Curmudgeon Notes 7.24.2013

Northern Kentucky’s Sarah Jones is a statistic, one of many public school teachers caught having sex with students. Jones’ conviction joins her local identity with “former Bengals cheerleader.” Now, she could become more widely known as winner of a vexin

click to enlarge More exclusives, less editing
More exclusives, less editing

• Last Wednesday, with a headline on page 1, our Sole Surviving Daily reported that, “Memo on city parking lease stirs up a lot of ill will.” The accompanying “Enquirer Watchdog” timeline begins with, “The revelation Monday . . .” but ends: “July 14: Memo publicly released.” Can’t be both. It was released July 14, Sunday, by Kevin Osborne on WCPO Digital’s website. Enquirer Watchdog failed to credit Osborne and WCPO Digital. 

• I asked WCPO’s Osborne about his successful effort (above) to pry loose the parking lease memo. “I posted my first story on Sunday. City finally released memo — which we also posted Sunday — on Monday.” Then an Enquirer reporter wrote a piece for the paper’s blog, he continued. “After situation snowballed, they had a slightly longer piece on Tuesday, but no credit to WCPO Digital. By comparison, when the Business Courier wrote about it, they did credit us.”

CityBeat’s July 15 story also credited WCPO Digital with first reporting the memo.

Osborne continued: “FYI, this is part of a pattern by Dohoney's administration and (spokeswoman) Meg Olberding. Whenever I find out about a damaging report or memo, they delay giving it to me, citing a ‘legal review’ while they 1) inform council, and 2) massage the info and try to spin it. This has happened several times in recent months, most recently when I heard that there was a memo stating the streetcar needed an extra $17.4 million, and again with the Messer (a major contractor) request that it needed $500,000 more.

“After I didn't get the parking lease memo, I knew what they were up to again. So, I put pressure on my sources to get me a copy to beat them to the punch.”

• A friend warned me, “Don’t put anything in an email you won’t want to defend in court.” Someone should have whispered that to Laura Brunner, head of the Port Authority with whom the controversial Cincinnati parking lease was signed. When city development director Odis Jones told her that Councilman P. G. Sittenfeld wanted a copy of the parking lease memo, Brunner replied by email, “Can we please wait? How does he know about it?” 

• Here’s a nonpartisan mayoral election story: what did Qualls and Cranley do as members of City Council about the pension mess? Of the mayoral candidates, only Qualls and Cranley served on council. The underfunded pension scheme didn’t just happen. Inadequate city contributions began years ago. Don’t blame active and retired union members for their generous benefits; city officials negotiated and signed those  contracts.  

• It’s been a long time since an Enquirer page 1 headline has been so offensive to the eye and ear: “State’s new grades are more clear, but are they more fair?” I’d grade that "F" for grammar. How about “clearer” and “fairer”?  To their credit, Enquirer editors promptly published readers’ letters ridiculing the grammatical lapse. 

• KTVU-TV in the San Francisco Bay Area named pilots of the crashed Asiana Air Boeing as Sum Ting Wong, Ho Lee Fuk, Bang Ding Ow and Wi Tu Lo. Say them aloud. That’s something no one at KTVU did before going on the air. Not only are they not names of the Korean crew, but they are a tasteless parody of Asian names. The best and brightest at KTVU say they don’t know how they got those names initially but, “prior to air, the names were confirmed by an NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) official in the agency’s Washington, D.C. office.” KTVU didn’t get the name or title of that purported NTSB “official” and no alarms went off when they spoke to the NTSB official on the phone. Apparently, all the newsroom wanted was spelling confirmation, not a pronunciation guide.

reported all of this as well as the NTSB confirmation that a summer intern erroneously confirmed the four fake names. The intern’s been fired.  KTVU apologies lead my annual Golden Grovel award nominees. 

• I don’t remember whether NPR or BBC referred to the Parisian train crash that killed six as the worst French railroad “disaster” in decades. Dozens dead in a Quebec train derailment and inferno might fairly be called a disaster, but six?  Tourist bus rollovers kill more than that. 

• If you haven’t bought a copy of Rolling Stone with the Boston bombing suspect’s photo on the cover, find and buy one. It’s a way to stick a thumb in the eye of CVS and other suddenly pious boycotters who’ve joined critics who object to the image. People who object aren’t complaining about the story, just the image. They say it makes 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev look like a Rock star. The image was taken from his Facebook page. Where were boycotters when the New York Times ran the same photo atop page 1 on a Sunday in May?   

• Northern Kentucky’s Sarah Jones is a statistic, one of many public school teachers caught having sex with students. Jones’ conviction joins her local identity with “former Bengals cheerleader.” 

Now, she could become more widely known as winner of a vexing First Amendment case. It arises from her successful defamation suit against

run by Nik Richie. A federal jury in Covington, Ky., awarded her $338,000 damages. 

In 2009,

published someone’s anonymous claim that Jones was promiscuous and had sexually transmitted diseases. She said the allegations were untrue and they damaged her reputation. The false claims were posted before her sexual relations with a Dixie Heights High School student became known. 

The legal issue is whether U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman erred by letting Jones’ case go to trial. Critics say Bertelsman should have thrown out the suit because the Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects website operators who use content provided by others.

This is a huge issue, especially given how many sites use known and anonymous contributors’ material. Enquirer reporter Jim Hannah covered the case and and quoted two legal specialists’ criticism of the judge’s rulings and the jury verdict.

Santa Clara University Law Professor Eric Goldman, an electronic media law expert, said blaming Nik Richie for his contributors’ comments “unambiguously violates federal law.” Also, Goldman said, Jones’ criminal sexual relations with her student damaged her reputation so soon after the online accusations that the verdict was nonsense. 

Jack Greiner, the Enquirer First Amendment attorney, agreed that the Communications Decency Act and prior rulings protect site operators’ decisions to post information provided by third parties.

Bertelsman is no fool. Exceptions that allowed the suit to survive motions to dismiss might yet become law. Because the site was called

and Richie encouraged readers to submit “dirt,” Bertelsman said Richie was responsible in part for the development of the information and that made him vulnerable.  

However, a trial court jury verdict does not set legal precedent. Appellate decisions do. 

If Bertelsman’s understanding of the Act and the verdict survive appeals, site operators could be required to remove anything negative about someone, especially if that person complains. That seems contrary to the Act’s intent, Greiner said.

• The news was a record-setting auction for an old Mercedes race car. The New York Times headline was “Vintage Mercedes Racecar Breaks Sales Record at $29.7 Million.” The accompanying photo showed an unrelated, newer Ferrari four-passenger coupe. The Times must have file photos of that 1950s Mercedes-Benz W196 with its famous winning post-war driver, Argentine Juan Manual Fangio.  Maybe no one at the Times recognized the names of Fangio or his W196 teammate, Stirling Moss. Fangio is dead but Moss was at the auction. The pictured Ferrari was John Lennon’s first car. My guess is that even if they didn’t know a Ferrari from a Maserati, they knew Lennon was famous for something. His Ferrari went for only $547,000. Sic (mode of) transit gloria.

• Reporters embarrassed Britain’s National Health Service into abandoning the wonderfully, euphemistically named Liverpool Care Pathway meant to “manage” deaths for the terminally ill. Pathway was meant to embrace the best of the modern hospice, which, ironically, was a British innovation. Instead, hospital medical staffs withdrew nutrition and fluids from many patients without consulting them or their families about how and when they wanted to die. Worse, the government encouraged this. Hospitals received cash incentives for each bed emptied via the Pathway.

reported a staff revolt at Al Jazeera’s Egyptian service over what reporters and others said was blatant and manipulative pro-Muslim Brotherhood bias. Al Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar. I read and found none of the slanting of the news that its Egyptian staff identified in the Arabic satellite broadcasts. 

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