A note on The Courier’s Fischy story

Last night, The Courier Journal committed a sin of omission.

In a story about an email exchange between former independent mayoral candidate Jackie Green and Democrat Greg Fischer’s spokesman, Chris Poynter, the C-J reported that the former wanted input on Fischer’s proposed “Office of Sustainability,” and Green winds up looking more politically calculating than he really is.

In the nut of the story, the C-J wrote:

Later that day, a press release was sent out saying that Green would have “significant input”
in the creation of Fischer’s Office of Sustainability, even through Green could not say what that input would be.

On Tuesday, Poynter said, “These e-mails show the campaign doing the right thing. Jackie was asking Greg for the world, and Greg said no. This is what a politician should be doing.”

Green said Tuesday there is nothing improper in the e-mails.

“I was pushing as I have always pushed throughout this campaign,” Green said. “I pushed the issues and challenged their positions and pointed out their weaknesses. I pushed them for all the good policy Louisville could get.”

There’s a problem with this, and that problem is that what you just read is merely half the story. In this week’s edition of Jerry’s Kids, the ongoing communication between Fischer’s campaign and Green reveal that a quid pro quo agreement was discussed on Oct. 13 in an email sent by Green to his staff.

Here’s what you won’t read in the C-J, after the jump…Via Jerry’s Kids:

On Oct. 13, Fischer campaign spokesman Chris Poynter, policy director Brandon Coan and Gill Holland, a member of Fischer’s environmental committee but not on the campaign payroll, met with Green to try to convince the cyclist to drop out before Election Day, Green told LEO.

In an e-mail sent that day to his staff, Green wrote that Fischer’s team was the first to raise the proposition of him being a part of the Democratic candidate’s administration, should Fischer be elected.

“The (Fischer campaign) will draft a document to see how close they can get to our position on land use and transportation. This is a process,” Green wrote. “The (Fischer campaign) also raised the issue of our team playing a role inside gov. — should Greg get lucky. ;) .”

Yes, that’s right: Green used an emoticon while selling his campaign down the river. And when a politician like Green suffers from a sudden bout of Nixonian amnesia — going so far as to tell WHAS11′s Joe Arnold that he can’t even remember his wife’s fucking birthday —  questions of impropriety take center stage in the rational voter’s mind.

Seriously, just wait for it and watch Arnold try not to laugh:

Despite Green’s budding case of Alzheimer’s, the emails obtained by LEO clearly show him telling his campaign staff that the Fischer campaign brought up Green’s playing a role in a Fischer-led metro government first — directly conflicting with the C-J’s half-baked account in which Green approaches Fischer. Makes you wonder… Did Green simply make this up? If not, why would a politician like Fischer with so much to lose actually engage in such communication with an opponent who, at best, possesses 3 percent of the vote?

However way you slice it, the C-J story provides Fischer with more than a modicum of cover, relegating Republican Hal Heiner’s response to one paragraph at the story’s end only after they’ve given Poynter and Fischer ample space to deny charges in a story that’s inaccurately reported from the outset.

Then there’s the most serious issue: Whether or not the Fischer and Green campaigns have violated Kentucky campaign finance law by engaging in this kind of deal-making. Per KRS 121.055:

Candidates prohibited from making expenditure, loan, promise, agreement or contract as to action when elected, in consideration for vote. No candidate for nomination or election to any state, county, city or district office shall expend, pay, promise, loan or become liable in any way for money or other thing of value, either directly or indirectly, to any person in consideration of the vote or financial or moral support of that person. No such candidate shall promise, agree or make a contract with any person to vote for or support any particular individual, thing or measure, in consideration for the vote or the financial or moral support of that person in any election, primary or nominating convention, and no person shall require that any candidate make such a promise, agreement or contract.

If campaigns are a window into which one can view how a candidate might govern, then this obviously raises serious concerns. (UPDATE: It appears the Republican Party of Kentucky thinks so, too, which is why they’ve asked Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s office to investigate the matter. Read about it at The Ville Voice.)

Regarding the potential illegality of his campaign’s dealings with Green, Fischer called his Republican opponent a liar and dismissed the gravity of the charges, telling LEO Weekly, “We’re not violating KRS-whatever. I think Hal’s really grasping for straws here.” With this kind of response to this sort of issue — the punishment, per KRS 121.990, is up to five years in prison — it’s not rocket surgery to understand why Heiner would jump on this and milk it for all its electoral value.

Indeed, if Fischer wins this race, the prospect of a new mayor embroiled in a criminal investigation over whether or not he committed a class D felony while running for that office is, one would think, a seriously retarded, seriously newsworthy prospect, in which case the city of Louisville should perpetually wash its hands and groan, “this is the best we can do, folks,” while pining over the loss of its Great Cheerleader.

That we’re forced to write this editorial is the disturbing part, if only because the so-called paper-of-record has accidentally  perpetuated a dangerous half-truth with onerous implications so close to Election Day. However, if redemption/credibility is something the Courier Journal’s editorial board is interested in, then as penance they should implore their misinformed readers to stay home on November 2.

2 Comments

  1. Dan Klepal
    Posted October 22, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    In light of the Leo Weekly story raising questions about whether the Courier-Journal, and by extension me, ignored internal e-mails from the Jackie Green campaign in a recent news story, I thought it would be useful to take a look at that question in the context of how this story has unfolded over the past week. So if you can bear with me for a minute, I’d like to go over this:

    Friday: Leo and the C-J post very different stories on this at almost exactly the same time. Leo reports that Fischer is trying to “pressure” Green to get out of the race, whatever that means. The C-J posts a story that correctly reports that the two campaigns have been in negotiations for several days, and that Green is demanding that Fischer either adopt his platform related to transit and development, or allow him to name the head of a new environmental department to get him out of the race and earn his endorsement. If one of those conditions is met, the C-J accurately reported on-line, Green would make an exit from the race and endorse the Democrat.

    There is a significant and sustentative difference in those two stories, particularly if you believe that Fischer has offered a job to Green in exchange for getting him off the ballot.

    Hours later, Green announces he has dropped out and endorsed Fischer in exchange for the promise of “significant input” in the creation of that environmental office. The C-J runs a top of the Front Page story on Saturday, reporting all of that, and Heiner calling the deal “horse trading” and “inappropriate.” The story also reported that Green really had no idea what “significant input” meant when he agreed to it.

    Monday: Heiner has a press conference to (again) call the deal improper and say Fischer should release all e-mails between his office and Green. We run a story at the top of the Metro Page saying that, and reporting that Fischer refused to give us the e-mails despite running a campaign with transparent government as a major theme.

    Tuesday morning: I hear Heiner is about to air an attack ad on this situation. We get the ad and review it. There’s nothing in the ad that hasn’t already been reported on our news pages, so we hold off on writing about it.

    Tuesday afternoon: A source tells me there are Green e-mails to his staff on this situation, and that at least some of them have been given to Leo, which is working on a story. My source doesn’t know the content of the e-mails. I correctly suspect Tyler Hess as Leo’s source, and call him. Voice mail. I leave a message saying I would like to see the e-mails, would he consider giving them to me?

    Tuesday evening: Fischer campaign tells us that they will release the e-mails in response to Heiner’s attack ad, and says Heiner should stop airing the commercial. We make the decision to do a story, mainly because Heiner called for a public release of the e-mails on Monday, and now we have access to them. The e-mails say what I expected: Green asked for the things we know he asked for; Fischer offered what we know he offered. I redouble my effort with Hess. Voice mail again. I tell him I’m now working on a story for the next day, I think the internal e-mails would be a significant aspect to that, and I really would like to see them. “Please call me back.”

    Tuesday deadline: No return call from Hess. We report on the Metro page what we can verify, which is the content of the e-mails between Fischer’s campaign and Green.

    Wednesday: Leo’s story comes out. It hangs its’ hat on two major things: An anonymous source saying the deal is “illegal” and one line from the several emails they received, in which Green tells his staff that Fischer raised the possibility of him having a “role” in metro gvt. Two thoughts on that: First, we would not have used the anonymous source, even if we had it. We won’t allow “anonymous” to accuse anyone of a crime, whether their name is Fischer, Heiner or Green. Second: would we have reported the internal e-mail if we had it. Yes, certainly. But we didn’t have it.

    Leo appears to have a lot invested in that sentence from Green meaning Fischer offered him a job. But the reality is that it stops far short of that. It could mean a job offer, or it could mean exactly what actually took place, Fischer offering Green “input” into the creation of the environmental office. I don’t know which is true, but certainly both are plausible.

    Later Wednesday: Leo’s “story” runs, saying the C-J committed the “sin of omission,” that we either knew or should have known about Green’s internal e-mails and raises the possibility without anything to back it up that the political stance of the newspaper may have played a role in us not reporting on the internal Green e-mails.

    Later later Wednesday: Hess sends an e-mail to me and Leo reporters Bailey and Meador, saying I did call him in search of the e-mails and that he didn’t return the calls. I respond to all saying thanks, but Leo isn’t interested in facts like that. Bailey then e-mails me saying there are “important questions” about why the C-J did not have or report on the Green e-mails to his staff. Will I talk to him?

    A couple things on this. First, isn’t it interesting that both Meador and Bailey now know, directly from their own source, that I did try to get the documents, but have not added that information to their “story” or in any way communicated that to their readers. Since the central issue is the C-J’s “sin of omission” I would think that is an important piece of information. I wonder why they don’t think so.

    I also find it interesting that Leo had “important questions” about the C-J’s reporting on this story, yet never raised them to me or Hess until after they formed their opinion, slapped together their “story” without a molecule of reporting, threw it up on the internet and circulated it on Facebook and Twitter.

    That doesn’t seem very fair to me, nor does it reflect any sort of journalism that is recognizable by me. Maybe that’s why they call it a blog.

    One other sidebar. Hess called me Wednesday and said he didn’t return my calls because he was in North Carolina with poor cell phone coverage, but also because he gave the e-mails to Leo and didn’t want to share them with the competition. I understand and respect that decision. But for Leo to then write the story they did and then to ignore information from Hess that the C-J tried its level best to get the documents seems irresponsible and disingenuous, at best. Regardless, I congratulate them on their scoop.

    I guess that’s about it. If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me. I appreciate your time very much.

    Dan Klepal

  2. Puhn Tang
    Posted October 23, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    The real silly thing to me is an Office of Sustainability? WTF is that exactly?

One Trackback

  1. [...] From LEO: Questions abound as to why the C-J didn’t include/know about the other emails. At best, it’s perhaps a consequence of “access journalism,” whereby reporters take the information espoused by high-level, hard-to-get-to sources as gospel simply for the sake of possessing that information; and at worst it smacks of the C-J’s editorial board seeking to protect its investment of a likely endorsement of Greg Fischer. When a politician like Green suffers from a sudden bout of Nixonian amnesia — going so far as to tell WHAS11′s Joe Arnold that he can’t even remember his wife’s fucking birthday —  questions of impropriety take center stage in the rational voter’s mind. [...]