Tag Archives: Society of Professional Journalists

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).