Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Roch Smith Junior: ""Extortionist," N&R publisher Robin Saul defends ...allegations as "standard operating procedure""

"On February 28th, the News & Record published a story by Mark Binker
in which he reported Guilford County Commissioner Billy Yow
accusing me of being an "extortionist."

Yow's comments were in response to me posting online
a picture of a racially tinged derogatory t-shirt inspired and endorsed by Billy Yow
that I posted at, a domain I own.

The shirt quoted Yow as saying, "Piss on the N.A.A.C.P."
with a cartoon of a little boy, flanked by a confederate flag, doing just that.

...there it was in print: "Extortionist," without any context or check against the facts:
A[n] accusation of criminal behavior made by a government official against me.

It wasn't as if Yow was saying how little he thought of me or how loathsome he found me,
he was making a specific charge of criminal conduct.

An extortionist, like a murderer or a thief,
is one who commits specific acts that are against the law. of two things had to happen, reporter Binker and his editors
either tried to corroborate Yow's accusation and, not being able to,
printed something they knew to be false or they did not bother to check it out
and printed an accusation with no regard for its truthfulness.

Either is a deplorable violation of the ethical standards of journalism.

...I was not even given a chance to respond to the accusations.

Isn't that the professional thing, the ethical thing?

If someone accuses someone of something to a reporter,
does the reporter not only have an obligation to see if it's true
but to also give the target of the accusation a chance to defend himself?

I was not asked to respond.

Had I been, I would have told the reporter the accusation is false
and asked him not to print something he could not substantiate.

Maybe that's why I wasn't asked to comment on the accusation...

...After leaving the News & Record, Mark informed me:

"I had been given an instruction by my direct supervisor, Margaret Banks,
not to respond to your e-mail.

That instruction was later reinforced by Teresa Prout, our city editor.

Banks would not respond herself.

Prout responded by saying that the Yow quote was "accurate."

...It is the veracity of the quote that was the matter—whether or not it was true
—not whether or not Yow said it.

Prout's response was evasive

...So how did an ...allegation of criminality by a government official against a private citizen,
to which I was not even given the opportunity to respond, make its way into print?

I attempted to find out and called the publisher Robin Saul to request a meeting.

Saul said he would not meet with me, so we ended up having a conversation over the phone.

I tried to impress upon Saul the serious lapse in journalistic ethics
of printing a false accusation of criminality.

I tried to get him to explain how that happened.

He did not want to provide me with any answers,
saying "I know where you are going with this, you are going to put it on your blog."

...I expressed my astonishment that Saul would not discuss the merits of my complaint.

He said he was following, "Standard operating procedure."

He said I could write a letter to the editor if I wanted and they might publish it.

One might expect that to be the role of an editor,
but when he or she is incapable or unwilling,
then the ultimate responsibility lies with the publisher.

If the publisher is incapable of acknowledging,
much less rectifying ethical transgressions, then he should go.

It's time.

Greensboro deserves better."

Roch Smith Jr.

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