Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Backstory to error in Bee article

Jan. 15: added link for "[didn't] respond to emails"
Jan. 14: clarified a quote from the publisher and the executive summary of this post;
incorporated feedback from one of the principals (we'd alerted them via email); the other does not read blogs, but hopes that the post is fair and balanced.
Jan 13: changed title, removed gratuitous emphases, added content.

In the Jan. 2 Bee article on the "fire publisher" movement (*), the section which set the tone for the piece as a whole was this:

But Engles doesn't really know the man he's trying to get fired. Except for once leaving an angry voicemail, he's never met his nemesis or even talked to him. And he doesn't plan to. "I think he's going to be so angry at me now, especially when the Web site goes up, that there's no chance of us having a civil discussion."

Not so, said [publisher]. "I sent him a card saying 'I'm not leaving, you're not leaving, let's get a cup of coffee.'"

He hasn't heard back.
Executive summary: The above statement has been false since mid-December, two weeks before the article got published - and it was only true until the day Engles received the card.

I was alerted to the article by Amy, who commented (in here):
Imagine my editor's reaction if I submitted a story without ever attempting to contact the principle subject of the report. The story wouldn't run.

Of course, Mr. Engles isn't bound by any journalist ethics or standards, as he isn't one. One presumes, however, that as an informed citizen, he understands that credibility is damaged when fairness and balance are absent.

("EE" below refers to Eric Engles)

In responding to Amy, we expressed some initial skepticism about the "[publisher] hasn't heard back" claim in the Bee article, but pledged to investigate and report what we found. We also mentioned in passing that the publisher doesn't answer our emails (*). In accordance with our Blogger's Motto ("Publish, then verify") we figured we ought to find out if it was still true: turned out it wasn't, he answered. So we asked him some questions, then got stonewalled, then contacted the Bee's public editor, then got un-stonewalled, so asked some more questions, and at various points asked EE a whole pile of questions. Here - with the stonewalls edited out - is what we found:

The "publisher hasn't heard back from EE" statement in the article is not correct; EE states that he responded within a day of receiving the publisher's card, and they made tentative plans to meet. This is not disputed.

So how could the reporter have come to believe that EE didn't respond to the card?

It turns out that the publisher met with the reporter "very soon after I sent the card...and in fact maybe the next day".
He stresses that everything he told the reporter was 100% true.

He also made the points that the story wasn't his idea, and that he thought it was going to be a "hit piece".

He states that the reporter "[did not] read me what he had written before sending it to the Bee. If he had, and I had been contacted by EE, I would have clarified that point [that EE had responded]."
(to reiterate, since this quote might create ambiguity: EE did contact the publisher, within a day of receiving the card.)

When I had initially asked him:
"Do you feel that [the article] represented you and Eric Engles fairly? and if there was any part that didn't seem fair, what would you have changed about it?"
he had responded that he thought it was fair, and had not mentioned the false statement.

We hope this account is a fair representation, albeit brief and leaving out much; please bring any oversights to our attention.

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