Sunday, September 16, 2007

Giving credit to blogs: Why it matters

I'm a little annoyed today at mainstream journalists who don't credit stories broken by bloggers, either failing to give credit or sometimes waiting for months to write an article until they have original research to add.

Though I could cite several recent examples, today's case study comes from reporter Steve McGonigle at the Dallas Morning News ("TYC finding new leaders in the state's troubled prison system," Sept. 16).

To give credit where it's due, finally the News today became the first mainstream media outlet to question why Governor Perry appointed Ed Owens to run the Texas Youth Commission. As Grits and other bloggers reported soon after his appointment, less than a year previously the state had paid out a mid-six figures court settlement in response to charges that Owens and other TDCJ administrators covered up allegations of sexual abuse at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Was Owens really the right choice to run an agency where incarcerated youth had been sexually abused? As I wrote March 10:
So you're Texas Governor Rick Perry. The Texas Youth Commission is in the middle of a sex scandal that your advisers are telling you is only going to get worse. What do you do?

I'll tell you what Governor Perry did: He appointed a man to run the agency for whom the state last year paid to settle allegations in a civil suit that he (and others) ignored sexual harassment complaints from subordinates at his old employer, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Holy Mother of God, who is advising the Governor on TYC?
This information should have run in March when it really could have helped, before Ed Owens was elevated to conservator. I'm not saying Mr. McGonigle (who I don't know) didn't do a lot of extra research - he did, and it's appreciated. The Dallas News filed open records requests about the case that illuminated the story further, and even published many of the records online (see below).

But by waiting so long, the News gave the Governor cover for elevating Owens--and most readers will never know that the Governor's denials are clearly suspect.

McGonigle wrote: "The governor's office did not know about the federal discrimination lawsuit until informed by The News, spokeswoman Krista Moody acknowledged." Well, hardly. The Governor's office learned about this at the same time as the Dallas News reporters. That's a convenient fib for both reporter and source - it implies that the Governor's office can't be held responsible and also that the Dallas News just now broke the story.

A little courtesy and common netiquette from MSM reporters (as described in this excellent blog post on the symbiotic relationship between MSM and blogs) could have revealed this story to the public six months ago at a time when Owens was regularly being questioned before the Legislature.

Right after Jay Kimbrough first hired Ed Owens as acting ED these questions were raised, first on The Back Gate (n.b., site down this afternoon), then on Grits where I published the primary court documents, and also on former warden Terry Pelz's I know for a fact that all the major legislative decisionmakers and also then-conservator Jay Kimbrough were informed of the Grits posts about settlement after Owens' appointment as interim executive director but before he was elevated to conservator.

I know this because I forwarded the posts to everybody I could think of who might care - including reporters at the News. At one point after writing this item asking why the MSM hadn't covered the story, I was told by a News reporter the paper was following up and a story could be published at any time. The story now published uses as sources both documents posted on Grits and several people I either talked to this spring or who wrote extensively in Grits' comments. Here are the items I published on the topic at the time:
If MSM journalists respect blogs like Grits enough to scour them for stories, angles and research, then they need to attribute sources to blogs just like they do other sources. Here's how Matt Ufford over at FanHouse puts it (found via Kuff):
Traditional media as a whole -- from the oldest old-timiest old-school publisher to the youngest beat writer out of J-school -- needs to undergo a sea change. The mainstream media's refusal to acknowledge its symbiotic relationship with blogs is not only irresponsible, it's unethical. And until editors and producers hold their writers and on-air talent to higher standards of journalistic integrity, you can expect bloggers to continue doing it for them.
I think most MSM editors wouldn't consider McGonigle's story "unethical," per se. He sought out the sources I and other bloggers quoted independently, and filed open records request to add information so it wouldn't appear he'd ONLY recycled blog-generated material. But that process wound up taking six months, and by the time the story was published it had tumbled from the category of "news that might effect key decisions" to mere trivia, a post-script about a long-ago made decision.

That wouldn't be necessary if MSM reporters would just admit they picked the story up from the blogs and cover it just like they do stories from anybody else. Blogs and the MSM are complementary media, not direct competitors, so I don't see the incentive to go to such lengths to avoid giving other people credit for their work.

Here are some of the documents McGonigle got under open records, and I may go through them in more detail in a future post:

Equal employment opportunity documents related to the Sammy Buentello case

Sensitive documents

Victims' statements
These are victims' statements to investigators with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Office of Inspector General. The investigation focused on allegations of sexual abuse and harassment by TDCJ gang expert Sammy Buentello.
WARNING: These documents contains sexually explicit material that some readers may find disturbing.
Read victims' statements

Witnesses' statements
These are wtinesses' statements to investigators with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Office of Inspector General. The investigation focused on allegations of sexual abuse and harassment by TDCJ gang expert Sammy Buentello.
WARNING: These documents contains sexually explicit material that some readers may find disturbing.
Read witnesses' statements

Investigators' case reports and notes
These are reports and notes compiled by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Office of Inspector General. The investigation focused on allegations of sexual abuse and harassment by TDCJ gang expert Sammy Buentello.
WARNING: These documents contains sexually explicit material that some readers may find disturbing.
Read the reports and notes


Anonymous said...

Outta the mouths of blogs, that's where most of the research came from, I'd venture to say.

Anonymous said...

It could still be in time to matter if the Guv corrects his mistake, gets rid of Owens and appoints someone who will clean house in TYC of all of the TDCJrs.

tttt said...

At least the story got out.

Anonymous said...

Given Owens history of covering up sexual harassment, there should be pressure put on Goodhair to get rid of Owens as Conservator.

Anonymous said...

I hope I wasn't guilty of that, Scott. I still big you up when I'm talking to lawyers here in NM. But I guess I'm only MSM depending on who you ask.

Anonymous said...

The MSM also needs to look very closely at the questionable relationship that exists between Senator Whitmire and Dimitria Pope. That has been addressed in Grits too and with the same lack of concern or coverage by the MSM. Anyone who witnessed the recent "public hearing" could not help but notice that Senator Whitmire has something more than a professional interest in her. And anyone that dared speak against her was chastised soundly. How does someone with no experience in juvenile corrections find herself the "acting" executive director of TYC? It just don't make no sense!As I said early on in this fiasco that was supposed to reform TYC... Replacing one group of cover-up artists with another is no solution. And just for the record, you might want to get out your Casio Mini and start calculating the astronomical odds that the Governor will do the right thing and do anything to correct his gross errors in judgement where TYC is concerned. There is a greater possibility that monkeys will fly out of our butts first! Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the deep, dark bowels of the DOJ, because TDCJ ain't the answer.

Anonymous said...

You folks who are criticizing Owens and Pope are missing the point - they did exactly what their political bosses wanted them to do. They have been superb at their jobs. You all are judging them against the wrong standard. You seem to be assuming that their job was to do good for TYC. This has never been their job. Their job is and always has been to continue the legacy of Jay Kimbrough - keep the public's focus off the gross mishandling of TYC by the political leadership over the past 12 years. Guess who was governor when this all began? And you expect the DOJ to step in and do the right thing? Who's their boss? Our only hope is in the federal courts.

Anonymous said...

Ed Owens’ retirement from state service was announced today by the Austin American Statesman in a story by Mike Ward. It says Owens is meeting with the governor’s people to find his replacement if one is even needed. I thought it was only a few days ago Owens told the Legislative Committee the conservatorship had no end in sight! All the sudden Owens bails out of a $140,000 a year job because he decides to retire. Things do not add up! $11,666 a month and you walk away. What is wrong with this picture? Ok so the salary is totally outrageous, but do you see Ed Owens walking away from this cash cow? Also in the same article Whitmire was unavailable for comment. Jerry Madden said TYC is a safer place than it was before the politicians took over. It seems to me Mr. Madden has not been to any of the TYC units such as Mart. I am sure he is misinformed and not lying to the public. No doubt he is not aware of the staffing problems at TYC.

I am glad the MSM finally did a story on Ed Owens problems at TDCJ. Only problem it is a little too late. I emailed the information to every member of the Texas Legislature about Owens TDCJ legal problems with supporting documentation from our favorite blog months ago while the Texas Legislature was in session. Our elected officials knew about Ed Owens past and did nothing. I emailed Jerry Madden about Ed Owens’ past and he defended Owens. I guess they will all be so surprised at the DMN article about Owens. I have copies of the emails sent in case they try to say they didn’t know about Owens past.

TYC is a story that will not die thanks to Scott and his blog. If it were not for Scott’s coverage of TYC it would be nothing more than old news if not forgotten!

Anthony Mikulastik

Anonymous said...

My favorite part of the DMN piece was this section, to which I've added my own interpretations in parentheses:

Ms. Moody defended the hiring of adult prison officials to lead TYC as both appropriate and necessary.

"There is no other juvenile justice system in Texas," she said. "So the next field, the closest ally to the juvenile justice system is, of course, the other criminal justice system which handles adults." (Translation: Well, duh! Those kids are practically adult criminals already, aren't they?)

The governor's office and TYC have so far chosen not to look beyond Texas for new leadership. (Translation: CYA, path of least resistance, lack of imagination, take your pick)

"It's not like there's this large pool of juvenile justice experts waiting to be hired," said Jim Hurley, TYC spokesman. "You would be assuming that folks would want to leave and come to Texas." (Translation: We have an inferiority complex. Hey, Texas really, really sucks. We figured, why would anyone with actual credentials or experience want to relocate here? So we didn't even bother to look.)

Dimitria Pope, who spent 23 years working in the adult prison system and is now acting TYC executive director, was equally unconcerned in recent comments to lawmakers.

"You had juvenile justice experts on [TYC] staff when all this happened," she told a legislative hearing when asked about the new leadership's qualifications. "It was that entity that caused a lot of the problems."
(Translation: I'm pretty sure the people in charge before were juvenile justice experts. I mean they had to be right? Anyway, by my "logic", that disqualifies ALL juvenile justice experts from being part of the solution. You know we did a bang-up job - literally - keeping abuses out of TDCJ.)

What a sorry spectacle.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

Based upon what I have read in the blogs Dimitria Pope, has been in the criminal justice field for 23 years.

I would say with this much experience she is qualified for the job. I cannot state what these 23 years were or in what capacity, but corrections whether there in juvenile or adult are corrections, correct?

Anonymous said...

I would still like to know why Eddie Martinez the supt at Evins was let go?

Anonymous said...

11:04 - Incorrect. Even the Supreme Court can tell the difference.

A mentally ill 13 year old should never be treated the same way as a 30 year old drug user.

Ms. Pope isn't even a good manager. She's just good at "kissing up".

Unknown said...

As I stated in my book: the media will only report embarrassing truths after so many people already know them - and then they will spin the facts so as to protect the interests of those in power. That's what the "additional research" is always about. Find some mitigating circumstance to shelter the authority figure. I have found so many embarrassing facts that the media will adamantly refuse to report. Police and schools lying about drugs is just one of those. The irony is that testimonial evidence is confirmable while the total lack of scientific research by the DEA can't be that easily confirmed. Reading the Controlled Substances Act does imply certain objective standards even though they are no where to be found in the text. So the lapdogs refuse to report these facts while raving hysterical about the testimonial evidence of drug harm.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@7:35 - just for the record, the allegations to which you refer about a personal relationship between Whitmire and D. Pope, as far as I know, are rumors that have not been confirmed. Commenters have alleged that on Grits, and I've heard it myself from several sources, but I've not seen it confirmed and have not published such allegations myself.

I mention this not to exonerate Sen. Whitmire, whose behavior at the last hearing was inexcusable whatever his motives, but only in the interest of accuracy and fact checking in an environment where rumors swirl pretty wildly.

Oh, and Dave - you definitely aren't one of the culprits, and I appreciate that. best,

Anonymous said...

11:04, which TDCJ crony are you?

Anonymous said...

To 11:04: "but corrections whether ... in juvenile or adult are corrections, correct?" Nope. Parts is not parts, and corrections is not corrections. The differences are enormous and anyone who says this has no experience in juvenile corrections.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Scott, I have been an Adult Probation officer for over 22 years and have a year as a Juvenile counselor in California. I bet I could fix TYC. I don't even care about the $140,000 salary. I'm sure some of that salary could go to pay overworked and underpaid staff. Come to think of it, I'd rather fix Bexar counties problems first! Never mind.
KG-Bexar County