WNYMedia.net Demands a Retraction from the Buffalo News

16 Aug

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

The Society of Professional Journalists posts a voluntary code of ethics on its website. Among other things, it admonishes professional journalists to:

— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
— Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.

In connection with this story, which appeared in the Buffalo News on August 7, 2011: http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial-page/columns/bob-mccarthy/article514711.ece, you did no such thing. What you did was to (a) read something that Joe Illuzzi wrote; (b) double-check Illuzzi’s work-product with the Board of Elections; and (c) connect the dots, directly and unequivocally accusing Chris Smith of being paid by the Poloncarz campaign to blast your facile non-story about Jennifer Hibit’s connection with a health care worker’s union.

Upon seeing your August 7th piece, I immediately emailed you to inquire whether you had contacted Chris Smith before drawing that specific conclusion of payola. You did not deign to respond. I simultaneously contacted Chris and confirmed through him that you never tested the accuracy of Mr. Illuzzi’s conclusion by diligently seeking Chris out to give him the opportunity to respond to Illuzzi’s – and your – allegations of wrongdoing.

You were – quite rightly – blasted by most writers at WNYMedia.net within the following few days for being hypocritical. The Buffalo News has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from campaigns for advertisements over the years, yet none of us ever accused you of payola. How dare you do the same without checking with us first?

Your hurt feelings over Chris’ specific allegations of your lazy hackery (none of which you addressed or rebutted, by the way), were enough to get you to overlook your ethics as a journalist, and instead clumsily lob an accusation of payola directly at Chris, (and indirectly at me and everyone else who writes for WNYMedia.net). Our site is a blog made up of commentary and opinion. Since this is an unpaid hobby for Chris, me, and others, we tend to stick with topics that interest us. Chris and I are both deeply in the red viz. what we’ve paid to keep that site up & running.

I’m gobsmacked that you so cavalierly accused us of payola without checking with any of us first; without even making an effort to contact Chris or me to verify whether we got any of the Poloncarz money. We’re not one guy; we’re a network of people with different roles. What you’ve done, quite frankly, is defame us. You have – with reckless disregard for its truth or accuracy – accused the bloggers at WNYMedia.net of being paid to write positive things about Mark Poloncarz. As you’re no doubt aware, that’s the legal definition of “actual malice”, which is the higher standard accorded to public figures. You have destroyed our credibility on the County Executive’s race with a lie – a lie you could have, but did not, checked with us about first.

Printing a lie in the singular local newspaper with reckless disregard for the truth or accuracy of said lie is a textbook case of libel.

In obvious recognition of that fact, the paper printed a “clarification”, a lazy attempt at damage control. It basically informed the reader that, when Bob McCarthy wrote that Chris Smith was paid off by the Poloncarz to write nice stuff about Poloncarz, this may have given people the impression that Chris Smith was paid off by Poloncarz.

Today, I wanted to write something about the campaign for County Executive. I found that I could not. I found that I am now tarnished with an image of being a paid hack for the Poloncarz campaign. I don’t know yet what I’m going to do about that, but I’m writing to you, with a cc to your boss – without seeking the pre-approval of anyone at WNYMedia.net – to demand the following:

1. As prominently as your accusation of payola was on August 7, you devote an equal amount of column space to publicly retracting and apologizing for accusing Chris Smith (and by extension the other bloggers at WNYMedia.net) of payola, and that you specifically acknowledge that you were incorrect, and had never bothered to ask Chris before accusing him of being on the Poloncarz payroll;

2. That the Buffalo News issue a proper and complete correction and retraction of McCarthy’s August 7th libel;

3. That the Buffalo News add such correction and retraction to the website containing Bob McCarthy’s column of August 7th, so that anyone who may come upon it via Google search will see the retraction and apology accompanying the original libel;

4. That the foregoing take place before September 7, 2011.

I’m going to go out on a limb and expect the courtesy of a reply – from either you, your editor(s), or the News’ legal counsel.

Alan Bedenko

(The foregoing was transmitted today via e-mail).

25 Responses to “WNYMedia.net Demands a Retraction from the Buffalo News”

  1. Pauldub August 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    I hope you sent the to his editor(s) and the News’ legal counsel. Even if he is competent enough to open and read email on his own, I am not sure he has enough sense to let others know what is going on.

  2. Tom Robinson August 16, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    If one were a conspiracy minded type of person, one might think that this might have been the entire purpose of Bob’s article.

    “Today, I wanted to write something about the campaign for County Executive. I found that I could not. I found that I am now tarnished with an image of being a paid hack for the Poloncarz campaign”

    But, he’s a professional journalist and I wouldn’t want to imply anything untoward. I mean, as a professional journalist, Mr. McCarthy certainly would not publish something specifically fed to him to discredit an outlet with the ability to embarrass the Collins campaign.

  3. Fat Tony August 16, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    I’m amazed that the editors even let him run that tidbit in the first place. Is McCarthy’s column about politics or about covering those who cover politics? As much as I like BP and the others at WNYMedia, do there comings and goings really matter in McCarthy’s column that is supposed to be about the behind the scenes chess match of the local political class? I felt the same way when McCarthy would go after Illuzzi even if his points were valid.

    Thinking of this in another way, do I watch NFL Insiders like John Clayton and Chris Mortensen so they can talk about what NFL bloggers are up to or do I expect them to have some dish on what NFL teams are doing?

    I believe this is just further confirmation that McCarthy is lazy, has very few sources, is scooped by blogs like this on the really good stories and at the end of the day, should take one of the News buyouts because his time is up.

  4. Pauldub August 16, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    I heard his buyout consists of a double cheeseburger, his stapler and a warning never to show his inflated Ron jeremy face in the newsroom again.

  5. Historical Pessimist August 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    Excellent letter, Alan. I give you bonus points for working the word “gobsmacked” into it. Hopefully, the mustachioed dinosaur will be inspired to change his ways.

  6. saranac August 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    gobsmacked? really? you’re barmy.

  7. pirate's code August 16, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    @ fat tony — While completely agreeing that time has passed McCarthy (and many others at the News) by, I think social media is indeed part of the story of politics.  That McCarthy so badly screwed the pooch on this particular story is unfortunate (although sadly predictable), as the use of social media by politicians and the coverage by social media of politicians is changing the entire political game.

    What McCarthy did (or, in this case, didn’t too) happens all too frequently in all sorts of media.  It is so easy to write or say that “sources tell me that so-and-so did x, y and z” and, because someone is a “trusted source,” it finds its way into print or into the blogosphere.  Fact-checking, if it’s done it all, often comes after the fact.  

    No, I want to know what role media is playing in politics.  Of course, I also want that story to be accurate and, clearly, ol’ Bob missed it by …………………………….. this much.

  8. Kevin Hayes August 16, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    “I’m gobsmacked that you so cavalierly accused us of payola”

    Isn’t English the greatest language in the world!

    Well done, Alan – I was worried after Chris’s nice letter to Margaret Sullivan that you guys had let the fire in your bellies go out. Well, not really . . .

    • Christopher Smith August 16, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

      We escalate a slow burn into a wildfire, otherwise it tends to burn out quickly.

  9. Greg August 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    We should show a little empathy to those of the previous generation who don’t get this internet thing.

  10. Mark August 16, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    Since I’m a partisan extremist, I’d find you more credible if you actually were being paid off by the Poloncarz campaign. Nonetheless, Bob McCarthy shouldn’t make stuff up.

  11. Hank August 16, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    Apparently the consensus is that McCarthy isn’t much of a journalist, considering he’s a professional at that. Or perhaps he practices “ADVOCACY JOURNALISM”, which is what Marc Odien says WNYmedia.net does. The MSM is full of “Advocacy Journalism” 24/7, and it doesn’t matter what your ideology is, there’s plenty of advocaty journalism out there for you.
    Perhaps it would be more proper to say, McCarthy isn’t a good advocacy journalist for a professionals, but the amateurs at WNYmedia.net are not only better advocacy journalists, but hold themselves to higher standards than the Snooze and McCarthy does. Lawyers know witnesses lie their asses off on the stand every day. reporters lie in the MSM every day. I think it’s a big non-sequitur, except WNYmedia.net is pissed that this time it happened to THEM.

  12. wolfpack August 16, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    No matter how big or small your paper/blog or similar media you are obliged to inquire of the person you accuse to at least deny it. If they deny it, then print that is what they said. Everyone who write does so from their viewpoint or their editor, but taking money changes the situation. In a pay to play scenario the sight of a political add is your clue. There are limits.

  13. MJC August 16, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    Hank – there is a major difference between “advocacy journalism” and accepting payouts to support or besmirch an individual politician. Since you obviously do not know the difference, here it is:

    (1) Chris and Alan generally agree with the policies and abilities of Poloncarz, so they write blogs that support his candidacy for County Executive. They also speak out against the candidacy of his opponent, Chris Collins. This would be “advocacy journalism”. It would require both bloggers to avoid lies, exaggerations or misstatements, but it also does not require either to leave their opinions at the door.

    (2) Chris or Alan accept money, directly or indirectly, in order to write glowing articles about Poloncarz, his record, or his campaign. The articles do not actually reflect either blogger’s opinion about Poloncarz or Collins, but are primarily motivated by WNY Media’s quest for profit. This would be an example of “payola” and it is a complete betrayal of every journalistic rule.

    Imagine how heartbroken you would be if you found out that Keith Olbermann was a staunch tea party conservative who, for an nice salary, stumped for Democrats. Finally, “advocacy journalism” doesn’t absolve you of the laws regarding libel.

  14. King Kong August 16, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

    The Buffalo News is a racist, awful rag of a newspaper who posts asinine and irrelevant shit (like this and the crime records of the City Grill victims) as if it’s germane to a given story or event.

  15. John Seymour August 16, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    King Kong stating facts does not make someone racist. I am not a fan of the Buff News, but they reported facts in that article. That article was absolutely relevant to what happened. When you are at a social gathering and there are more than a handfull of people with criminal (firearms / assault) records, the odds are higher than normal for something bad to happen. That is what happened that night.

  16. Eric Saldanha August 16, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    A lecture on “advocacy journalism” from an avid Fox News viewer. Hank, you’re in more denial than those trannies you used to chat up in the hoosegow.

  17. King Kong August 17, 2011 at 12:34 am #

    John – Sorry, but are you fucking serious? None of the victims had any involvement in the shooting, nor does it appear that there was any incident involved with any of them that would have led to the shooting that night, previous convictions aside. It’s funny how with a car pile-up, for example, that no one talks about how many DWI’s the victims in the accident had, or in neighborhood code dispute how many code violations the person making the complaint has had. The difference is that the City Grill victims were primarily black, the coverage on their criminal backgrounds would not have come otherwise because of the attitude the news has towards black people in the Buffalo community. I don’t always agree with WNYMedia, but when they criticize Mayor Brown, at least they do so on substance, the news does it on nuance and at times just to criticize him. I had also never seen such garbage as to what Bob McCarthy did to Jon Powers in ’08, totally unfettered crap. I never read that awful ‘newspaper’ unless I have too, WNYMedia has far superior writing ability without a bunker attitude and superiority complex.

    If there was one thing that Carl Paladino was right on, it was that “Spineless Stan Lipsey And The News Sold Buffalo Out.”

  18. Charles Waterford August 17, 2011 at 3:24 am #

    King Kong – Pretty sure if both the examples you sited were significant enough to further investigate, ya know, like multiple people getting gunned down in an otherwise peaceful but heavily trafficked entertainment area, they would report those facts. Last time I checked, code violations don’t make national headlines or qualify as being one of the most violent crimes in a few generations. 

    I don’t think what The News did was sensitive or timed appropriately given the situation. Does that make it wrong? Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t feel like it’s their job to hold the hands of a few in a time of crisis while intentionally depriving an entire region, and quite honestly the nation (for anyone still following the story), of some context. I’d consider that more unethical than anything being discussed here.

    If you actually read the article, start to finish, instead of jumping on the racism bandwagon, you would’ve realized that they were explaining the facts, and how those facts were pointing to gang violence. In a way, telling the community it was still okay to come to Chippewa. That this was isolated and not an indication of a gang battle blocks from city hall. 

    Calling them racist? That’s about as ignorant as being racist.

    Good call with that Paladino quote, though. It’s relevant to your argument and really exemplifies the paper’s poor judgement by not endorsing a crazy person just because he’s from Buffalo. Maybe they’re just racist against white people too.

  19. Mike in Florida August 17, 2011 at 8:54 am #

    The News piece had the unique distinction of being both substantively weak and strategically curious.

    A well-written, published objection was absolutely in order, though adding a series of very specific, public demands with exact deadlines attached …. idk.   WNYMedia already had the high ground, not sure it needed to choose this particular event to escalate and put its gravitas up to a public test?

    Any of us would’ve been infuriated if our integrity was challenged like that, no doubt, the objective lameness of it all notwithstanding.   I just sincerely hope at this point all the precise demands are met now that it’s been escalated.

  20. Mike August 17, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    Funny… I honestly assumed WNYmedia.net was paid (in some way) by liberals/dems all along. Unofrtunately, I’ve come to accept that it’s just the way this god-awful game is played. Trust no one.

  21. DJ August 17, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    Does anybody even read that old sot and/or the semiliterate convicted bank robber/deadbeat dad?

  22. kbecker August 18, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    can we just sue em? I mean we spend a ton if time on this stuff anyway, and Alan is a lawyer, might as well take em for a few bucks, right? 🙂

  23. Newsguy August 18, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    I’m really torn here. Bob McCarthy is a friend of mine. I despise the snide remarks about his mustache and his looks. Those of you who make such remarks are morons. I enjoy reading Alan’s take on the news and agree with him 99 percent of the time. But nine out of the ten comments I read are often illiterate and just plain dumb.

    Here’s what I think happened. Bob obviously saw WNY Media in an official Board of Elections listing of campaign contributions. Should he have made a phone call to check it out? Yes, I suppose so. But left unsaid in this whole debate is that if Mark Odien is going to be providing media services to candidates, he probably should be doing so under another corporate name. That way, Alan and Chris wouldn’t be associated with it. There’s a difference between WNY Media performing a service for a candidate and a publication accepting advertising from a candidate. I’m sure you wouldn’t see a News web/video producer providing such a service to a candidate.

    We all have our issues with News reporters and columnists. I, personally, despise Jeff Simon. I think he’s a pretentious writer who is often unreadable. I wish he had taken a buyout! But Bob McCarthy is the region’s premier political reporter. I learn more from him than I ever do from that a*****e Illuzi. Again, a phone call on Bob’s part here could have avoided a lot of controversy. But geez, let’s not make a federal case out of this.

    Now, Alan, I know you are an attorney. So, I don’t presume to know the law like you do. But I took Communications Law in school and have attended ethics seminars throughout my career. And I just don’t think that any judge in the world would agree that Bob acted “with malice” here. Bob’s statement is simply not libelous. He noted that Western New York Media provided a service to Mark Poloncarz, which is true, I assume. As a columnist, he then has the right to question whether what he reads on your site is biased toward Poloncarz. Again, we have since learned more about Western New York Media’s set up and now know that Alan and Chris don’t receive any compensation. So, Bob may be mistaken in his contention, but I don’t see how it is libelous. The News made its clarification, and I think you folks need to move on and stop the McCarthy bashing.

    • Christopher Smith August 18, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

      Any jab I have made to McCarthy’s mustache is made as a fellow facial hair aficionado. It’s not intended to be injurious, just fun.

      I’ll cover the rest later.

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