February 06, 2008

The Journal's response to allegations of favoritism

Prior to posting my story on the Journal's coverage, I sent a draft to the paper's editor, Erin Schultz. I asked her to let me know if my post contained any factual mistakes. Ms. Schultz's response to my email stated; "Rick, here is my response. I respectfully request that it be posted in full. Thank you." Her comments are set out in full below;
  • The Journals have reported on the court's decision that Koch Road was vacated illegally and will continue to report on future decisions about the road. Mr. Fischer has made numerous claims that the Journals are ignoring parts of the story. When asked to elaborate on what he thinks the paper should cover with regard to the road, Mr. Fischer has responded not with answers but with a barrage of false allegations that the newsroom is acting to protect Journal advertisers. These allegations are untrue. The Journals will continue to report independently on the Koch Road issue. We respect Mr. Fischer and his work as a community watchdog, and we welcome his criticism. While we may not always agree with his work, we will not spread false allegations about his character or ethics. We hope he will extend the Journals the same courtesy.

According to Ms. Schultz, the Journal has asked me to "elaborate on what (I) think the paper should cover with regard to the road" and that I have not answered their requests but instead replied with "a barrage of false allegations that the newsroom is acting to protect Journal advertisers." First, let me cover what is true in that statement; I am absolutely alleging the "newsroom" at the Journal is acting to protect its advertisers. Ms. Schultz simply dismisses my allegations as false. Rather than simply dismiss Ms. Schultz allegations as false, I will prove they are false based on the facts.

While I have written in the past about the favorable treatment advertisers receive from the Journal (as well as the Post) the dispute over the Koch Road coverage began when the Journal reported in a November, 20, 2007 story that Koch Road was vacated in 2006. My problem with this was as follows:

  1. Koch Road was not vacated in 2006 and has never been vacated. None of the parties in this matter claim that it was vacated in 2006. This "error" is crucial to the story and avoids reporting the most significant aspects of the scandal which are;
  2. McBride & Sons (builder) and Hyland Green (developer) illegally destroyed a public property when they tore out Koch Road one night in May of 2006. If Koch Road was vacated in 2006, as Ms. Perry reported, the property upon which it ran would belong to McBride and Hyland and they may have had every right to destroy it. However, if it was not vacated then the destruction of the road was not only a violation of the law but also a criminal act.
  3. O'Fallon issued permits to McBride to construct homes right on top of where Koch road ran. Again, if Ms. Perry was correct then O'Fallon may have had the right to issue those permits, however, if Koch Road was still public property, O'Fallon intentionally violated the law to benefit a developer.

It should also be noted their are victims as a result of the illegal actions noted above. The residents in the area of Koch Road have been left without a publicly maintained road in place of Koch Road. The developer has never finished New Koch Road and it does not meet MODOT standards. Residents report the uncompleted intersection with Highway P is dangerous and that there have been several accidents. In addition, the homes McBride built on Koch Road were sold to innocent families who paid close to $300,000 for their dream homes. These families cannot sell or refinance these homes because of the easement for a public road which runs right through their property (and homes in some cases.) The employees who instructed O'Fallon city Administrator Bob Lowery why the city could not issue permits to McBride were fired days before the road was illegally destroyed. These employees have alleged their refusal to violate the law on behalf of the builders is why Lowery fired them.

For these reasons I wanted the Journal to (1) correct its error in reporting the road was vacated in 2006, (2) report the actions of McBride and Hyland in destroying a public road and (3) report O'Fallon's role in unlawfully issuing permits. So did I fail to let the Journal know that these were the issues I wanted the Journal to cover as Ms. Schultz's claims in her comments? You be the judge.

Correct mistake of date Koch Road was vacated.

1. November 20, 2007 phone call to Ms. Perry explaining that she was incorrect in reporting the road was vacated in 2006 and why this was important.

2. November 20, 2007 email to Perry stating "It is very clear that Koch was not ever legally vacated and certainly not vacated when the city issued building permits."

3. November 20, 2007 I posted on here: The Suburban Journal did a story last week about a lawsuit filed against McBride & Sons by residents whose homes were built on a public right of way. The story reported that the right of way was vacated in 2006, however, this is in incorrect. The road has actually never been legally vacated, a point which is crucial to the story and which should bring into question O'Fallon's role in this controversy. However, up to this point neither the Journal nor the Post has covered this angle.

4. December 15, 2007 email: After Ms. Perry again reported the road was vacated in 2006 I emailed her and stated;

--Koch Road was not vacated in 2006 as you reported. I explained this to you in a phone conversation after your last article and you indicated your information came from a previous story written by a different reporter. I provided you detailed information regarding when Koch Rd. was vacated.

5. December 16, 2007; I posted Ms. Perry's second story misstating the date Koch Road was vacated and added my comments which discussed her failure to correct her error and why it was important.

6. December 17, 2007 phone conversations with Perry: I spoke with Perry on a couple of occasions in which we discussed her continuing to misreport that Koch Road was vacated in 2006 and why this was important.

7. December 20, 2007 phone conversation with Perry: Perry tried to debate me on the date Koch Road was vacated. An interesting role for a reporter considering no one involved disputed my claim.

8. January 17, 2008 email to Schultz: I wrote:

--The story that was printed contained numerous mistakes which went uncorrected. The most important of which was the day the road was vacated. Of course, if you report the story truthfully you would then have to report on the illegal destruction of a public road by the area's largest builder.

9. January 17, 2008 email to Schultz: I wrote:

--I will try again. Why wasn't the mistake I noted corrected? Please tell me the Journal's reasoning for not printing that Koch Rd was illegally destroyed by McBride & Sons and Hyland Green?

I could not make my position any clearer that the Journal should correct its "error" in reporting that Koch Road was vacated in 2006. As can be seen above the Journal was also well aware I was claiming they had failed to report (2) the illegal destruction of Koch Road by McBride and Hyland and (3) O'Fallon's role in issuing permits to allow a builder to construct homes on public property. I am not going to go though the entire list of times I let the Journal know what they had failed to cover but this is an example from a December 15 email:

  • -This story completely avoids the fact O'Fallon issued building permits for homes on a vacated road and that the developer tore out the road and started building on a public road which was not vacated.

As final proof that the Journal is well aware of what I claim they have failed to report here is an email dated January 17, 2008 from Ms. Schultz:

  • The assertion that the road was illegally destroyed is something I'll continue to look into. It is unwise for any publication to take and reiterate such allegations without investigation, as I'm sure you understand as a publisher yourself. We corrected two factual errors in the story you mentioned. I regret that those errors happened. The other allegations you've made will continue to be looked at. I can't guarantee that you will be happy with our coverage. What I can tell you is that we will continue to look harder at the issues you've raised.

As to Ms. Schultz's claim I have failed to elaborate on what issues I think the Journal should report; CASE CLOSED. As to my allegation that the Journal is protecting one of its biggest advertiser's (McBride & Sons) illegal actions; I submit Ms. Schultz's comments are further proof.


Anonymous said...

How much ad rev does Mcbride spend with Lee ent?

Anonymous said...

I have serious concern about the Journal. I can't tell you how many people have told me they have left a message on the Journal's sound off message and any time they are critical of local governments in the County, nothing gets printed. They only cover nonsence. Why even have a Sound Off! We need some investigative type journalist, who are on the side of the people for a change.

Anonymous said...

After reading this post I am not sure if the people in charge of the STL Post and the Journal are just stupid or are doing everything they can NOT to report the fact on a major story in St Charles County.

Beaker Beater said...

When Ms. Schultz says they will investigate, does she mean like the in depth, hard hitting investigation that they did into the Steve Groeper/Cottleville Firehouse accident? Anyone that knows the facts of that story knows the Post and Journal COVERED UP what took place. Both of these papers are as good as the Scoop...useless!

Anonymous said...

This has been a long running problem with the Post and Journal.

Sometimes facts take the sensation out of the story. We all need to remember they are in advertising business not necessarily the news business. Without ad monies they can’t print anything. You seem to be focused on ad dollars from developers and builders. Don’t forget that the municipalities also buy a fair amount of ads also. The papers don’t want to lose those dollars either. Thank goodness for the blogs today because news print is no longer placeing top priority on quality news coverage. I was really hopeful that Lee Enterprises would fix this problem but it seems to me it may be even worse now.

They have almost dropped St. Charles County from being covered yet continue to call it the St. Charles county edition.

But in the end it does not matter what the paper reports. What matters most, at least when it come to the Koch Rd. diabolical, is what the judge says not what the paper may or may not report accurately.

Rick Fischer said...

Here is an email I receved from Chuck at RiteOn.org.

Rick Fischer has done, in our opinion, some outstanding investigative journalism, posted on his web sites, explaining his view of the O’Fallon and St Peters MO “messes.” In delineating the Koch Road example he clearly illustrates and supports his view that local newspapers and government are engaging in massive corrupt practices and are covering it up by supporting certain politicians who do the bidding of certain developers. There are many millions of dollars at stake, of course, and this is no doubt the engine that drives these circumstances.

In particular, he puts forth reasons why the Journal and the Post Dispatch make certain decisions about “news” stories they publish. We agree with the theory that news policy is heavily influenced by a newspaper’s revenue stream because we have observed circumstances where this opinion was supported. In one instance in particular, the 2006 2nd Senatorial Primary election, one candidate was supported overwhelmingly by developers and the other was opposed and demonized by the State GOP with developer money. The Journal endorsed the pro-developer candidate and he won. The paper then published an article about the tactics that won the election for their man. The title of the article was “State GOP Distorted Brazil’s Record.” This was “conveniently” published AFTER THE ELECTION WAS OVER! “Fair and balanced?” Of course!

If you have an interest in examining local government corruption, how this relates to development and why the press, particularly the Journal, has an interest in deciding what and how they publish certain “news,” then please read Rick’s blog pages.