March 04, 2010
|Everyone There Says N&R Got It Wrong|
Last week I wrote about a mistake in the News & Record in the Inside Scoop column on Monday, Feb. 22, made by reporter Joe Wilbur, who writes under the alias Joe Killian.
The News & Record article wrongly accuses the current Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston of grabbing fellow Commissioner Linda Shaw in an argument they had on June 20, 2002, which ended when Shaw threw the contents of a glass of water in Alston's face.
It is a serious mistake, because as Alston said, "You know good and well that if I had grabbed Linda the charge would not have been cursing and swearing at her, it would have been assault."
Shaw said, "Skip never grabbed me and I told Joe that."
Shaw later said that she had had several conversations with Wilbur and has told him every time that she never would have said Alston grabbed her because she knew it wasn't true and she just wanted the whole thing to go away. Shaw asked, "Why in the world would I say that Skip grabbed me by the arm if he didn't and I want this thing to die down."
Shaw said she told Wilbur that in the future she would not talk to him unless the conversation was recorded.
Alston said he called the News & Record last week and demanded a retraction. Shaw last week also told Wilbur that he would have to run a correction because the article was wrong. Shaw said, "He is going to have to change his blog."
Instead, on Monday, March 1, in the Inside Scoop, Wilbur wrote, "We stand behind our reporting – then and now – but continue to welcome Chairman Alston to return our call for comment."
Alston says he didn't grab her, and Shaw says Alston didn't grab her and that she never said that he did, but Wilbur evidently doesn't believe them because he is standing by his story that says, "Shaw once took Alston to court after an argument ended with his allegedly grabbing her by the arm and her throwing a glass of water in his face." The article doesn't attribute the statement to Shaw; Wilbur writes it as if it is fact, not something someone said, that may or may not be true.
Shaw said that in one of their conversations Wilbur told her that he got the information about Alston grabbing her from court records.
Charges were filed in the case and the charges do not include the charge of assault, nor do they allege that Alston touched Shaw.
Evidently Wilbur didn't believe Alston or Shaw when they told him what he wrote wasn't true because he is standing by his reporting. But he doesn't have to listen to Shaw and Alston who were involved in the argument, he could ask some of the other people who were there to find out if it is true.
There were two other people present when the incident occurred, former Guilford County Commissioner and current City Councilmember Trudy Wade and former Guilford County Commissioner and former City Councilmember Mike Barber. Just for the record, Barber and Alston are Democrats and Wade and Shaw are Republicans.
Wade said, "He never grabbed her. He wasn't close enough to touch Linda. I was basically standing between them and the water went right over my shoulder and hit Skip in the face."
Wade added, "He never touched Linda. I was an eyewitness and had to fill out an affidavit."
Wade repeated several times, "He did not touch her." And she said, "Mike and I were standing right there."
Barber said, "He never made contact with her." He said, "They were really loud with each other. He called her a bitch, which was the catalyst. That's when she threw the water."
He said that both he and Wade were trying to get them to stop yelling at each other and Barber said, "At one point I think I said, 'Hammer is coming down the steps. You don't want the media here.'"
Barber did say that after Shaw threw the water in Alston's face that Alston did step toward her, but both Barber and Wade were between the two. He said, "I stepped between them and he kept yelling and I walked him backward into the office."
Barber made it as clear as possible that there was never any physical contact between the two and that alleging that Alston grabbed Shaw's arm was just wrong.
Three other people who were not there when the water was thrown but who arrived while Alston still had water on his face are City Councilmember and former County Commissioner Mary Rakestraw, Triad Real Estate and Business Industry Coalition President Marlene Sanford and me. Both Rakestraw and Sanford said that they never heard an allegation that Alston had touched Shaw.
I also never heard an allegation that Alston touched Shaw, and I remember the question being asked that night was why Shaw threw water in Alston's face. If he had grabbed, her nobody would have been asking that question.
Alston, as one might expect, is the most outspoken about the News & Record's mistake, which Wilbur has compounded by saying that he stands by his story.
I spoke with Alston for the first time about the article on Monday, March 1. Alston had left me a message on Saturday, Feb. 27, saying that he had just returned from the Dominican Republic, which is why he had not returned my call sooner.
He also said that Wilbur knew why Alston had not called him because he had told the News & Record that he was not going to talk to Wilbur for six months because he thought his reporting was unethical.
About the article by Wilbur that he grabbed Shaw, Alston said, "I don't think it was unintentional for the News & Record to do it."
He said, "Their whole intent is to figure out some way to make me look bad under the circumstances."
About the incident itself, Alston said, "I yelled at her and I cursed her. I said you don't do sh-- like that. I was hollering and Trudy kind of pulled me away." Alston said he made the statement after she threw the water in his face.
He then talked about how if he had grabbed her he would have been charged with assault, not disorderly conduct. He said, "I don't want anybody to think I touched a woman in any way. That is assault and I don't want anything like that to be out there, especially when it didn't happen."
Alston said he had talked to Shaw who told him that "she never said anything like that."
Alston said that as a politician he knew he had to accept more than the average person in the way of being accused of things but that he thought this went too far and was considering some sort of legal action since the News & Record accused him of what would have been criminal activity.
Alston said that he thought Wilbur was mad at him because he wouldn't talk to him and he added, "He is the worst reporter we've ever had on the county scene."
Alston said the News & Record had been after him for years because Editorial Page Editor Allen Johnson was mad at him. Alston said, "He got his job because he is black and when he writes about black people you can't cry racism. That is the reason he got his job and I told him that."
Newspapers print millions of words and every newspaper makes mistakes. We have made our share here at The Rhino Times. In my book, one of the most unpleasant jobs in journalism is writing corrections, apologies and retractions. It is painful, but most of us have to do it from time to time. This whole mess could have been avoided if the News & Record had simply admitted that its reporter made a mistake and ran a correction.
This isn't the first time the News & Record has refused to run a retraction when it was obviously wrong. Read Death by Journalism by New York Times-bestselling author Jerry Bledsoe for a chilling example of a newspaper (again the News & Record) that simply can't admit it made a mistake.
As far as writing under an pseudonym goes, it's interesting that the News & Record requires people who write letters to the editor to sign them with their real names, but doesn't hold their reporters to the same standard. We, by comparison, print anonymous letters to the editor but require our reporters to use their real names.
It appears that the attitude is that as long as the people at the News & Record know who actually wrote the articles that should be enough for the readers.
But if a reader thought an article with Killian's name on it was biased and wanted to see if there was a reason for that bias, he would find that Joe Killian is not registered to vote, has never had a traffic ticket and, after checking public records, would discover that he doesn't exist. The reader might discover that reporter Amanda Lehmert, who the News & Record frequently points out recently married Joe Killian, is actually married to a guy named Joe Wilbur.
If there is no reason for Joe Wilbur to hide under the alias Joe Killian, why hasn't the News & Record in its many human interest stories about Killian mentioned that his real name is Wilbur? He got married as Joe Wilbur. He drives a car as Joe Wilbur. He gets paid as Joe Wilbur.
The fact that his name is Joe Wilbur is not a secret to the people at the News & Record. Why should the readers be kept in the dark about the real identity of one of their reporters?