Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Freedom of the Press

Tom Casey, reporter for the Register-Star, has been fired, allegedly because he didn't think the fact that Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), on a couple of occasions, exercised his right not to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance at Common Council meetings was news. (Gossips didn't think it was news either.) Sam Pratt has the story on his blog: "Firing roils the Register.


  1. I am very sorry about Mr. Casey's firing, but as an editor and reporter (and co-author of a book about the pledge), I think an alderman not standing for its recitation is indeed news. Since these are among the most recited words in the English language and have been at the center of intense debate -- even a few riots -- almost from the time they were written (1892), I'd love to know more about Mr. Friedman's dissent.

    1. The story is not Mr. Friedman's dissent! The story is that a newspaper publisher inserted himself in a news story and had an editor fire a reporter. An ethical publisher says out of the news side and the editorial side. Nothing Mr. Casey did was a fireable offense. Citizens should be offended and very worried that their local newspaper writes the news to suit its publisher. Further, the editor who fired the reporter should step down for capitulating to the publisher -- if she is that easily manipulated then she has no place in journalism. This story belongs on Romenesko, the national journalism website and I urge Sam Pratt to upload it to them today.

  2. Sam's quote in his story is accurate: I bristle at being told what to say and when to say it by any government, including one I am a member of. Full stop. Sometimes I say it, sometimes I don't. Fascinating, I know. What's more fascinating is that the Council is discussing next year's budget -- and last night Aldermen Marston, Pertilla and myself identified a hole in the Youth Department's budget of approximately $27k. Anyone talking about that? Nope. An elected official exercising his First Amendment rights not to participate in a rote recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is much more interesting.

    Frankly, I think the Pledge is vitally important to America and Americans precisely because -- as a nation of immigrants -- we have few things in common besides our desire to be here, to live here and to participate in society here. But I also think rote recitation of anything -- the Pledge, the Boy Scout motto, the lyrics from my favorite Grateful Dead song -- slowly diminishes the meaning of the words. So sometimes I participate and sometimes I don't.

    I feel absolutely terrible that Tom -- a very nice young man who just recently moved to Hudson himself -- is being used so terribly by his former employers. He is the one paying the price; he and all who are now deprived of his cogent and professional reporting.

    Finally, it seems to me, the real "news" in this entire story is that a man who stood up for what he believes in, who practiced what he was taught to believe as an American and as a practitioner of a profession central to the proper operation of our form of government, should be so shabbily treated. Tom did not deserve to lose his job for doing what he was trained and hired to do.

    1. If the Register Star wants to improve their image as a news source and not a propaganda outlet, they should cover Sleepergate, as it ran on the front page of the Times Union already. It's in Columbia County. It's never been mentioned in the pages of the Times Union. Do the editors think a guy not standing for the pledge is news but the county attorney justifying more than a million dollars in ongoing fraud and larceny is not a story?

  3. The firing of one of the Registers most competent journalists for having the ethics to challenge the ideological tampering of their byline is the news story, Peter.

    How sad that our local paper is clamoring to mirror the national discourse, where the formalities of a meeting are more important than the substance.

  4. From Sam Pratt's blog: “It's a very rare situation,” according to one Hudson-Catskill Newspapers insider, observing that “I’ve never seen it before that someone said straight up that they didn't want their name on their article.” In point of fact, it is not that rare outside the confines of small town newspapers. Reporters have every right to ask that their bylines not accompany a story. And, they don't get fired for asking.

  5. When I first heard that Tom had been fired, I knew immediately that it had to involve a matter of principle - his own.

    I don't know how the disagreement between Mr. Meyer and Ms. Stone should resolve itself, but some recognition from Jim Romenesko is a great place to begin that discussion.

    In fact lots of us are worried that the Register Star writes the news to suit its publisher, and probably everyone is!

    Tom Casey is a true gentleman, and among the best reporters the Register Star has ever had.

    I wish you the best of luck Tom!

  6. This won't stand. Tom Casey is a fine reporter. Alderman Friedman is a fine alderman who represents me, a citizen in his ward who voted for him, and the rest of the ward very well. Roger Coleman and his crony Richard Koskey (owner of Hudson City Center where the Register-Star is bunking) are part Hudson's dinosaur old guard. Roger Coleman is one person holding Hudson back. He could do so much better by Hudson, and improve his business, by shedding this right-wing behavior...yet another example of antediluvian antics in Clown Town.

  7. Ms. Stone I think you are naive about the business of journalism. Proprietors (owners, publishers whatever you call them) always affect the editorial content. Why else own a paper? It's just as true of the Grahams and Sulzbergers as it is of Murdoch, and William Randolph Hearst's father bought the SF Examiner for the sole purpose to be a billboard for his political campaigns. That's why the Web is disruptive. Many more voices can now be heard (viz Gossips).

    1. I am hardly naive. For 25 years I have lived with the the AME for News for the largest news organization in the world. Publishers do not -- I repeat do not -- get involved in the news side, the editorial side, the advertising side. When they have it slants all aspects of a newspaper.

  8. Samuel, I think you fail to recognize that this little syllogism of yours concludes in the utterly nihilistic perspective that all Journalism is PR. I happen to think those who cry foul at moments like this are not Naive, but Ethical.

    1. (Second try. Connectivity Error with Host just now.)

      Mr. Marston, I've been in the media business since 1975, at Time, Rolling Stone and other places. Of course owners control content. Why wouldn't they? This does not mean that all reporting is PR. It's just seeing the first fact of life in what is, after all, business. Owners always control the product.

      Do you think Jann Wenner (owner) doesn't control what goes into Rolling Stone?

      Why do you think that for decades, when cigarette ads made magazines rich (because they had been kicked off radio and TV), that there was only one major magazine -- Reader's Digest -- that relentlessly reported on the danger of smoking? I think it was because Reader's Digest refused to accept tobacco advertising because they did not approve of the product; and consequently, they didn't care if Philip Morris liked their stories about smoking or not. If Time Inc. had done 5% of the reporting that RD did, Philip Morris would have yanked their HUGE ad schedule.

      Again, I think it's a good thing that the local monopolies of small town papers are being broken by blogs, web sites, &c. More power to Sam Pratt and Gossips!

      -- Jock Spivy

    2. So the decision to fire Tom was a business one? Was his article a threat to the Elks Club advertising?

      Come on Jock, can we stop being so pedantic, recognize the ideological latitude most journalists work within, and admit this falls way outside the standard even the most partisan outlets maintain?

  9. "Right wing"? I was with you up till then, Clown Town.

    For example, the Register Star may not have openly endorsed Cheryl Roberts for Assembly (as "right wing" Parry Teasdale did for The Columbia Paper), but the Reg-Star tacitly endorsed her. It carefully allowed only measured criticism of the candidate, but generally chose to protect their champion of "environmental justice" issues and her abysmal record from attack.

    And how do you explain such things as the inordinate level of protection the newspaper offers the police and public sector unions in Chatham? Those unions run and practically own that town!

    So is that Right-wing or Left-wing?

    It's neither; it's classic small town psychology working to ensure the entrenchment of the status quo.

    It seems to me that the Republicans preside over much of what happens at the county level and that the Democrats preside in Hudson (a City with a Republican mayor who campaigned on delivering more social services). The Register Star protects them all.

    For accuracy's sake I question your impulse to make this region's seemingly intractable problems a matter of Right- or Left-wing conspiracies.

    How will we ever fix the problem if we can't identify the cause?

  10. David, the notion that it's not humanly possible to be free from all bias is not nihilism, it is epistemological actuality.

    By my lights, the real mischief begins where we find an unrealistic bias against bias (cf. every tyranny from Robespierre to Pol Pot).

    If our social existence today takes place somewhere on a spectrum between radical historicism (reductive relativism) and the pseudo-certainties that continue to plague us as remnants of The Enlightenment, then the imperative to be able to recognize and advance the standards of American culture can't be understated. (Other civilized cultures with other priorities have slightly varying standards.)

    Defending something we can never quite articulate is an enormous challenge. (It is certainly the GOP's greatest challenge.) In the past we were able to ascribe our standards to "tradition," and to leave it at that. It was customary for the press not to notice FDR's and Kennedy's dalliances, and maybe we were better off for it.

    The challenge to our age is to defend standards which are not linked to certainties, and to do so in the face of a "legacy media" the pressures of which increasingly reduce our public life to a level of totally preoccupied compulsion.

  11. Tim, when did I posit the notion that its humanly possible to be free of bias? I said the premise that Jock is working from is logically incompatible with the idea of a free press.

  12. Mr. Marston,

    For owners -- as opposed to, let's say, the Government -- to run the media is the very definition of a Free Press.

    How can media businesses possibly be separate from their owners? That's not logical.

    -- Jock Spivy

  13. Perhaps the publisher of the Register could do a Publisher's comment on the front page. He could tell readers why he felt it important to report that an alderman chose not to stand for the Pledge and why he felt it important that a reporter be fired for not reporting on it. That would give readers insight into what the publisher values and his overall agenda for the paper. Simple.

  14. True Dave, you didn't say that, and perhaps my extrapolation was a stretch.

    But in the circumstances, epistemologically speaking, the very idea of a free press is changing all around us. (The various business models simply follow suit, even if they push the envelope as in the present offensive case).

    You asked Jock if a news agency is simply a PR firm? In an atmosphere of unregulated (and anyway unmeasurable) political advocacy, it has to be a constant struggle not to become that!

    Then add entertainment value. I find it hard to credit that this Pledge of Allegiance story they want so badly is ultimately about a serious political discussion. There's no civil disobedience involved, so what's the difference? (Sometimes I don't want to give my name at a council meeting; the code doesn't require it and so maybe I won't. That's my business, not news.)

    In answer to your hopefulness about a free press, I think our culture needs to ask some basic questions. If we're not to suppose that news can be delivered free of bias, does that mean that everything is now public relations?

    Certainly not! although that's what seems to be happening all around us, and I find it mournful.

    But we're also trying new things too. Pressure on owners can bring about new ways to resolve these old troubles.

    It was less than a decade ago, following the Jayson Blair scandal, that the New York Times launched its first ombudsman, Daniel Okrent.

    After the Register Star launched its new format, I complained to the editor that a newspaper without an ombudsman had no business erasing all of its past comment threads.

    Apparently they disagreed. And since I was acting alone, our Newspaper of Record voluntarily, and with impunity, obliterated a long history which included many criticisms of its own reporting and conduct.

    To use Jock's argument, we might have brought pressure on them as consumers. To revisit my complaint about our totally preoccupied and compulsory lives, the owners perceive that we are a market that won't lift a finger in our own defense.

  15. Romenesko picked it up: http://jimromenesko.com/

  16. Bravo! Ms. Stone, even if it was only your suggestion.

    Thank you.

  17. I sent it and Sam Pratt may have sent it as well. Apparently Jim Romenesko thought it important enough to make some calls.

  18. There is an interesting quote from several journalists, one of whom worked under Coleman way back when at another newspaper, at Romenesko’s site... I’ve got the link and some excerpts at:



  19. That's good that Romenesko picked up this story.

    I want to be clear that I do not approve of what the Register-Star apparently did.

    The point I've been trying to make is that proprietors do this kind of thing all the time and that while one might dislike it, one should not be surprised at their behavior.

    By all means don't buy the paper, and don't advertise your goods or services in it, if you don't like how they run their business. Enough of that and they will follow in the footsteps of, hmm, let's see, the Detroit Free Press, the Times-Picayune, &c &c.

  20. I did not send it, but Romenesko found it. (And the needle on my site traffic dial is getting buried at the moment.)

    Regarding publishers and editorial, I would kind of split the difference on the discussion above. There is some truth to what both Jock and Kate are saying.

    There is a well-known general rule -- sometimes unstated, sometimes explicit -- within most serious news and cultural publications that a firewall should exist between advertising and editorial. The publisher and his staff sell ads and manage the business side; the editors and their reporters write articles and make news judgements. One side is not supposed to dictate to the other, especially publishers meddling in the news.

    That’s how the rule goes in theory.

    But in practice, most reporters and editors know that their publishers are looking over their shoulders, and either tacitly or explicitly exerting some kind of pressure.

    Sometimes it comes in the form of a glossy mag’s publisher wanting his/her writers to cover some of the products advertised in the mag’s pages. Sometimes it involves the publisher weighing in on whether an explosive story involving “important” people should run, or be held (with the publication’s lawyers often serve as the conduit for such pressure).

    And sometimes the influence of publishing on editorial is far more subtle, more a part of the institutional culture of a newspaper or magazine or website. That’s arguably the most common form of money influencing content: when editors and writers self-censor or slant their material based on unspoken understandings of what is expected of them to get ahead. often that self-regulating process is unconscious.

    By the way, while I do believe Coleman oversteps normal publishers’ bounds at times, his predecessor Jules Molenda was even more egregious in his utterly ideological approach to running the paper... and wound up getting fired. Too much for even the Johnsons.

    One of Molenda’s unusual practices was to insert himself into the Letters and Op-Ed pages, tacking on editorial notes to outside opinion pieces he grudgingly ran, but with which he felt the need to argue immediately. (I’ve only seen that a handful of times under Coleman/Hyland.) He seemed torn between some quasi-Libertarian notion of letting everyone be heard, and not being able to tolerate those ideas being heard without his snarky comebacks. (Molenda also perversely liked to boast about being, he claimed, the last daily U.S. newspaper to get a website.)

    The “Rag” is also known for banning commenters who disagree with the paper’s editorial slant, squelching stories that don’t suit that worldview, protecting officials from embarrassment, and taking the establishment line except in the rarest circumstances.

    Look how the Register just got beat by the Times Union on the attorney billings issue, by one of their own former reporters, no less. Their highly personal disdain for Will Pflaum caused them to dismiss his research, which turned out to be worthy of a lead Sunday headline in a much larger newspaper.


  21. Great Job,Sam Pratt.
    my comment,from reading all comments .
    I don't think"City" belongs to any "wing" left right Dem GOP
    -but is still run by it's self serving good ole-boy, net work, with over-weighted votes.
    City "ruling class of 5th Ward "good ole boy's" section of Hudson,
    in what should be Greenport,or at least a 6th Ward.
    That crew and it's sock puppets,change parties, to switch up City& County positions
    to keep it in the "family" like musical chairs.
    It runs thick and deep,for generations and many, many decades.
    R.S. works with this network.

    According to Pratt's article , Alderman Friedman,not standing for pledge of allegiance,was important ,to Publisher, to predicate writing an editorial about this.
    The R.S.sent someone else down to check on it's own reporter, Tom Casey,
    and see whether Mr Friedman had stood or not,at Our Taxpayer Budget Meeting.
    When reporter Casey,didn't include it, and refused to do so, Publisher added to Casey's story,anyway Casey in protest asked that his by-line be removed.Argument and insubordination,was apparently, grounds for his dismissal,
    and Publisher added this tidbit, without Casey's by-line, and Casey was fired
    I find that weak grounds for dismissal,but I don't own the paper.
    That probably won't be the first or last time .Not buying R.S. or ads ,is Publics choice.
    Mayor presents $11M budget
    Raises proposed for city aldermen, council president, commissioners
    Posted: Friday, November 9, 2012 12:30 am
    Hudson-Catskill Newspapers |

    (After 19 paragraphs,reporting on Budget Meeting,these last 2 sentences
    are thrown in article,before list of budget break-down).
    "At the start of the meeting some in the audience were upset over
    Third Ward Alderman John Friedman’s
    decision not to stand for the pledge of allegiance.
    While Hudson City Code does not require council members to stand for the pledge, Fifth Ward Alderman Robert Donahue,
    who had complained about the matter at a previous meeting and asked Friedman why he did not stand, was visibly upset.
    No comment could be reached from either party concerning the matter, and it did not interfere with the meeting."
    As Alderman Freedman said" sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn't",
    and it is not required, and has not been newsworthy before.

  22. Last night' s public meeting on Brownfield S Grant Application ,5th Ward Alderman,

    Robert "Doc"Donahue stirs the pot again

    and ,needs to have explained

    that,private non-profit Historic Hudson and City Agency- HPC, "

    were truly different organizations".

    ( My question to "Doc", would be, if GalVan and "City" "are truly different "organizations"? or

    if Crawford & Assoc and A. Colarusso & Son, Inc. ,

    are truly private companies or part of a non- existent"City" Construction Agency?)



    Register Star:

    Public weighs in on brownfield grant app
    Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 12:30 am

    By Billy Shannon Hudson-Catskill Newspapers


    .(R.S. ends article,with) "A verbal altercation at the end of Tuesday’s

    informal common council meeting centered

    on Fifth Ward Alderman Robert J. Donahue’s questioning about whether

    the Hudson Preservation Commission and Historic Hudson

    were truly different organizations.

    The alderman said he didn't understand how they were different.

    Aldermen David Marston and Nicholas Haddad of the First Ward went back and forth with Donahue,

    telling him that HPC is city-run and Historic Hudson is a private organization

    and while they may have similar aspirations, they are not the same.

    Moore, after a few minutes, interjected: “We’re not getting anywhere,” trying to end the verbal scuffle

    But Third Ward Alderman Chris Wagoner raised his voice toward Donahue as the meeting was adjourned"

    - --------------.

    Last sentence.End of article.


    Alderman Wagoner was attacked in the R.S.before, by Hallenbeck,and Moore.,

    (Moore was out of town,and not present at meeting.).

    for being passionate about important issues

    for his constituents and rest of Hudson.


    'Remarks trigger council’s concern
    Mayor says he’s ‘appalled’ by Third Ward alderman’s words at meeting"
    Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2012 1:00 am
    By Tom Casey
    Hudson-Catskill Newspapers

    “I can’t speak about what was said during the executive session,

    but he did say something that quite frankly I was appalled at and embarrassed for him,”

    Hallenbeck said. “We should have all walked out.”.......[attorney Roberts had walked out]
    .......""Wagoner was asked to leave a July meeting after a heated

    argument over the direction of a homeless housing conversation."

    ......"Hallenbeck said the trend led to his decision to contact Moore."

    “This type of behavior isn't unusual but it’s counterproductive

    to governing a city on the council level,” the mayor said.
    "Although I am away from Hudson,
    I did hear from enough participants in last night’s meeting to know that Alderman Wagoner’s
    behavior crossed a number of behavior and ethics lines

    that responsible legislators must and do observe,” said Moore.
    “From what I have heard, strictly from the view of his conduct, as president of the council
    and as a Third Ward constituent, I am appalled and have told the alderman my views in no uncertain terms.”..

  23. On October 27, in a Letter to the Editor of the Register Star, council president Don Moore wrote in support of his colleague Cheryl Roberts' bid for NYS Assembly. Mr. Moore felt he needed to squash me (a citizen) in order to accomplish this, since I had previously suggested the New York League of Conservation Voters withdraw its endorsement of Roberts.

    Mr. Moore wrote that "[I]t is frankly laughable for one individual with a contrary opinion of our LWRP to imagine he can suggest to the League that they reconsider their endorsement."

    On October 29, more than a week before the election, I submitted a rebuttal to the editor of the Register Star. The following was rejected:

    JFK famously said that “one person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

    Hudson's Common Council president Don Moore finds it "laughable" that a citizen might know otherwise than the New York League of Conservation Voters about NYS Assembly candidate Cheryl Roberts.

    On the contrary, a knowledge of local conditions can pinpoint how the League was played for its endorsement.

    Asked to state her level of commitment to "a public right-to-know act that requires public notification when raw sewage is released into state waterways," Ms. Roberts replies that "it could create incentives to curtail the release of raw sewage and would earn my support." 

    But after years at the center of power in Hudson Roberts has shown no interest in the subject. Hudson's sewage spills continue, but she's never suggested a warning system for these events (nor has the county). The League missed the hypocrisy.

    On "preventing the spread and proliferation of invasive species in New York waters," Roberts states that she "would support these measures but not if they involve the introduction of toxic chemicals into the environment."  

    Roberts' LWRP demonstrates her total ignorance on the subject. Hudson's Phragmites infestation is serious. The only effective means of controlling the invasive is with glyphosate, which is currently being used on Phragmites in Stockport by The Nature Conservancy. Roberts acknowledges no concern that Hudson has been warned two years running by the state Office of Invasive Species Coordination for misguided practices. By substituting evasiveness for knowledge, the League is fooled again.

    When asked about the state's BOA program, Roberts replies that our state "needs to be a leader in Brownfields redevelopment and it must begin by investing in our communities to clean up these sites." 

    But while serving with Mr. Moore on Hudson's BOA Steering Committee, Roberts took part in a decision to limit the participation of "a planning-process fatigued public," a repeat of the anti-community record of the LWRP.

    To help us confront these issues, the League praises a new state publication which bears an epigraph by Senator Henry Jackson:

    "Planning without citizen participation is neither democratic nor wise ... [T]heir knowledge of local conditions fills gaps in the planners' data and information, and their varied interests diminish the tendency to embody a single purpose."  

    Does the League realize that a contrived, hypocritical and elitist Cheryl Roberts proves the antithesis of the pioneering environmentalist Scoop Jackson?

  24. I have never read any reports of the most rude and belligerent retorts by 5th Ward Alderman "Doc" Donahue To other Alderman and citizens,I have witnessed ,in particular ,to then Alderman Ellen Thurston.

    Alderman Friedman took alot of "City" heat ,
    for not voting the way of HPD contract, and his remarks on this blog.


    Register Star
    Sparks fly at committee meeting...
    .Posted: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 1:00 am
    By Tom Casey
    Hudson-Catskill Newspapers EXCERPT
    HUDSON — At a contentious meeting Tuesday, Police Commissioner Gary Graziano
    called for the removal of Third Ward Alderman John Friedman
    from the Hudson Police Committee.
    Graziano said because of comments Friedman made during and prior to police contract negotiations,the possibility for future negotiations and discussions about
    department attrition would not be successful with him as a member...
    ...Moore said he would consider Graziano’s request.
    “I will take it into consideration but I will say … I have to be careful, very careful
    about issuing a removal based on a statement like this,” he said.
    “It was not made in the context of this discussion.
    If it were I think it would be different but I do take your concern to heart.”
    quotes are from
    Gossips of Rivertown
    Friday, February 24, 2012

    A Memorable Moment in City Hall - EXERPTS

    ........."Alderman Marston(First Ward) was ""scolded"" at end of CC Meeting,
    publicly by Alderman Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward)
    saying that" ""someone who had been on the Council for all of eight weeks" "should read the code book before criticizing the actions of others--namely him."
    [Because Marston e-mailed him,suggesting getting more than one estimate for repair of CSX bridge, to establish" industry average"] "Pierro took it upon himself to contact
    [ A.] Colarusso[& Sons ,Inc]. to find out how much a new bridge might cost"
    "Although Pierro chose to rebuke Marston in public, Marston's offense occurred in private-
    -in an email sent only to Council members
    " Pierro apparently took Marston's suggestion to be a veiled accusation that he was engaging
    in some kind of backroom dealing with Colarusso and took umbrage".
    Personally ,I see a" TREND",here.

    ... It's a shame, Reporter Tom Casey was fired, for standing his ground
    on having his by-line removed from article.

  25. Wow. I'm impressed by the discussion here. And I'm truly sorry that three people are out of jobs as a result. I'm sorry there wasn't any discussion about the newsworthiness of Mr. Friedman's "dissent." But on the subject of what happened at the paper, I can only say that the editor/publisher (I don't know all the details) blew it. Editors should not be inserting new material in to their reporters' copy. (An editor there once inserted a couple sentences into one my letters to the editor!) He/she should have asked the reporter to add something about the alderman's dissent to his story and/or assign the pledge story to another reporter. There have always been -- and always will be -- newsroom disputes about what a good story is. But this was a fight that the paper's managers unfortunately mismanaged. --peter m.