Thursday, October 29, 2009

Brian Howey Plays Pot Calling Kettle Black

Last weekend, a local lawyer asked me about a story Brian Howey ran in his newsletter last week calling into question the validity of a blog post I had on an anonymous mailing that was sent out to numerous local news services raising questions about a 1995 OWI arrest and conviction of 5th District congressional candidate Luke Messer. I don't waste my money buying a subscription to his political newletter, but one of his subscribers past along the item he ran, which reads in part:

The Advance Indiana blog head­line Oct. 14 was sensational: “Anonymous Mailing Hits Luke Messer OWI Guilty Plea.”

The first paragraph read: “An anonymous letter ar­rived in the mailboxes of several area news sources today, including this blog.”

And then the entire content of the mailing was posted. What makes this newsworthy is that Advance Indiana’s Gary Welsh didn’t bother to call the Messer campaign to confirm whether the information was true. Or whether it was the same “Allen Luke Messer” that is now running for the 5th CD seat.

Howey Politics Indiana, which also received the packet, appears to have been the only news source which sought a confirmation and comment. Advance Indiana would later add the HPI quote from Jennifer Hallowell of the Messer campaign to its website.

With the Post-Tribune teetering on the brink and the New York Times preparing to cleave away 8 percent of its news staff, this is a disturbing glimpse into the future of American journalism.

Many of the blogs will pump out rumors. Some never follow up. Others will, but only later. The notion of picking up the phone for confirmation is quaint or burdensome. The danger for society is that unless a new economic model can be found, it will be the blogs and “journalists” without degrees - and in many cases, without ethics - who will fill the void.
First of all, Mr. Howey, I omitted most of the information contained in the anonymous letter that accompanied Marion Co. court records on Messer's 1995 OWI arrest and conviction because I could not independently verify the information. If you read the anonymous letter as you claim, you would know that I did not post its entire content as you falsely assert in your newsletter. Some of the more damning allegations were omitted. I independently verified that the person on those court records was indeed the same Luke Messer who is running for Congress and is a licensed attorney in Indiana by matching birth dates and spelling of his name. No, I didn't call up Messer to confirm his arrest and conviction. Nor did you bother to contact me to determine what efforts I undertook to confirm the criminal court records were Messer's. In 2007, I reported on the fact that my city councilor Patrice Abduallah didn't live in his council district, which he represented and was on the ballot as a candidate to represent for another four years. Did I call him to confirm what I already knew? No. I could observe with my own eyes that he didn't live in the dilapidated dump of a house that he claimed as a residence, and that had been cited by the City for numerous code violations.

Howey's claim that he is the only news source to confirm the information is patently false. Messer's hometown newspaper, The Shelbyville News, ran a story a few days after it received the same anonymous letter. Jeff Tucker reported for the newspaper on October 20 and confirmed the 1995 OWI arrest and conviction of Messer's as reported on his blog:

Luke Messer’s campaign for Congress, which has surged in recent months as the Shelbyville lawyer distances himself from the seven-candidate pack in fundraising, said Monday that the revelation of Messer’s drunken-driving conviction in 1996 is likely a “dirty trick” from a rival campaign.

The Shelbyville News received a mailed envelope Monday from an anonymous source. The envelope contained two pages of court documents disclosing that Messer was convicted after a traffic stop along Interstate 65 in Indianapolis the night of Aug. 3, 1995.

Messer pleaded guilty Jan. 19, 1996, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail, with 58 suspended, and he received one day of credit time, the court papers state. He also was fined $177, with $123 of court costs, and had his driver’s license restricted for 180 days.

Messer’s campaign spokesperson, Jennifer Hallowell, confirmed the conviction on Monday. Messer was 26 years old at the time, working as a private attorney at an Indianapolis law firm, Hallowell said. Messer was appointed to the Indiana House of Representatives in 2003.

“He did get a DUI 14 years ago. He made a mistake. He regrets it, and he learned an important lesson,” Hallowell told The Shelbyville News. “I think people will see this for what it is — a dirty trick that likely came from a desperate campaign.”

The anonymous letters were mailed to several Indianapolis-area media outlets last week, Hallowell said, although as of Monday the case had been reported on only a few political blogs.

Hallowell said the anonymous mailings occurred the day before third-quarter campaign finance records were released by the Federal Elections Commission in the 5th District Republican primary. Those reports showed that Messer is distancing himself from the pack of six challengers attempting to unseat U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indianapolis.

As of Sept. 30, Messer has raised $332,442 for his campaign, while Burton had raised $418,284. The next-closest candidate was Carmel businessman Brose McVey, who had raised $154,587.

Hallowell said the anonymous packages would not hinder Messer’s momentum.

“Luke has built a successful grassroots campaign that has financial strength, and we continue to see momentum and have received endorsements from hundreds of Hoosiers. We expect to be announcing those and many more in the upcoming weeks,” Hallowell said.
It is indeed quite humorous that Howey chose to single out this blog for allegedly spreading false rumors, particularly since he has been accused of doing the same in the past by various campaigns. I used to get calls and e-mails from people asking me if I was writing for Howey because items I would post on this blog would appear word for word in his newsletter. Howey never asked for permission to use my blog entries. If he thinks this blog is recklessly spreading rumors, then why does he cut and paste my material? If Howey was interested in real investigative journalism, perhaps he would have put some effort of his own into gathering the true facts and maybe even tried to crack who the person or campaign was behind the anonymous letter.

1 comment:

dcrutch said...

I can't speak to the Messer matter. Like I said before, I think Brian Howey did very nice work on Kernan-Shepard. But, I suggest he reconsider before casting stones re investigative journalism. Look back on what little he did (along with nearly all the rest of American media) to share then Senator Obama's political (or birth, or health, or college) history with us, except to darn near drool while hearing a stump speech from the Senator (in Illinois!). Is this the same treatment our press gave the Republican VICE-Presidential nominee? Even Dennis Ryerson of the Star acknowledged Sarah Palin didn't get a fair shake. Dumpster lids were a-flyin' in Alaska, yet we never seemed to read or hear of investigations at the statehouse in Springfield or from Chicago. A local interview with an Illinois state assemblyman that served with Obama somehow couldn't take place until AFTER the election, even though the gentlemen acknowledged he'd been available for interviews during the campaign.

The election's done. Our President is our President. I think one day ALL of us will miss journalism.