Thursday, June 28, 2007
Assemblyman Cahill to Freeman : No Comment...until apology
Assemblyman Cahill shares his side of the story, in response to Ira Fusfeld's blog posting as to why Assemblyman Cahill refuses to comment to The Daily Freeman.
Let me start by letting you know that my decision to stop giving interviews to the Daily Freeman is not because I thought you were "too tough" on me.
We have been acquainted for a very long time and you know that I have a pretty thick skin. Over the 26 years that I have been involved in local public affairs, media coverage, from my perspective, has been a fairly mixed bag. The Freeman, in particular, gave what I believe to be generously fair coverage to issues that I felt were important and with which I was involved in my County Legislator days. In fact, your reporters and even your columnists went to great pains to portray our small but feisty minority on the County Legislature as relevant and our positions as legitimate.
There were also many times when reporters missed critical points, gave the other side a pass or when your columnist twisted reality beyond recognition. However, it is not and was not my newspaper, so whatever was dished out, I took and hoped for the best.
And often times, it was the best that was exactly what the public got. Kent Allen and Hallie Arnold, among others, come to mind in that regard. Some amazing writers and observers have gone through the doors of the Daily Freeman. I am impressed with the sharp writing and gently persuasive ways of Katie Young, the tenacity of that one-woman bureau, Patricia Doxey and the grit of the likes of Paul Kirby. So it is with some regret that I turn them down for interviews, particularly when I know there is another side of a story to be told.
I did not arrive at that conclusion lightly or, as you know, recently (in spite of the sense of surprise you express in your blog). After a series of encounters, probably going back to the Fall of last year, I decided that it would no longer serve the public interest to have my comments filtered by the Daily Freeman or for me to lend credence or credibility to your published stories.
The Editorial Board meeting you grudgingly extended to me after my repeated requests during the campaign of 2006 did not yield an honest editorial. Instead, the content of the meeting was largely ignored as your paper advanced the simplistic and moronic concept of "don't vote for any incumbents" -- hardly the stuff of thoughtful deliberation.
Hugh Reynolds' portrayal of a heated discussion I had with David Donaldson as a near-bar brawl was utterly inaccurate and irresponsible. Even if he had a "source" for the original mention as he suggested to me he did, when he found out from Dave, other witnesses and me that he was incorrect, he simply refused to clarify this in his column. That alone has caused a great deal of unnecessary distraction as I try to go about doing the peoples' business. Dave Donaldson has reported the same.
An account of an illegal meeting between Town of Ulster Board members, representatives of Callanan Industries and me was inaccurate. I was not at the meeting. In discussing it with the reporter whose byline was listed at the top of the story, he indicated that he did not write that I was in the version he submitted to the Daily Freeman. Amazing. Still, it was reported prominently, with a blaring headline of illegality and followed several days later by a lengthy editorial chastising me for irresponsibly and illegally participating in a gathering in violation of the open meetings law. It didn't happen. Yet, it was reported in the Daily Freeman as true and editorialized in such a way that criticized me twice, questioning my integrity.
But that was part of a tear that the Daily Freeman was on. Eventually, there was a very small mention in a corrections piece, but the mea culpa, hinted at in the third paragraph of your blog entry, did not make it to your editorial pages by way of clarification, correction or apology.
Your pledge of no retribution toward the end of your blog entry is -- forgive me, Ira -- laughable. You of "lickspittle" fame -- just one of the colorful pejoratives you have used to attack me -- have been every bit of vindictive and petty. Starting with your simplistic rendition of the events surrounding the selection of a new Comptroller to succeed Alan Hevesi, your editorial page has been a cesspool of angry, childish, inappropriate depictions of a State Legislature I dare say you simply do not understand. Your personal tirade on WAMC where you referred to me specifically as a "buttboy" to Speaker Sheldon Silver, a term with multiple meanings in modern society, one of which includes epithetically as a young male prostitute for a homosexual john, was your reaction to my attempts to get the Daily Freeman to advance a more balanced discussion of the Comptroller episode. That seems a bit vindictive to me.
You ran an AP story on judicial pay raises where you incorrectly listed the salaries of State Legislators as $180,000. Checking other publications of the same story, the Daily Freeman was alone printing that "error". Any fourth grade school child in a classroom where I have been invited to speak knows that the salary of State Legislators is (and has been since 1998) about half that.
You have editorialized on numerous occasions that the State Legislature, its leaders and its members are at best worthless and at worst, corrupt and criminal. You referred to State Legislators’ "slavish obedience to the status quo" and that it takes a "leap of faith when it comes to [trusting] the two-faced barons of the Legislature". And those are the mild comments.
I have read editorials and stories in the Daily Freeman that are pure rip-offs of editorials, columns and features that appeared days earlier in other area newspapers. Sometimes not even the colloquial references were changed to create even a sense of originality.
Maybe it never was, but the Daily Freeman sure isn't what it used to be.
I used to enjoy the bold-faced type of the Reynolds column. I used to get a sense of community when I scanned the pages of the paper. I used to believe that you actually thought you were in the business of conveying the truth, of informing the public, of keeping the pulse of the community.
Over the years, a lot of that myth has been blown. Over the last several months, it has instead become evident that the Daily Freeman is none of those things. Your reporters are overworked. Your editing is questionable. Your opinions are often ill informed. Your content is largely uninteresting.
You remain a vehicle for advertisements and no doubt contribute positively to the dwindling bottom line of your corporate owners. But you don't inspire. You don't even incite any more. As you have bemoaned yourself, obliquely perhaps, the Daily Freeman is becoming or maybe already is, irrelevant.
It was related to me in a telephone conversation with Hugh Reynolds that the new cutting style of the editorial column was an edict from on high to make the paper more relevant. That kind of approach, if done responsibly, also requires a higher level of understanding and sophistication of the subject matter. Anything else is just a rant, just another blog, only on paper. You have taken on the mantle of editorial provocateur, but failed to assume the responsibility attended with that approach.
Finally, I do have suggestions for your readers to get news and information from my office and me. As always, I will remain available for meetings, speeches, gatherings and events. My office telephone number is 338-9610 and my staff is ready to relay concerns and to provide information to the general public, as well as individual constituents. I will continue to discuss matters in interviews and quotes with other media outlets including local radio stations (call-in and news centers), other newspapers, television and other news bureau operations. I will continue to use our available resources to disseminate important information to the people of the 101st through flyers, mailers and newsletters. We are working with the New York State Assembly to speed up the process of putting all of our press releases and publications on the official Assembly website, as well. With internet access as ubiquitous as it is, that should provide a ready means of information for most of the population I serve and beyond.
I would suggest that your reporters have that same Internet access. In fact, one story did appear in your paper that quoted information apparently gleaned from our website. Unfortunately, the direct quote that appeared in the newspaper added a negating word that completely altered the original meaning of the passage copied, rendering even that quote inaccurate.
When the Daily Freeman is prepared to acknowledge the error of your ways, to recommit to professional journalism and to restore fairness and intelligent discourse to your pages, call me. Until then, unfortunately: no comment.
Full Discloser : I'm a strong supporter of Assemblyman Cahill, but I take no position on this matter. Just showing both sides of the story.
Posted by Jeremy Blaber at 1:01 AM