Letters, we got more letters . . .
The following letter was sent to the Tribune from the husband of the letter previously posted. He also spent 12 hours at the April 28th hearing and took issue with how the Tribune covered the story the next day. His letter is followed by a reply from the Tribune. Both Moylan’s letters and the reply are extremely instructive if you want to see how a story can be slanted, how headlines can be manipulated (written by somebody who wasn't even there) while all the time denying that any of those techniques are at work. Most interesting is the tactic of suggesting that a “remedy” for what may well be plain old bad reporting is to be had by writing an “opinion” viewpoint which may be printed in the editorial/”opinion” page, thereby clueing the reader in that this is merely “opinion,” while what appeared in the original story is “fact.” If you were at the meeting for 12 hours and/or watched the whole thing on Channel 20, and read the original Tribune story, I invite you to read these letters and reply and see if you understand what the Moylans are objecting to. To me, it’s a familiar complaint when it comes to Los Osos Sewer Reporting.[printed with permission of the Moylans]
April 29, 2006
Dear Chip Visci, Matt Lazier, and Nathan Welton,
Your front page article about the RWQCB hearing was slanted, untrue in parts and lacked ethical integrity.
The title on your front page, “Los Osos raises a ruckus at hearing with water officials,” suggested that there was a commotion or disturbance throughout the hearing. This was not the case. I attended the hearing for the complete 12 ½ hours. The general tone of the hearing was one of a very interested and concerned populace at a controversial meeting. Voices were raised perhaps 4 or 5 times during the entire 12 ½ hours.
The first sentence of your article stated, “Tempers flared for 12 hours…” This is patently untrue. A few people were upset and spoke emphatically.
No one lost their tempers. Occasionally people clapped because they agreed with a speaker. Overall, the people who attended the hearing were very respectful of procedural protocol.
Midway through your article, Nathan Welton wrote, “An armed San Luis Obispo police officer patrolled the room, ostensibly to control the often-rowdy crowd.” This statement is not true. The officer stood in one place most of the time and appeared bored and at times amused. There was no patrolling, and the crowd was not rowdy. One person who spoke candidly about the proposed CDO’s was asked to leave or else be removed. She did not leave and was not removed, and she did not need to be removed. For the record, the crowd was extremely interested in all comments. Ninety percent of the time it was quiet with occasional murmurs or even spoken words-but mostly, quiet.
Your newspaper article stated that Julie Tacker was admonished by Jeffrey Young for clapping. She was wrongly admonished; however, this was not stated in your newspaper. People who read your article might accept this piece of half-truth, unless of course they were at the hearing like I was. Julie never clapped and immediately told Mr. Young that. Your paper however failed to mention the second half of the truth. I know what happened, I was sitting across the aisle from Julie.
Several important facts about the hearing were either omitted by forgetfulness (a serious flaw), or worse, purposely left out (an egregious intentional act). The first huge omission was no mention of our honorable assemblyman Sam Blakeslee’s presence and 10 minute presentation to the Water Board. Sam, who is an excellent extemporaneous speaker, impressed both the Water Board and the attendees. He spoke about his continuing work on trying to have both sides of the sewer issue come together to work out a solution. He spoke of working on legislation to hasten the solution. And he spoke of an upcoming measure by the State Water Board that will affect future waste water management. Not one word was mentioned in your newspaper of Sam’s presence or his important speech. Yet his face is plainly visible in your 4 x 6 inch photo of the hearing on the front page.
Another serious omission was the failure to mention that 3 subpoenas by the people of Los Osos were quashed and not allowed by Mr. Young. These subpoenaed people could have given excellent testimony in cross-examination to support arguments by some of the people who had received proposed CDO’s. This was omitted in your article.
Shirley Bianchi, county supervisor for Los Osos, was at the hearing briefly. She publicly stated that she would only take questions from the board, not from her own constituents. Her self-imposed silence to the very people she represents speaks volumes. This is newsworthy, but Mr. Welton made no reference to Ms. Bianchi’s presence or her total lack of dialogue with the Los Osos citizens.
Overall, the tone of Mr. Welton’s article smacked of emotional drama that portrays the people at the hearing as a rowdy bunch of flaring tempered Los Osans. It is an article that barely gets the potatoes of the hearing and absolutely no meat. This is journalism at it’s nadir. You could have produced a fine piece that got some really important data in print. I resent the bungled attempt of reporting such an important meeting. I resent the stereotype of Los Osos citizenry this article conveys. And I regret that your newspaper can not do a better job at reporting the truth of what really transpires at such important public hearings. The people of Los Osos deserve an apology.
William R. Moylan
And The Tribune’s Reply:
Dear Mr. Moylan:
Thank you for your submission. Our editors and our reporter have reviewed it and have some suggestions and responses. Normally, the editors would reply to you directly as this is their area of responsibility day in and day out. I’m stepping in because we’re short-handed today and I knew you wanted a prompt reply.
Based on their review, I’m suggesting you rewrite your remarks as a letter to the editor – 200 words is our limit, though if you need a few more, we’ll manage it.
What I’ve done below is cover the main areas of your letter and our response to it. I should note that we emphatically reject your notion that we lack journalistic integrity; we firmly believe we accurately captured the most important elements of the meeting. Reasonable people can disagree about what are the most important elements (e.g., you believe we should have mentioned Sam Blakeslee’s remarks; we disagree. You may be right, but we had to make a decision on deadline with limited space available.)
We decline to print your piece as written because we feel we’d have to rebut your rebuttal. We don’t like to do that. Rather, I encourage you to reconsider your piece and ask you to shorten it so that you can make some points that are important to you. I’ve indicated below some points that might contribute to a valuable discussion of the issues as a letter to the editor.
I hope you will find this approach satisfactory. Separately, please feel free to convey to Julie Tacker our invitation to write a Viewpoint on the overall issue. As you are no doubt aware, we’ve been very accommodating to the board, and I trust from remarks I’ve received from Lisa Schicker that she remains appreciative of The Tribune’s efforts and overall coverage.
Here is our view of the points of contention.
HEADLINE: Reasonable people can disagree about whether the word “ruckus” may have been too strong. The dictionary synonyms are “row” and “disturbance.” I believe “row” – defined in the dictionary as “a noisy disturbance or quarrel” – would cover it, and thus “ruckus” is defensible. But again, reasonable people could argue that words like “disruptive” or “heated” or “passionate” would have been more on the mark in the headline. As I explained to Mr. Martin, the reporter does not write the headline, and in fact he never used the word “ruckus” in his story. This certainly would be a reasonable point for you to make in a letter.
TEMPERS FLARED: Our reporter witnessed booing, hissing, clapping, snide and crass remarks, numerous interruptions (talking over other speakers) throughout the entire session. Our editors believe that justifies the lead sentence; tempers did indeed flare all day long.
ARMED POLICE OFFICER: Regarding the armed police officer: Our reporter witnessed him moving to various locations in the room throughout the day. We used “patrol” to mean the officer was there, and for certain, he did not stay in one spot the entire time. He moved around. Perhaps a better word than “patrol” could have been used, such as “on hand.” I think that is something you can cover in a letter.
SAM BLAKESLEE’S REMARKS: While Sam, whose efforts we have covered all along and given considerable editorial support to, did say he was working on a legislative remedy, he declined to disclose any specifics saying it would be premature to report. So we really had nothing to report.
TACKER CLAPPING: Our reporter did not himself witness her clapping, and did not report as a fact per se that she did. Rather, he reported that the board chairman, sitting in front of the entire group, did admonish her not to clap. He was in a good spot to see if she did or did not. He said she did, and that is what we reported. You suggest that we should have reported that she said she did not. I think that is something that you can cover in a letter to us.
SUBPOENAS: Mr. Martin said to me on the phone yesterday that this is a small point and somewhat beside several other issues. Mr. Martin could not satisfactorily explain to the board (nor to me on the phone) how the subpoenas related to the issue at hand, i.e., whether the families deserved cease and desist orders. So subpoenas were quashed because water board chair did not want to listen to 30 years of history, which was considered irrelevant. I recommend that we leave this issue to another day, when it’s clearer to all involved how this is relevant. Again, I’m merely invoking Mr. Martin’s own admission to me that the subpoenas are not the main issue right now.
I hope this helps and you can find a way to write a compact, trenchant letter to the editor.Sincerely,
[President and Publisher, Tribune]
And the re-reply:
And here’s the requested 200 word re-write that may or may not appear on the “opinion” page as “opinion,” unlike the original story that appeared on page one and is considered “fact.” Journalism at its finest with the issues shoved off the table. Case closed.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
The 4/29/06 Tribune headline, “Los Osos raises a ruckus with water officials,” along with the first sentence, “Tempers flared for 12 hours Friday,” convey the impression that throughout the 4/28/06 RWQCB hearing citizens were disorderly, noisy, angry, and unruly. The reporter noted that an officer patrolled the “often rowdy” crowd.
These statements convey an impression of irate citizens roaming the hearing room for hours with placards, chanting slogans, yelling down speakers, engaging in fisticuffs in the back of the room with anyone who dared to disagree, and being hauled off in handcuffs for refusing to relinquish the podium. Available day and night on channel 20 the hearing hardly does justice to the hyperbole, which merely supports and enlivens a broadly unfair stereotype of Los Osos citizens created by the media.
It was probably too much to hope that our county newspaper would afford us the dignity of reporting the RWQCB hearing as it happened. It is discouraging to discover that our own newspaper would use its influence to marginalize and demean Los Osos and its citizens by misrepresentation, by selective reporting, and by false statements and gossip depicted as news. Thank goodness for instant replay.
Beverley A. De Witt-Moylan
Cease and Desist Order Recipient and Defendant