Censorship -- or something else? - Page 5

Why did two Bay Area newsrooms dismiss Peter Byrne's story about conflicts of interest in UC investment deals?
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"We want to be clear on one point. The Chronicle is never intimidated by threats made prior to the publication of a newspaper story — and they are hardly infrequent. We make all of our decisions about publishing stories based on the high standards for journalism that we seek to uphold in the newspaper every day." Bay Citizen reporter Elizabeth Lesly Stevens told us: "After much reporting we ultimately decided that Peter's story was a lot less interesting than he thought it was, and wouldn't make for a very worthwhile column in the NY Times."

Editors note: This is the final version of the story that was supposed to run in the Chron:

By Peter Byrne

news@sfbg.com

The University of California has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in business deals in which two regents who have helped oversee UC's investment portfolio also had financial interests, records show.

Since 2003, UC has invested in five private equity deals in which Regent Richard Blum also had investment interests, according to federal, state and university documents. Regent Paul Wachter had a substantial financial interest in one of those deals.

In such cases, Blum and Wachter were in a position to benefit — or lose — from university investments they oversaw. Blum served on the investment committee from 2004 to February 2010. Wachter joined in 2004 and is its current chairman.

Both regents deny any wrongdoing. The university's chief attorney has examined the investment overlap and concluded they were likely coincidental.

Yet some ethics experts say the overlapping investments create an appearance of conflicted interests. Critics say the deals may violate state and UC ethics guidelines.

Blum, an investment banker and financier who was appointed to the regents in 2002 by then-Gov. Gray Davis, is the husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Wachter is CEO of Main Street Advisors,?a financial management company. He was named to the board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004.

The regents' 10-member investment committee sets policy for and oversees the management of UC's $70.8 billion as of March 2011 portfolio of investments, which includes the retirement, endowment and campus foundation funds. UC's chief investment officer, Marie Berggren, regularly reports to the committee, explaining where the money is being invested and how well the investments are doing.

The investment committee's conflict-of-interest policy prohibits committee members from telling the investment officer what specific funds to invest in. But they can, and do, direct her to invest greater or lesser amounts in certain categories of funds.

Committee members must also adhere to conflict-of-interest guidelines established by the state and UC, both of which prohibit officials from influencing or voting on matters in which there is even an appearance of a personal conflict of interest. In particular, UC's policy says a conflict exists "if it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision will have a material financial effect on one or more of your economic interests." A material interest is defined as being worth more than $2,000.

DEALS EXAMINED

Blum had investments of more than $1 million in a number of the business partnerships that UC put money into, while Wachter had up to $1 million invested in one of the deals.

UC's general counsel, Charles Robinson, examined these investments in 2010. Robinson concluded that the investment overlap was probably coincidental, and that neither Blum nor Wachter improperly steered public funds.

"Any overlap is substantially more likely to be the result of independent decisions by like-minded investors than the result of coordination," Robinson reported.

Blum called the idea that he would coordinate investments and profit from UC's financial dealings "ridiculous" and even "obscene."

Comments

The comment by me quoted in the UC Santa Barbara Nexus that earned Chronicle Metro Editor Audrey Cooper's ire was the following:

“Byrne previously investigated conflicts of interest between Regent
Richard Blum and his wife, Senator Dianne Feinstein,” Brechin said in an
e-mail. “Those articles, like his current work, never appeared in the
Blum/Feinstein home newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle. That hardly
surprises me since the couple is now one of the most powerful in the
United States. They move in the very highest of San Francisco’s
political and society circles.”

Bizarrely charging that my observation was libelous, Cooper leaned on Nexus editor Elliott Rosenfeld who quickly folded, deleting that statement from the online version of the story and, without contacting me, posting the following editorial note:

"The Daily Nexus pulled the article “UC Regents Face Ethics Allegations”
from its website last week, pending further editorial review. The article
was removed from the website due to editorial staff agreement that
concerns about a quote attributed to a UC visiting fellow merited further
review. After discussion the staff decided to repost the article sans the
quote in question, which we deemed not appropriately researched. The
Daily Nexus apologizes for this error. Further questions may directed to
eic@dailynexus.com"

In addition to running puff pieces on Dianne Feinstein and by Richard Blum, the Chronicle has since published exposes on how for-profit college corporations impoverish students at public expense without mentioning that Regent Blum has major interests in those corporations even as it sat on that information for months before spiking Byrne's article. The Nexus staff and Press Council stonewalled me when I attempted to find out why, under pressure and without contacting me, it impugned my scholarship about a factual statement that it charged was "not appropriately researched." Subsequent events have only proved the veracity of what I said.

Posted by Gray Brechin on Sep. 28, 2011 @ 9:48 am

Having recently come across this posting by Mr.Brechin, I have a few points to make:

When were you stonewalled by the Nexus staff? I spoke with you personally by phone and in no way prevented you from communicating with me. Moreover, our retraction statement, "not appropriately researched," referred to our own reporting. While I personally tend to believe the Feinstein and Blum are probably making shady investments and have undue influence in the Bay Area, the University of California Santa Barbara Daily Nexus had absolutely no evidence to back up your allegations that the Chronicle was swayed by the Blum/Feinstein duo. Additionally, you provided no further evidence except your own suspicions – which unfortunately does not meet my criteria for factual reporting. My mistake was to allow your quote print in the first place without having researched the topic further. Hence, our retraction statement.

This is not to say that you have an insignificant or non-intelligent viewpoint. Simply that we had no proof and therefore should not have moved forward with that statement in the first place without further evidence. I understand that the subject of Mr.Bryne’s article is quite intense and that Mr.Bryne is likely correct – but that does not and did not provide me with a feeling of validation about publishing something that I had nothing to back it up with.

Therefore, when your quote was brought to my attention (by the Chronicle's Metro editor), I agreed that, yes - we had absolutely no basis to publish that claim. Nor do I feel that our issuing of a retraction constituted "folding," but rather attempts at ensuring that one-sided comments were not allowed to continue. In all honesty, perhaps this situation would have been better remedied by publishing new articles on the subject, with a question-and-answer session from you, Mr.Bryne, the administration, Feinstein/Blum's camp and so forth. Unfortunately, the way things played out - with hostility circulating towards the Nexus from all sides (UC, yourself, Bryne, Chronicle), the thought did not occur to me at the time. That, I admit, was a mistake.

I do not mean to say that your position with Berkeley and your insight into Fein/Blum inner workings was false - rather simply that our original decision to publish your quote without conducting prior research on the basis for your statement was not a good choice. Which is why a retraction was issued. There was no stonewalling made, in any sense. I was available for contact at the Daily Nexus editor in chief address, as noted in our retraction, and was also available for contact on my cell phone. In fact, I spoke with Mr.Bryne, the UC administration, a Bay Area Guardian reporter, Chronicle Metro Editor Cooper and you by cell phone after our publication of the story in question.

Additionally, we made no effort to prevent you from writing a letter to the editor, or supplying information to back up your allegations.

To conclude, I would like to state that I still standby my decision to retract your quote as it stood in the story. As we originally reported it, the statement came out of left field and, while probably not libelous, was certainly suspect due to lack of cited evidence from our reporter. To publish the story in the first place was a mistake, because I had neglected to consider your quote in the editing process. A far more detailed investigation of the issue was merited but was not conducted by the Daily Nexus. For these mistakes I apologize.

However, the continued coverage of this incident has warped the topic. I disagree with your interpretation of how this played out and I frankly find some of your comments quite offensive. I understand that having your quote removed from our article may have been frustrating - however, childishly making statements about being "stonewalled" by Nexus staff comes across as unfit for someone of your intellectual reputation.

Happy to speak with you further at any point - as I have always made clear. My cell phone, as it has been since we spoke in 2011, is (415) 717 1234.

Posted by Elliott Rosenfeld on Apr. 27, 2012 @ 10:45 am

Having recently come across this posting by Mr.Brechin, I have a few points to make:

When were you stonewalled by the Nexus staff? I spoke with you personally by phone and in no way prevented you from communicating with me. Moreover, our retraction statement, "not appropriately researched," referred to our own reporting. While I personally tend to believe the Feinstein and Blum are probably making shady investments and have undue influence in the Bay Area, the University of California Santa Barbara Daily Nexus had absolutely no evidence to back up your allegations that the Chronicle was swayed by the Blum/Feinstein duo. Additionally, you provided no further evidence except your own suspicions – which unfortunately does not meet my criteria for factual reporting. My mistake was to allow your quote print in the first place without having researched the topic further. Hence, our retraction statement.

This is not to say that you have an insignificant or non-intelligent viewpoint. Simply that we had no proof and therefore should not have moved forward with that statement in the first place without further evidence. I understand that the subject of Mr.Bryne’s article is quite intense and that Mr.Bryne is likely correct – but that does not and did not provide me with a feeling of validation about publishing something that I had nothing to back it up with.

Therefore, when your quote was brought to my attention (by the Chronicle's Metro editor), I agreed that, yes - we had absolutely no basis to publish that claim. Nor do I feel that our issuing of a retraction constituted "folding," but rather attempts at ensuring that one-sided comments were not allowed to continue. In all honesty, perhaps this situation would have been better remedied by publishing new articles on the subject, with a question-and-answer session from you, Mr.Bryne, the administration, Feinstein/Blum's camp and so forth. Unfortunately, the way things played out - with hostility circulating towards the Nexus from all sides (UC, yourself, Bryne, Chronicle), the thought did not occur to me at the time. That, I admit, was a mistake.

I do not mean to say that your position with Berkeley and your insight into Fein/Blum inner workings was false - rather simply that our original decision to publish your quote without conducting prior research on the basis for your statement was not a good choice. Which is why a retraction was issued. There was no stonewalling made, in any sense. I was available for contact at the Daily Nexus editor in chief address, as noted in our retraction, and was also available for contact on my cell phone. In fact, I spoke with Mr.Bryne, the UC administration, a Bay Area Guardian reporter, Chronicle Metro Editor Cooper and you by cell phone after our publication of the story in question.

Additionally, we made no effort to prevent you from writing a letter to the editor, or supplying information to back up your allegations.

To conclude, I would like to state that I still standby my decision to retract your quote as it stood in the story. As we originally reported it, the statement came out of left field and, while probably not libelous, was certainly suspect due to lack of cited evidence from our reporter. To publish the story in the first place was a mistake, because I had neglected to consider your quote in the editing process. A far more detailed investigation of the issue was merited but was not conducted by the Daily Nexus. For these mistakes I apologize.

However, the continued coverage of this incident has warped the topic. I disagree with your interpretation of how this played out and I frankly find some of your comments quite offensive. I understand that having your quote removed from our article may have been frustrating - however, childishly making statements about being "stonewalled" by Nexus staff comes across as unfit for someone of your intellectual reputation.

Happy to speak with you further at any point - as I have always made clear. My cell phone, as it has been since we spoke in 2011, is (415) 717 1234.

Posted by Elliott Rosenfeld on Apr. 27, 2012 @ 10:47 am

The story was "censored" because it is total bullshit, poorly researched, and poorly written.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 29, 2011 @ 8:53 am

Two thoughts after reading Peter Byrne's piece:

1. I see certain Chronicle and Bay Citizen editors and reporters (none of whom are named Peter Byrne) have deployed a journalistic version of the recent Butt Guardian page rather than go about the messy business of afflicting the powerful.

2. Associating Richard Blum with a certain receptacle for human waste had never been a linkage I've had reason to make...until now.

Posted by Peter on Sep. 29, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

As the outgoing president of the graduate student body government at UC Davis, I stand by Peter Byrne and vouch for his integrity. Peter came to speak at one of our protest rallies at UC Davis last year and he gave an illuminating talk that was written about in our school paper. I've seen no evidence to doubt his integrity, and on the contrary, have every reason to support him in his work. Obviously, Richard Blum's days on the Board of Regents are numbered. We all know that, but he doesn't yet know that. He will know that soon.

--Brian Riley, Student Unity Movement
facebook.com/groups/studentunitymovement

Posted by Brian Riley on Oct. 01, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

As the outgoing president of the graduate student body government at UC Davis, I stand by Peter Byrne and vouch for his integrity. Peter came to speak at one of our protest rallies at UC Davis last year and he gave an illuminating talk that was written about in our school paper. I've seen no evidence to doubt his integrity, and on the contrary, have every reason to support him in his work. Obviously, Richard Blum's days on the Board of Regents are numbered. We all know that, but he doesn't yet know that. He will know that soon.

--Brian Riley, Student Unity Movement
facebook.com/groups/studentunitymovement

Posted by Brian Riley on Oct. 01, 2011 @ 7:53 pm

It has been said many times in the past that Dianne Feinstein is a corporation masquerading as a senator. To be fair, that can be said of several current senators, many far worse than DiFi.
That said, if as much as much vetting by the Chronicle had been done with official statements about our continuing endless participation in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, then we may have enjoyed some true breakaway "journalism of distinction" here. Or perhaps the Chron should be including disclaimers in every story about Roadblock Republican presidential candidates who continue to lie, obfuscate and disassemble in every column-inch of space they so generously receive.
It seems as if any moderately lefty idea or assertion must run up a ginormous legal bill before it can even hope to see the light of day. And these stories are not being produced by some upstart blogger with only an iPad and an idea either.
No, they are being written by people with known bona fides like Peter Byrne, who jump through all hoops, foreseen and unforeseen, but run afoul of a coterie of nattering editors and lawyers. It would likely be quite hard to get something published in such a sinkhole even if the Chronicle still had an I-team.
If this crop of Chronicle editors handled the Watergate story back in 1972, what little that would have been published about the "second-rate break-in" would have been relegated to the back of the paper, surrounded by truss ads.
– George Powell, a one-time Chronicle staffer

Posted by Guest on Oct. 03, 2011 @ 4:30 pm