Why people get mad at the media (part 9). the Chronicle and Associated Press blow the big media story and refuse to make corrections
By Bruce B. Brugmann
The Bay Guardian, the Media Alliance, and the First Amendment Project won a major victory in federal court last week and succeeded in unsealing about 90 per cent of the previously secret records in the Clint Reilly media consolidation case. It was a clear and decisive win.
Yet the monopoly papers in the case mangled the story, tried to make it appear that the Guardian lost, and the monopolizers won. And then, when we requested they make corrections, they refused and tried to blow us all off.
The Associated Press story was the worst. It was inaccurate, incomplete, and made it look as if the judge had given the Hearst/Singleton forces a major victory, as the two heads on the Examiner website made clear: "Judge: MediaNews, Hearst lawsuit documents remain sealed" and "Judge denies request to unseal MediaNews, Hearst lawsuit documents." (B3: both inaccurate and incomplete statements, see our online coverage and our link to the judge's order).
The lead makes the inaccuracy more pronounced: "A media advocacy group and alternative weekly newspaper on Wednesday failed to convince (B3: no) a judge to open key documents in a deal between the San Francisco and the owner of about a dozen Bay Area daily newspapers." Then the second inaccurate paragraph: "U.S. District Judge Susan Illston denied requests (B3: no, no, no) from the Oakland-based Media Alliance and the San Francisco BayGuardian..." And then a selective quote from Illston that makes it look (wrongly) as if "the bulk of the records contained detailed financial information, including past and present revenue..." and that those were still under seal.
(B3: no again).
Our attorney James Wheaton from FAP emailed the AP and the Chronicle a full and detailed account of what we won: (a) about 90 per cent of the sealed documents; (b) a lot of key documents; (c) the right to stay in the case as an intervenor so that we are in a legal position to challenge any further sealing of documents for the duration of the case; (d) a major precedent that the big guys, especially the monopolizing publishers, cannot seal records in their moves to regional monopoly without public challenge, and (e) a major victory for sunshine, open government, and the free and open press.
More: the AP story was done without the normal calls for comment to our attorney or to the plaintiffs (Media Alliance or us). We had to initiate the calls and emails in an attempt to find out how AP so badly screwed up a simple straightforward ruling by a federal judge. And we are still mystified. The AP story ran in the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times, both owned by Singleton. Singleton, let us note, is also the incoming chairman of the AP board of directors.
When Wheaton asked for a correction by email, the assistant bureau chief Mark Rochester replied in an email:
"While I understand the subtleties (B3: subtleties?) involved, and have discussed this further with staffers here, I've decided not to do anything further. I just don't believe we could issue a clarification or write-thru of the story that would be useful to member news organizations in terms of trying to explain what was and wasn't covered in the judge's order." (B3: why not? Is AP above correcting demonstrable errors or giving the other independent side a chance to comment? What side is AP on? Darkness? Monopoly? Fair and balanced reporting? And most important:what about the interests of non-members or targets of your stories or people like us doing the public's business in filing and winning a major sunshine in the courts suit? Do we not count?)
I put the above comments in an email letter to Rochester and AP bureau chief John Raess. I requested an explanation of why AP's news consideration applies only to AP members (such as Hearst, Singleton, Gannett, McClatchy, Stephens, purported "competitors" who are now partners in the monopolizing
California partnership under attack by Reilly.) I also asked for a copy of the AP's retraction and correction policy. No answer as yet.
This is the face of the emerging daily newspaper monopoly in 2007 in the Bay Area. And this is yet another reason why people get mad at the media.
P.S. Ah, yes, the Chronicle story by Bob Egelko. His story wasn't much better and he missed the key point: when we filed the motion in court to unseal the records, the newspaper monopolists, obviously embarrassed, immediately agreed to make the bulk of the material public. There are boxes and boxes, and thousands and thousands of pages of legal material filed in the case so far, and the publishers didn't even contest our contention that most of it should never have been sealed in the first place. Ah yes, neither the Guardian nor the Media Alliance for the First Amendment Coalition was mentioned by name in the rummy little page 3 story in the business section. We asked Egelko why. He emailed back: the cuts were made for space consideration. B3