Thursday, July 12, 2012
A few months ago, veteran Chicago Tribune reporter and sometimes-columnist Rex Huppke got a bit of well-deserved national recognition for an obituary he wrote titled “Facts, 360 B.C-A.D. 2012.” Huppke wrote that while Facts’ health had waned for several years, Facts finally died in mid-April when U.S. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) declared that up to 81 of his fellow U.S. House members are communists.
Surviving Facts, Huppke wrote, are two brothers, Rumor and Innuendo, and a sister, Emphatic Assertion.
It would seem that KSBW President and General Manager Joe Heston has a close and loving relationship with Emphatic Assertion. Say something loudly enough or stridently enough, throw in the steely-eyed glare of a polished TV professional and, Facts be damned, it must be true.
Over the past few weeks, the Weekly has had a series of close encounters of the bizarre kind with KSBW, with a lot of Emphatic Assertion thrown in for good measure. The story begins June 19, the day Vice President Joe Biden came to Carmel to hold a fundraiser for the Obama/Biden re-election campaign at Carmel’s Sunset Center.
The campaign told local media it planned to use a single pool reporter – a print reporter, to be general, and Herald reporter Larry Parsons to be exact. In pool land, the designated reporter takes notes and then files a complete story to the campaign for dissemination. (How Parsons came to be the pool reporter is kinda funny: He called the campaign. He apparently called them before anyone else, asked how to get access, and they came back and said, “You’re in – if you agree to be the pool.”)
A funny thing happened on the way to the pool, though. A handful of Weekly staffers – reporter Sara Rubin, Assistant Editor Kera Abraham and Managing Editor Mark C. Anderson – asked campaign organizers for tickets, and received them, as press people do. They went, they tweeted, and they filed a story for the website later in the day.
And then KSBW called. They allegedly hadn’t been invited and they wanted to talk to someone about the experience.
I’ll interject: I was at my mother’s wake when this went down. A combination of unclear messaging (Did you call them back? No, should I call them back?) and a desire to play nice with the other reporters, and next thing you know – the building was lousy with broadcast media.
That’s where things went to hell. Despite the fact that Rubin and Abraham told KSBW reporter Jacqueline Mazur at least a half-dozen times that they didn’t pay for the tickets, KSBW reported at 6pm that the Weekly paid for the tickets. And then, despite the fact that anchor Erin Clark corrected the report at 11pm, Heston piled on two days later with an editorial that compared the pool reporting process to the media control exerted in Libya and derided us for buying tickets.
“Our news department considered this same move last week, but we dismissed it: KSBW will not be a political contributor to any political campaign,” Heston sniffed.
(Apparently PAC contributions are OK. Heston donated $500 to a broadcast media PAC in 2005.)
Weekly founder and CEO Bradley Zeve called Heston and asked him to issue a correction. Last Friday, Heston took to the airwaves and reiterated that all local media (except for the pool reporter) were excluded from this otherwise public event and that KSBW will not be party to making political contributions in order to gain access to elected leaders – and that includes third-party contributions. Zeve, Heston intoned, told him the Weekly received tickets from a political contributor (whom he said the Weekly refuses to name) who purchased the tickets for the reporters.
Problem is, Zeve said no such thing. And no such thing happened. Abraham, Rubin and Anderson received three separate tickets from three separate sources who helped organize the event.
One of them was Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett, who says, “I gave tickets to every news organization that asked.” KSBW reporter Felix Cortez called Burnett the day before the event, he adds; “I called him back, but then I never heard back from him.”
And had Cortez asked? Burnett would have given him a ticket too.
So first Heston wasn’t happy that we bought our tickets, and then he wasn’t happy we didn’t. He wasn’t happy his reporters were excluded, but the return of a phone call could have made that a non-event. And in both cases, he managed to get the Facts wrong.
Or maybe Joe just didn’t want to know the Facts, much preferring the company of the sexy but totally unreliable Emphatic Assertion.Emphatically wrong, in this case.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com or follow her at twitter.com/maryrduan