Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Suspicions confirmed: vetting the vetter

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”

      -Marmion, by Sir Walter Scott

If you’ve been keeping up with things here at Side, you know that a bit of a kerfuffle has been brewing between our publication and the one we usually refer to as The Ostrich.  On the other hand, if you are new to the subject, you can catch up by reading these posts:

Before you rush off to do that, though, we decided we would make this particular post self-contained, to minimize your need to jump here and there to get the ‘rest of the story.’  So please bear with us and read this entire item.  We promise you won’t regret it.

Our story begins with a letter we submitted to The Ostrich one week ago today, questioning the legitimacy of two letters they had published the previous day.  Our letter read as follows;

To the Editor:

Times Record editors have a well-established penchant for accepting on faith the unsubstantiated assertions of letter writers from the left. Yesterday’s edition proves the point twice over.

Dexter Kamilewicz claims “that the Defense budget makes up about 48 percent” of the federal budget. That claim is patently absurd, as anyone reasonably informed about federal spending would have known, and a few minutes worth of internet work would confirm.

The Kehoe-Ostensens state that AEGIS Destroyers are deployed around the globe, and claim they “have launched their guided missiles, killing indiscriminately on many occasions.” Completely lacking in corroboration, this is a cavalier and reckless assertion, and arrogantly disparages those in uniform. One might even say it is ‘indiscriminate.’

This writer is well aware that the editors and the publisher are more than ready to challenge submissions that run counter to their editorial bent. In the examples above, anyone who holds the title editor in a daily paper should have instinctively sensed problems, and at the very least, demanded supporting facts before publishing such clearly erroneous claims and invective.

The plain reality that you did not intuitively know the writers were wildly wrong and/or irresponsible is more than troubling. At the very least, it calls into question your editorial qualifications for writing and accepting opinion on national matters, and for judicious publication of syndicated columns.

To paraphrase Patrick Moynihan, “you are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.” More importantly, the editorial lapses cited above could be construed as willfully misinforming the public, which is dereliction of your journalistic responsibility and a breach of ethical standards.

We heard nothing from the opinion editor at said publication, until we published our submission here on Friday the 25th.  In a matter of just a few hours, we received this communication from him:

Your letter won't be published. Your premise that I did not vet the two letters in question is not true.


OK, we thought.  The challenge has been issued.  And we sensed the presence of a horse that was not yet dead enough to preclude beating.

We consulted with management here at the offices, and our leader told us to pursue the facts of the matter, and we committed to do so.  After all, we need to earn our pay.

We decided the best way to do that was to vet the claim of the opinion editor, Jim, at The Ostrich.  We placed calls to the writers of the published letters we had challenged.  The results were, in a word, enlightening.

We left messages with both authors, not expecting any response.  But we were pleasantly surprised when both returned our call, and were happy to talk with us.  Here is what they had to say:

Dexter Kamilewicz:

  • We asked if he could substantiate the claim that 48% of the federal budget is spent on defense.  He made vague references to international sources of statistics, etc, but was unable to provide specific sources for his assertion.
  • We asked if the implication that only 5% of the federal budget would have to cover everything but Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and Defense struck him as problematic, and he admitted that it did.
  • We told him that we had done some research on his claims, and found that government data shows less than 20% of the federal budget being allocated for Defense.  Here’s the data we found and told him about: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2012/assets/hist04z1.xls
  • We told him we would send him the links to data we had found, which we did.
  • He told us he would look for the sources for his claim, and would forward them to us when he found them.  As of this moment, we have nothing from him.
  • So we repeated the question: can you substantiate the claim of 48% of the budget being spent on Defense, and he admitted that he could not do so as we spoke.
  • Now the best part: we asked him if the editors of the publication in question had contacted him to verify the content of his letter.  His answer: NO.

George Kehoe-Ostensen:

  • George and his wife are, to put it mildly, ‘interesting’ people.  You can find out more by reading their own account here.  These are not your everyday letter writers.
  • We asked him repeatedly to substantiate his letter’s claims about AEGIS ships ’launching their missiles, killing indiscriminately, on many occasions.’  He responded with various comments about attacks on Serbia, the toothpaste factory in Iraq, smart bombs launched from aircraft, etc.
  • Bottom line: 
    • After repeated questioning, he said he couldn’t substantiate the claim, but would look for data that would back him up and forward it to me.
    • He said he could get in trouble with the statement – it’s ‘subjective.’
    • He said he should have worded it differently.  He admitted that he had used ‘too strong a words’ in the letter.
  • Now the best part: we asked him if the editors of the publication in question had contacted him to verify the content of his letter.  His answer: NO.

Before we wrap this up, it’s probably appropriate to review the meaning of “vet,” as provided by dictionary.com:

vet: to appraise, verify, or check for accuracy, authenticity, validity, etc.:  An expert vetted the manuscript before publication.

You’ll have to decide whether this behavior by the opinion editor at the NOTWIUN is an isolated case, an innocent mistake, an aberration, or is instead, evidence of a systemic pathology in our local, beloved, award winning, government watchdog press.

You’ll have to decide whether said editor, his associates, and his publisher might have favored certain local candidates for elective office in providing editorial page space for their ‘submissions.’

You’ll have to decide whether The Ostrich merits its self-described role of watching things on our behalf, and whether it deserves to survive as a viable enterprise.

You’ll have to decide whether journalistic integrity guides their conduct, or is trumped by personal agendas.

We know where we stand; let us know where you do.


  1. Hilarious incompetence. Maybe those missiles blew up the other 28% of the Defense Budget - or maybe the "editor" of The Ostrich is comatose.

  2. You'll appreciate this quote from Mr. McCarthy, found at something called PROGRESSIVE REVIEW, (http://prorevnews.blogspot.com/2011/02/down-east-journal-agenda-worth-copying.html) shared by a Mr. Sam Smith who apparently has been stirring up trouble since the stoned age...

    The notes of a meeting of the Merrymeeting Greens or something... by way of background:

    "In place of clicktivism, the Merrymeeting Greens have come up with a League of Brunswick Voters and another group called Vital Connections. Both were created on the principle that communities - of geography or of empathy - are the rock of successful organizing. In many ways it is the opposite of what the corporate world and its emulators think of as leadership. Instead of a few taking power, it involves helping people build their own by coming together. Nelson Mandela knew about it, as he recalled, because he had grown up on a cattle farm. There he learned to "lead from behind."

    The money quote, from round-the-room introductions, we learn that Jim McCarthy was in attendance:

    "Jim McCarthy reporting on his 10 years as managing editor and now editorial page editor of the Times Record. He sees the paper as a forum for discussion by way of daily submissions and feels blessed that so many people send letters to be published."

    I am going to try and dig up one or two of my friends on the Right to see if they want to share their stories about how Mr. McCarthy told them their letters were either not accurate enough, or spent to much ink questioning the accuracy of the letters of others to be deemed worthy of publication.

  3. I've recently had a similar interaction with Jim McCarthy. I wrote a letter to rebut a letter from a PeaceWorks friend of him and he responded with a long letter defending his friend and his letter. All nice and cordial but the same pushback on all conservative letters.

  4. Subscribing to The Ostrich is like paying to have someone to lie to you.