Thursday, May 25, 2017

Salem Weekly: Fact Check

March 16 Cover Story
A couple of months ago, Salem Weekly did a piece about a Willamette WakeUp report on the Mid Willamette Homeless Initiative Task Force that aired in January 2017.

To be clear, the piece was merely print media reporting statements from radio media.  Or, as Weekly put it, "This story is limited to presenting some of the remarks made on the January 17, 2017 KMUZ WWU Tuesday morning broadcast, and Marion County’s response."

Marion County's response to the January report, as reported by Weekly, was that Commissioner Carlson and her Public Information Officer, Jolene Kelly, "look forward" to "having the opportunity to 'correct factually inaccurate information, and answer questions by the show hosts regarding the task force.'"

In fact, however, Carlson and Kelly were given  the opportunity to come on the show and answer questions, but chose not to pursue it after their first scheduled appearance was cancelled because of a power outage at the studio.  Perhaps this was because the day the Weekly published its cover story, another radio station interviewed Carlson about the KMUZ report, fact-checked by yours truly, here.  Whatever the reason, they chose not to reschedule.

Clearly, "Marion County" has had both the opportunity to respond and responded.  That, apparently, wasn't enough for Salem Weekly, who this week published yet another story on the KMUZ report, this one headlined, "Commissioner Carlson responds to accusations."  To call it pandering would be an understatement.

The two-page piece purports to be a follow up to Weekly's March cover story.  It states, "Carlson agreed to speak with us about the work and procedures of the [Task Force]."  Below are the more salient "accusations" discussed therein:  

"Hiring Karen Ray" 


Weekly: "The radio show team...said Ray and Carson were friends."

The KMUZ report referred to Ray as "her friend, they had worked together in past years." Carlson told Weekly that Ray was "a colleague from before", whose work Carlson "admired", and "actually wrote her doctoral dissertation on one of Ray's books."  Does Carlson's assertion, if true, make the KMUZ factually inaccurate?  You decide.

Weekly: "The radio show team...said Ray's do work a qualified volunteer could have done was contrary to the directive to co-chairs that they limit themselves to administrative actions."

What the team said was, "Carlson was unable to persuade Co-Chair Polk County Commissioner Jennifer Wheeler of the need to go out of state, or to pay $20,000 for services that Wheeler suspected very well were available in the community, and probably for free", and "the County Counsel for Marion County, in responding to our request to attend and cover these co-chair meetings said they [the co-chairs] don't have any authority to make any substantive decisions, their authority is to schedule meetings...put items on the agenda, sort of ministerial, not to make any substantive decisions."  Carlson did not deny the truth of either of these statements. 

Weekly:  "The KMUZ team...suggested that Carlson lowered her proposal to pay Ray" by $5,000 "to avoid a deliberative public process."

That is true, the team did say that, and Carlson hasn't denied the truth of the statement.  Rather, she defended her actions, saying they "adhered to MWHI's contract rules and followed the public meetings laws", and they were necessary to "move the process along."

"Polk County's Departure from MWHI"


Weekly: "Carlson agrees with the KMUZ team in one part, saying Polk County Commissioner Janet [sic] Wheeler did leave...over her unhappiness with the hiring of Ray, but Carlson adds that the departure was also due to personal matters unrelated to the task force."

Carlson would have to agree, therefore, that she did not tell the whole truth when she told KYKN that Wheeler left for personal reasons.  And how would Carlson know that "the departure was also due to personal matters"?  Weekly doesn't explain.  Under the circumstances, including the self-serving nature of Carlson's assertion and the fact that Commissioner Wheeler has stated unequivocally and in writing that she did not leave for personal reasons, is not Wheeler more to be believed than Carlson?    

Weekly: "Carlson...rejects the KMUZ team's...suggestion...that she misled...task force members at the November...meeting...where she stated that several Polk County members 'just couldn't be here.'  It's not accurate, she maintains, to say that she made that statement 'knowing' that Polk County had actually departed."

Carlson's exact words were:  "If I could clarify.  Jennifer resigned.  Steve Bobb sent in his resignation recently.  Heidi Mackay has not resigned.  Sheriff Garton has not resigned.  They just couldn't be here tonight."

The KMUZ report did not say Carlson made the foregoing statement "'knowing' that Polk County had actually departed", but that she made it after she had received and replied, that very morning, to an email from Heidi Mackay, confirming Heidi's earlier resignation by way of Commissioner Wheeler's October 18 letter, which Carlson had withheld from the larger Task Force.  In other words, Carlson lied to the Task Force when she said, Heidi Mackay had not resigned.  And she lied again to Weekly and all its readership in her dissembling account of what was said at the November meeting.   

Weekly: "In fact, Carlson's documentation shows Polk County had not left the task force on November 7, and never did."

This assertion is a straw man, and plainly contradicted by the Weekly's subheading.  The issue was not whether Polk County "left" (i.e., whether its Task Force Charter remained intact), but whether Carlson was ever going to admit (to anyone) that the Polk County team had resigned.  The fact of Wheeler's resignation letter is undisputed.  The fact that Carlson withheld it from the larger Task Force is undisputed.  The fact that Carlson acknowledged receipt of Heidi Mackay's email, confirming her resignation, prior to the meeting in which she stated "Heidi Mackay has not resigned" is undisputed.  The fact that Carlson lied about it is, therefore, undisputed.  Carlson has betrayed, and continues to betray, the public's trust, and Salem Weekly is helping her do it.

"KMUZ's program was not disinterested."  

Weekly:  "The January 17 program...was part of an ongoing conflict between [the show's] co-host Michael Livingston and his wife, Sarah Owens, -- and the task force."

The claim implies, but does not state, that the January report was somehow biased, and therefore lacking in credibility.  In support of this claim, which was not raised in the KYKN interview in January, or anywhere else we know of, Weekly alleges the following:

  1. "Carlson provided Salem Weekly with emails that suggest judgemental [sic] feelings from Owens toward the group began very early on."  (Weekly provided no evidence to support this claim.)
  2. "[Owens's] postings were not productive to [the Task Force's] work."  ("Postings" here refers to the blogs at this Wordpress site, and this claim is also not supported by evidence.)
  3. "Carlson didn't even know Owens."  (True, but does not support the claim.)
  4. "Owens...posted photos of members online and remarked with skepticism on the qualifications...of several."  (Does not support the claim.  See here.)
  5. "Carlson's emails shows [sic] Owens writing...about a meeting in which Mayor Anna Peterson is characterized as Carlson's "own ventriloquist's dummy."  (The actual term was "meat puppet", and it was not directed at Mayor Peterson or any one member of the Task Force.  See here.) [Update 5/26/17: a reader reminded us of a comment on the blog about the first Task Force meeting described the opening of the meeting this way: "Commissioner Carlson, via Mayor Peterson, her very own ventriloquist's dummy, brought the meeting to order. (A neat trick, but Commissioner Carlson's lips were moving the whole time.)"  See here.]
  6. "Carlson's emails shows [sic] Owens writing...about a MWHI meeting as 'a waste of time for all who attended.'"  (This was likely a factual statement, supported by the conclusion of the Polk County delegation that further participation in Task Force proceedings was "pointless."  It does not support the claim.  See here.)  
  7. "Carlson says...[the emails] were disturbing at times."  (Does not support the claim, but is  interesting, as, according to documents produced in response to our records request, Carlson represented to her co-chairs in October that "I don't read Sarah Owens' emails.")
Even assuming all these allegations were true, which they plainly are not, they don't make the case that there was "an ongoing conflict" with the Task Force, or that the January report was biased or otherwise lacking in credibility.  At the end of the day, the simple fact is that Janet Carlson behaved substantially as described in KMUZ's January report, emails and blogs and Carlson's unsupported allegations notwithstanding, and she owes everyone a sincere apology, which we will never receive, because she cannot admit wrongdoing.  There's a lot of that going around, these days.

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