Reading Eagle Defends Its Ethical Failures

The Reading Eagle launched a defense of criticism it’s received over its failures to disclose conflicts of interest in its City reporting bureau.  Harry Dietz launched a pathetic defense in today’s issue.  He began by saying “Our credibility is crucial.”  True, but the real issue here is the newspaper’s integrity.  It launched a specious attack on the Mayor with a front page, headline article which announced that Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer’s campaign finance report was under investigation.  They did this the day after the Mayor accused the Eagle of failing to disclose that its City Hall reporter Don Spatz reported directly to Spencer’s longtime political nemesis’ husband.

The Reading Eagle never, to my knowledge, disclosed this relationship in any of its reporting on the principles involved.  Journalist integrity and ethics demands such disclosure.  I’m sure my readers tired of my constantly disclosing my being a member of the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood whenever I wrote about the organization, the political attacks upon it and women’s reproductive rights.  I didn’t keep doing that to bore anyone, ethics required my disclosing that relationship when I wrote about the organization.

Conversely when City Editor Tom Knause directly supervised the reporter writing about Reading City Council and Councilwoman Donna Reed, Knause’s spouse, it had to be disclosed in the newspaper articles.  Mayor Spencer has done considerably much for the Eagle to be writing about and Spatz devoted many of his columns to the Mayor and never disclosed the conflict of interest.  Spencer took the opportunity and attacked the paper for its failures of disclosure.  Councilwoman Reed discloses the relationship on her City Council website but that doesn’t absolve the Eagle from its ethical obligations.

The Eagle doesn’t seem to grasp this.  Dietz discloses in his treatise today that the paper went to lengths to prevent any conflicts but no readers of the paper were aware of any of it until today.  Perceptions are reality and the paper built the perception, due to its failure to disclose, that conflicts may have been happening.

The paper’s worst offense, however, which goes to its integrity, was the specious attack upon the Mayor done in retribution.  This was an unforgiveable offense and one Dietz failed to address today.

Last August Eagle reporter Mary Young reported that the Berks County Board of Elections had voted 2-0 (with the lone Democrat abstaining) to authorize $8,000 of taxpayer money to investigate a campaign finance violation.  The county District Attorney had opted not to investigate so the County Commissioners, acting as the Board of Elections, hired a top GOP operative in Philadelphia to investigate.

It took me little time to deduce the target was a Democrat and had run for election the previous year.  I deduced the subject campaign finance report to be that of newly elected Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer.  From the Eagle article on a Friday I discovered the facts of the matter by that Sunday.  On the next Tuesday I went to the County Commissioners meeting to ask Mark Scott about the target:  IBEW union chief Johnny Dougherty.  The previous day I had pulled the campaign finance reports for Mayor Spencer and for Scott.

The issue being investigated is whether the Spencer campaign conspired to violate Philadelphia’s campaign finance laws.  The union gave the Mayor $30,000 for GOTV work shortly before election day (about a week out).  They only needed $10,000 to pay poll workers so the remainder was given to two Philadelphia City Council candidates.  Philadelphia limits PAC contributions to city candidates to $10,000 and the IBEW had already maxxed out.  The Spencer contributions were seen by mark Scott as an attempt for the IBEW to circumvent those limits.

Here’s the crux of the problem:  Berks County has no jurisdiction in Philadelphia elections.  The Philadelphia City Commission has that authority. In order to prove Scott’s  supposition intent would have to be proven and Spencer’s campaign consultants deny any such conspiracy.  The lawyer hired by Berks County is a Republican who does much work for the sate GOP.  He has no subpoena authority and has been unable to even convince anyone to attend a deposition.

This is why the Eagle’s attack on the Mayor was specious:  the allegations are bogus because the Board of Elections has no authority to investigate its allegations.  Interestingly the Eagle never followed up on its initial report between August and March until Mayor Spencer embarrassed them for their ethical lapses.  Suddenly they rediscovered this non story and ran it on their front page.

That is what cost The Reading Eagle its integrity and Harry Dietz failed to address that issue at all.

Feud Grows Between Reading Mayor and Newspaper

There’s an old saying in politics:  never get into an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel.  Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer has engaged The Reading Eagle and this the newspaper struck back with a headline story about the Berks County Elections Board investigating his campaign finances.  The story is bogus is because I investigated this (and had the story last August 21st) and found nothing improper or illegal in Spencer’s actions.

Berks County Commissioner launched the probe as a personal vendetta wasting thousands of taxpayer funds (that’s the real story) trying to go after Philadelphia union boss Johnny Dougherty.  The IBEW local gave Spencer’s campaign $30,000.  They used ten grand of it for election day activities (get out the vote operations) and then handed ten thousand each to two Philadelphia City Council candidates.  Philadelphia rules cap such contributions at $10,000.

Candidates always spread money around to each other and through other entities.  Scott himself gave the Pennsylvania Republican Party a ton of cash which they used to post direct mail pieces on his behalf.  Mark Scott and their ilk do so so negative attack ads don’t have their own names on them.  If what Spencer did was “money laundering” then so did Scott.  The problem is there’s no law against it.

Yesterday I published a response from Mayor Spencer’s office attacking The Reading Eagle for its failure to disclose an obvious conflict of interest.  Let me do an aside right now that I take no sides in this conflict I’m simply reporting what is happening.  Reading City Councilwoman Donna Reed is Vaughn Spencer’s chief political foe.  Her husband is the direct supervisor of the reporter covering City Hall.  The Eagle has never disclosed this conflict when reporting on the mayor.  The newspaper has run many negative stories about him (and he’s given them enough to write about) done by Don Spatz without ever disclosing he reports directly to Reed’s husband.  Today’s headline story is again written by Spatz with no disclosure.  It is an obvious response to the Mayor charging them with ethical violations.

Tit for tat and guess who’s going to lose?  Hint:  it won’t be the guy who buys ink by the barrel.

Reading Eagle Screws 50 Employees

The Reading Eagle fired 50 employees last week and wouldn’t give even 30 year employees any severance package.  The newspaper just finished installing a huge new Berliner press in a new building but then couldn’t make payroll.  Interestingly they recently did a week long series about why newspapers are dying.  Could it be because of bad management?

Other riveting fron tpage articles since 18 reporters were canned involve avoiding ticks, getting sleep at night so you aren’t tired in the morning, and preventing sunburn by using sunscreen.  It’s obvious where they’re getting their news feeds now as the Eagle is more like those weekly advertising circulars than a news source.

We decided recently not to renew our subscription because there isn’t enough in the Eagle to warrant paying good money for this rag.  It is increasingly only advertising, the comics are too small to read (along with everything else), and there’s little news I haven’t read elsewhere (sometimes several days old news).  The move to fire 50 people, some having worked for the publication for decades, with no severance and only two weeks health benefits, crowns our decision as wise.  Why support a company which is so heartless?

There’s a fascinating Twitter account written by an Eagle manager or editor which provides some insight.  Interestingly it begins with this person firing an employee and refusing to give two weeks of medical benefits until she reaches Medicare eligibilty.  He mocks her in a shocking manner.  No wonder we aren’t very sorry when he gets the axe.

Pennsylvania taxpayers coughed up a chunk of the $46 million the Eagle paid for its new building and press.  Now we discover our money went down another black hole.  Bill Flippen, owner of the paper, hasn’t explained this to his readers how they are subsidizing his business or why he so cold heartedly fired 50 people without any severance pay.  Bill, here’s your opportunity.  Now explain how taxpayers will ever get their money back.  Why not use the millions left by Myrtle Quier instead of our money?  When I was young our family attended church with the Quier/Flippen family and today I stand ashamed to ever have had any passing acquaintance with them.

The Reading Eagle is going down the tubes and taking us along for the ride.