Monday, April 28, 2008

Chronicle editor defends outing; I respond

Readers Note: It will help you understand the post below if you're familiar with the following: Chronicle editor David Graham’s Apr. 23 column here in which he outed me after The Chronicle (TC) had promised me anonymity; the thread of his column which includes my first response to him and a Cc. to incoming Chronicle editor Chelsea Allison; and two JinC posts Duke's Chronicle outs JinC and A Chronicle editor responds to outing in which last year’s TC editor Ryan McCartney comments and I respond. The posts' threads are extremely interesting. I hope you take a look at them, too.

John
________________________________________

What follows are: 1) a copy of an email I sent TC editor Graham last Friday with a Cc. to incoming editor Chelsea Allison; 2) Graham’s response in full and free of any inter comments by me; and 3) most of Graham’s email but this time with inter paragraph and closing comments by me and a commenter on Graham’s column thread.

Let’s begin:

1 - - My Email to Graham, Cc. to Allison:


Dear Editor Graham:

I wish you'd kept your promise and not disclosed my identity.

You were emphatic when you said you'd never disclose my identity "under any circumstances."

I could trust you and The Chronicle, remember?

We even had a nice chat about the difference between pseudonimity and anonymity, something Maryland School of Law professor Jason Trumpbour explains further up this thread along with some of the reasons why I publish pseudonimously as have many others including Mark Twain and some of our founders.

But in any case, The Chronicle outed me.

Twice!

The first time was Apr. 1 in a front-page article under the byline of someone The Chronicle identified as "Boobs Allison."

Since Chelsea Allison is the editor for the 2008/09 academic year, reasonable people will ask whether she was part of the Apr. 1 outing, or whether she was just "fooled" and had her surname used without her knowledge.

What happened?

If Allison was "fooled," who did that and why?

Why did Chronicle editors publish "Boobs Allison's " story outing me?

Did they know you'd promised not to disclose my identity?

If Chelsea Allison agreed to the outing, why'd she do that?

Now to your outing me in you final column.

You owe Chronicle readers an explanation for why you did it.

Surely you knew by outing me you were hurting The Chronicle.

Sources will be less trusting of a pledge of confidentiality coming from a Chronicle reporter or editor.

That's already a big problem for The Chronicle.

As you know, Editor Graham, many sources won't speak to The Chronicle under a pledge of confidentiality because they say it's worthless.

Your outing has made things worse for serious, honest Chronicle reporters and editors who want to dig on stories and bring readers the truth.

You knew all that before Apr. 1 and your latest column.

So please tell readers why you and very likely others at The Chronicle decided to out me.

When you do, tell readers I was warned in advance not to trust a pledge of confidentiality from the Chronicle; and that I accept full responsibility for disclosing my identity to The Chronicle. That was my mistake.

And one other thing: please tell readers I plan to work as hard as I can to inform people about the witch hunt, the frame-up attempt, and the ongoing cover-up as well as the predictable recent problems involving student and campus safety that have included the murder of one of our own.

Sincerely,

John in Carolina

Cc: Chelsea Allison


2 - - Editor David Graham’s response:

Dear John,

Although I've had my differences with you over the time we've been in contact,
the one thing I've always respected about you was your integrity.

So it's disappointing to me that you decided to lie in this, what I can only
hope will be our last interaction.

Most importantly, I hope you'll explain to your readers that you were being
untruthful when you claim that I promised not to "out" you.

I explained to you that at the time of our conversation immediately after I
found out who you were that I did not see any immediate reasons why I would
have wanted to do so; but I very carefully avoided making any sweeping
promises, as you will recall.

I would have liked to have talked to you about this matter before it was
published, but you will also recall that you insisted on my agreeing to a
number of points, many of which I could not possibly in good conscience agree
to, before we had any phone conversation.

Then, as now, I'm disappointed you have sought so hard to cut off communication
between us.

Now, to the matter of how The Chronicle obtained your identity:

Although I know you've corresponded with Chronicle staffers in the past, I figured out who you were the old-fashioned way: By reporting. When you made one of your phone calls to the office, we noted your number and then linked that number up with a name. It would indeed be deplorable if a staff member who had promised you
anonymity had gone back on that.

You will also recall that none of our interactions were those of reporter and
source, but were rather conversations following your initial betrayal of trust.

I hope you'll make clear to your readers that this is the case.

Philosophically, I find your link to Mark Twain and others spurious; Twain did
not use his anonymity as a forum for betraying trust, as you have done, or for
malicious ad hominem attacks, as you have also done. I will also say that
although I consulted with some members of the staff on this matter, the
decision was in fact mine alone.

I hope this closes our interactions. Now, I'll be getting back to investigating the witch hunt, the frame-up attempt, and the ongoing cover-up as well as the predicable recent problems involving student and campus safety that have
included the murder of one of our own.

Best,

David
--
David Graham
Editor, The Chronicle
President, Duke Student Publishing Company

3 - - Editor Graham’s email excerpts follow in italics with my inter and closing comments and that of a commenter on the thread of Graham's column in plain.

Dear John,

Although I've had my differences with you over the time we've been in contact,
the one thing I've always respected about you was your integrity.

So it's disappointing to me that you decided to lie in this, what I can only
hope will be our last interaction.


Graham's "the one thing I've always respected about you was your integrity" is a transparently disingenuous opening given that later in his email he speaks of what he says was my "initial betrayal of trust," an event which happened last August.

I've posted and documented in detail concerning what Graham calls my "betrayal" in these three posts: ( See To The Chronicle’s New Editor (8/5/07), The Chronicle & “off the record” (8/9/07), and The Chronicle & “off the record” (Post 2) 8/12/07)

Who'll be fooled by Graham's speaking of my “initial betrayal of trust” last August and then claiming when he wrote his Apr. 23 column outing me and referring to those he sees as like me as “his ilk,” that he "respected [my] integrity?”

All that Graham's opening does is set the tone for the rest of his email.

Most importantly, I hope you'll explain to your readers that you were being untruthful when you claim that I promised not to "out" you.

Graham did promise not to out me as recently as this past February, but he wasn't happy about it. He'd called upset about something I'd published and said he didn't see why I should be able to do that "anonymously" as he put it.

I reminded Graham that he’d learned of my identity after I’d given it last year to his predecessor as TC editor Ryan McCartney on the basis of a pledge of confidentiality. Graham agreed and seemed to accept that he and others at TC were bound by that pledge. He emphasized that at TC a pledge of confidentiality of "sacred." (For more about all of that see A Chronicle editor responds to outing.

I offered to send Graham three posts I’d previously sent him in Aug. 2007 which directly concerned both what he calls in his most recent email my "betrayal" and the ethical treatment of sources promised anonymity by TC. ( See To The Chronicle’s New Editor (8/5/07), The Chronicle & “off the record” (8/9/07), and The Chronicle & “off the record” (Post 2) 8/12/07.

I wanted to send him the posts because it was clear from the conversation he'd forgotten them and they spoke directly to the matters at hand.

Graham agreed to read the posts and get back to me.

The conversation ended on what I thought was a constructive note.

I explained to you that at the time of our conversation immediately after I
found out who you were that I did not see any immediate reasons why I would have wanted to do so; but I very carefully avoided making any sweeping promises, as you will recall.


I don't know what Graham means by "sweeping promises," but that he said he'd learned my identity from McCartney, knew I'd been pledged confidentiality and agreed he would observe it, I have no doubt.

If Graham wants to say he made it clear to me he wasn't happy about the situation, I would agree that's fair. But what he said left no doubt he recognized his responsibility and TC's responsibility.

I would have liked to have talked to you about this matter before it was published, but you will also recall that you insisted on my agreeing to a number of points, many of which I could not possibly in good conscience agree to, before we had any phone conversation.

Then, as now, I'm disappointed you have sought so hard to cut off communication between us.


Here Graham tries to convince readers he really would've liked to talk to me before he outed the "cowardly" John Matthews who'd "betray[ed his] trust," but I'd "cut off communication between us."

The poor Chronicle editor; what could he do but just go ahead and out me.

Folks, as I'm sure most of you realize I didn’t seek “to cut off communication between us”

See, for example, this email I sent Graham in mid-March as a follow-up when I didn't get any response from him after sending links to the three posts I mentioned above.

> Dear David,
>
> Some weeks have past since I sent you links to the JinC posts we discussed.
>
> I'd hope to hear back from you before this.
>
> I'm now very doubtful I'll hear from you.
>
> Those posts from last August confirmed what I'd told you I thought
> was the case: I'd treated you fairly and under no circumstances did I
> publish your comment to me without first giving you a chance to
> clarify or, as I emailed you twice at the time, make a comment which
> I would publish in full.
>
> I can't see how I could have treated you more fairly.
>
> What I did was in keeping with journalism ethics which, if you recall
> my third post, i documented with extensive references to journalists,
> including one who paid tribute in a eulogy to David Halberstam for
> observing the "off the record" ethics with which you took issue.
>
> Sincerely,
>
> John

Graham emailed promptly:

John,

Feel free to give me a call if you'd like; I'll be around (occasionally
running out but mostly available) all evening and again probably Tuesday.

DG

I emailed Graham saying I wanted our ‘discussion” to by via email so we could both have a written record of it just as there was a written record of what I'd posted last August. I made no other condition to our continuing to communicate.

Graham emailed back on Mar. 23:

John,

It is my belief that mutual respect includes not setting preconditions for
conversation.

Best,

David
--
David Graham
Editor, The Chronicle
President, Duke Student Publishing Company

Graham and I had no contact of any kind after that until he outed me on Apr. 23.

Now, to the matter of how The Chronicle obtained your identity:

Although I know you've corresponded with Chronicle staffers in the past, I figured out who you were the old-fashioned way: By reporting.


What Graham is doing here with his “I know you’ve corresponded with Chronicle staffers in the past, etc.” is trying to skate by the fact he learned my identity from last year’s TC editor Ryan McCartney who’d given it with a pledge of confidentiality.

As I said, Graham's acknowledged to me he’d learned my identity from McCartney.

BTW – Where have we heard someone else talk about doing things “the old fashioned way?”

What follows is Graham’s attempt to get himself off the hook for outing me by putting TC on the hook.

When you made one of your phone calls to the office, we noted your number and then linked that number up with a name. It would indeed be deplorable if a staff member who had promised you anonymity had gone back on that.

If you accept Graham's false explanation for how he learned my ID, consider what he's saying: A reader calls The Chronicle. Graham and others at TC know the caller wishes anonymity. The caller has been promised anonymity by Graham’s predecessor. The caller last year and this has served as a source for TC staffers, something Graham knows as he’s been one of those I’ve provided with background information.

For example, the TC had provided a quote as to Mike Nifong’s status in a source and pointed Graham to where he could confirm the quoted information was in error.

Given all of that, Graham explains how he "learned" the identity of a caller to TC: “we noted your number and then linked that number up with a name. “

My, my. Have nominations closed for this year’s Sgt. Gottlieb Award?

There’s much more I could say in response to Graham’s transparently disingenuous email, but I think just about all of you see what he’s doing.

I do need to contact Graham and McCartney to find out where they got what they published as my higher ed credentials (they're not mine) and to determine why there’s been no response from anyone at TC regarding the “Boobs Allison” question which is of interest to me and very important to TC's reputation.

I want to stress again that we shouldn’t forget there are honest, able journalism practitioners at TC who do fine, sometimes even outstanding, work.

I want to thank each of you who've been helpful and supportive. That’s always important, especially at a time like this.

Finally, I want to give the last word to a commenter on Graham’s column thread who said what I, and I think many of you, believe:

Graham's petty stunt only succeeded in outing himself as immature and unprofessional. To his defenders, especially the one WRITING IN ALL CAPS (not very effective, by the way; it only detracts from the content of your message) don't embarrass yourself by defending the indefensible.

Graham knew the situation, and he chose to break a very old rule that all professional journalists who wish to maintain credibility and respect have adhered to in the past. Graham did not publish John's name because the public needs to know his identity.

Graham put JIC's name in his column to create a diversion from his poor work on TC this year. Dick and his cohorts soon enough will have to answer for the words and actions that will define their careers. Graham should have learned the lesson that actions have consequences, but chose to ignore it in favor of a momentary gotcha that, again, tells us more about Graham than about JIC.
Your turn, folks.

And more later tonight and tomorrow.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

John:

In all likelihood, Graham probably casually mentioned what he was going to do to McCartney. McCartney gave him encouragement. It would have been an enormous affront to McCartney if Graham unilaterally violated the confidentiality promise without getting McCartney's approval.

They are both ghouls.

Ken
Dallas

Anonymous said...

There are many PC, left-wing radical pseudo-journalism establishments that will be waiting to welcome Graham with open arms.

He has now qualified himself for pulp fiction and paparazzi.

What a sorry example of Duke "scholarship". I, as an alumna, am ashamed of him.

So... look for Brodhead to find some way to reward him for his fidelity.

sceptical said...

Apparently some on the Chronicle believe your "outing" is a tit-for-tat for your publishing on-line e-mails from Graham which he unilaterally labeled as "off the record."

Even if it was debatable whether just labeling something as "off the record" requires the other party to observe that privelege, this still does not justify the gratuitous "outing" in a senior farewell column. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Graham's sniveling e-mail to you is evasive at best about whether he promised you anonymity.His explanation that he found your identity by caller ID independently of learning it from Ryan McCarthy is ludicrous.

In the long run, Graham will be hurt much more by his indiscretion than you. Your long record of intelligent blogging will outlive Graham's mediocre tenure as Chronicle Editor.

QuadDog said...

If the MSM exists in a couple years DG will fit in perfectly. Otherwise he'll have to settly for politician.

AMac said...

JinC --

Thanks for sharing this tale in all its detail. It is not an encouraging snapshot of the state of ethics at The Chronicle.

Readers shouldn't even have to click on a link to read the email that Chronicle editor David Graham decreed was off the record.

Here it that letter, in its entirety, from your 8/9/07 blog post:

--- begin email ---

John,

[Off the record] I guess I'm curious as to what sort of response you were seeking. I believe the coverage that we provide throughout the school year will speak for itself and would caution against any reading of the column that would suggest that we won't aggressively report on issues related to the case.

I hope you enjoy and are enlightened by it and imagine I'll be hearing from you about it as we go along.

Thanks,

DG
--
David Graham
Editor, The Chronicle
President, Duke Student Publishing Company

--- end email ---

Plainly, Graham's letter is content-free, unless he believed that the act of corresponding with you was itself damning. This is a strange variant of what we could call Seinfeld Confidentiality: an off-the-record demand that is imposed, not agreed to, and that is about... Nothing.

So, Graham seems to accede to this account:

-- Previous editor Ryan McCartney granted you confidentiality;

-- Graham learned of McCartney's undertaking and pledged to honor it;

-- In August, you wrote to Graham;

-- In August, he emailed a boilerplate paragraph to you, demanding off-the-record treatment without prior discussion;

-- You did not adhere to this nonexistent agreement;

-- Graham stewed about your disobedience for eight months;

-- In a call to The Chronicle subsequent to the pledge of confidentiality given to you, Graham read your phone number off Caller ID and did a reverse lookup;

-- Unknown persons at The Chronicle outed you in the guise of an April Fool's story;

-- David Graham outed you again in his April 23 Chronicle column.

This narrative doesn't make sense on its own terms. How could Graham's use of Caller ID explain his decision to out you, in light of his prior agreement to respect your desire to remain pseudonymous?

By any reasonable standard, this is despicable and unethical behavior by Editor Graham and his colleagues at The Chronicle.

Anonymous said...

Apparently Graham is an "ethical journalist/blogger" who didn't make the same egregious mistake of entering into an "off the record" agreement. How is your identity more privileged than the emails you keep posting?

PG

Anonymous said...

Hi PG,

You're late for this party.

Read a little more about the difference between a journalist and a source agreeing on the terms of an off the record relationship and somebody just announcing something's off the record.

A comment isn't off the record just because someone says to you, "Off the record, you don't know what you're talking about."

You could publish the comment and not be violating an off the record agreement.

Ask David Graham or Dan Rather.

Now if you say something false about your source, that's different.

Joseph Pulitzer

Anonymous said...

I tried not to judge Graham solely on the basis of his decision to shut down the messageboard but now I'm ready to conclude, Graham really isn't worth your time.

I know gnats are hard to ignore and if you really need to take a few swats, try not to hurt him too much. He obviously is just a kid.

Anonymous said...

John:

The only thing I might add is to caution you - or anyone for that matter - about using the terms "journalism" and "ethics" in the same phrase. Or sentence. Or paragraph. Or entire article.

Walter Abbott