that I suggest you start reading this blog Mister Editor...find out what you're missing. Get informed!


Anonymous said...

He still made mistakes in that editorial. He wrote, "complaints filed by employees." It should have read 'former' employees. The other thing was about John Becker. Becker and 2 other HR people investigated the first 'complaint' and determined that to be unfounded. This 'complaint' filed in October was not investigated by Becker at all, he was already gone and was also concluded before they ran their intitial article on Sunday.

Lou Kaye said...

Anonymous, there were plenty of twists and omissions made in both the original article and his editorial. The editorial leads me to believe the coroner's article was spun off of the Becker incident - but not by accident. My posting here was meant to see if the newspaper's defense against the accusation of partisan journalism is consistent. I don't think it is.

Anonymous said...

I will be waiting for the other articles on every other department. Seems the only 'distractions' in that office come from the paper. Which department is next? Surely they can dig up these kinds of complaints in every office. It's too bad their records aren't open to the public. I'm pretty sure they have had the same unfounded complaints. This is what happens in every office, it's actually real in some and far worse than these. From an HR standpoint there is nothing to these complaints. One did not even occur at work...a bridal shower. Any woman will tell you or maybe not (hehe) what goes on at bridal showers is well let's just say not for the weak. Theyhave to investigate because of the protected status groups mentioned, harassment etc...but I bet whoever wrote the complaint knew that. I would also guess whoever 'confirmed' the complaints were friends of the individual. Someone once told me, "Did they set standards for the office? Did they set standards for the employees? Did they expect their employees to work up to those standards? Well, there you have it."

Lou Kaye said...

I agree. I was in management for a while and occasionally had to look into allegations between employees and supervisors. Usually when it came time for an employee to file a formal complaint or record the incident, they refused. I always made sure they shook hands and agreed to drop the incident on there own accord. A majority of those that filed a formal record did so out of a personality conflict or malice. In ten years and dealing with nearly 100 employees, I found two complaints to be genuine enough to require remediation. Of course I know only what was published by the Gazette, but from what they described, these were not serious enough to warrant the level of ink they gave it. It is a Class A witchhunt and smear campaign.

Anonymous said...

I found it interesting that the original editorial writer recalled that Keach was appointed by Gov. Doyle in 2005, but somehow missed the party affiliation. Hmmm....

As far as employees go, it has been my experience both as an employee and an employer that disgruntled employees have a rapid downward spiral. Absenteeism, negative attitude, poor work performance and policy/procedure violations begin to mount, resulting in disciplinary action. Often, the employee senses they are on the brink and quits their job, with or without notice. Or they file a grievance in an attempt to deflect attention from their own behavior. Either way, their employer and co-workers are rarely sorry to see them go in the end.

I did note in the original article that the Gazette said the documents supported Keach's claims that she had good communications with her employees. Again speaking from my own experience of having bad bosses that said "if you don't like it, there's the door", everyone has the choice to stay or go, even in this economy.

Lou Kaye said...

Well put. I should have added in my last comment that those who filed complaints typically did not last much longer for the very same reasons you gave.

The Gazette editor's revelation that he was unaware of the coroner's party affiliation, yet proceeded to run an investigation on tips targeting the coroner as proof of non-partisan publishing should be troubling to plenty of folks.

This episode will wind up to be just another one on the heap of questionably constructed articles and biased reporting by the newspaper that I have archived here. They'll likely win a Pulitzer in journalism for this one. That how it all seems to work.

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