Sunday, February 2, 2014

Totally Outrageous: Binghamton Paper Censors its own JLCNY v. Cuomo News

[This is a hyper-linked, likely-to-be-further-modified version of some thoughts I sent tonight to various editors and reporters with the Binghamton (NY) Press — though I'm sure it's far too long to ever see print.]

I'm writing to protest a decision by the Binghamton Press (and presumably its sister papers) to suppress from both print and screen a weekend news development that its own salaried Albany-based reporter was paid to research, write, and blog post by 5 a.m. Friday.

The Joint Landowners Coalition of New York announced it had lined up sufficient resources to finally trigger a two-week clock on a long-threatened lawsuit against the Cuomo Administration on the eternal fracking question.  Building along a parallel line with industry interests represented by the now-bankrupt Norse Energy, which filed something similar six weeks ago, JLCNY has now committed to formally challenge the notion that New York's environmental review laws can be abused by elected and appointed state officials as an open-ended ticket for indefinite delay.  The organization has also said it would — for the first time, at least on this issue statewide — raise additional constitutional questions of unjust, uncompensated confiscation of private property rights in favor of what amounts to, in my estimation, a not objectively accepted "public interest" in nothing happening.

Having visited my hometown of Whitney Point, NY over the weekend, I could see from my mother's yellow bin that the story — again, first reported electronically by the Gannett Albany Bureau's Jon Campbell — had not seen print Friday.  Then it didn't run Saturday.  And then it wasn't even held for maximum possible readership on Sunday.  Ordinary people from Broome and Tioga counties that I ran into at a large house party on Saturday night — most gung ho for shale gas, a few opposed (including a cousin of mine), and the rest much more interested in food, beer, basketball or bald eagles — had not heard the news, despite coverage by Gannett and other Internet outlets, Binghamton public radio, and at least a couple Binghamton TV stations, such as here and here.

I suppose it's fair to say that there may now be many fewer upstaters that are still attentive, with the stamina, hope, concern, panic, free time, interest, or electronic resources to keep on top of the latest developments in this aging, tiresome saga.

But I found it both maddening and curious for the Binghamton newspaper to further public ignorance by censoring a timely, topical development such as this.  To suppress actual news, triggered by a cross-section of upstate landowners, as organized by a Binghamton-based group, working together with individually named Binghamton-area landowners, with expert guidance over a fairly long haul by a prominent Binghamton law firm — it all just blew me away.

Starting on Twitter and then moving things to email, I managed to provoke a conversation with one of your editors, Jeff Platsky:


















After all that, this is what Platsky told me by email Sunday, with full, advance knowledge that I had absolutely no intention to keep his replies to myself:
"The Press & Sun-Bulletin has a long-standing policy of NOT reporting lawsuit threats. Why? It is a long way from making a threat to actually filing a lawsuit.  A threat is easy to make and costs virtually nothing.  There is  a long road from threat to actual lawsuit. Making threats is easy. Filing a lawsuit is not. You can make a threat without an investment of time, money or even an actual legal leg to stand on. When the suit is filed, it  demonstrates an actual commitment to the cause. You must detail your legal reasoning for bringing the lawsuit. In the past we have found that some people, organizations, etc. make lawsuit threats without ever intending to file the lawsuit. A threat is used as a scare tactic, tantamount to bullying. We do not advance bullying. In many instances, we have found, that those making the threats are USING the media to advance their cause without actually intending to carry through on their threat. For that reason, we have adopted the policy of not publishing lawsuit threat stories. We will dutifully report the story when the lawsuit IS FILED in court. Not until that point. When the lawsuit is filed we will detail the legal reasoning, and, in all likelihood, attach a copy of the complaint to the online story."

"Now, I am not going to say that we have never published lawsuit threat stories before. We probably have. But that was because the editor on duty was not aware of our long-standing policy.  If it was done before, it was a mistake."

"I can assure you the policy would be enforced as stated whether it was a lawsuit threat from the pro-drilling or anti-fracking elements, or for that matter any other controversial pro or con issue. There is no attempt at censorship here. We are not, however,  going to advance bullying."
And in a second email sent a few minutes later:
"Let me just add: The Albany bureau blog is an entirely different animal than the newspaper or its official web site. And though the Press & Sun-Bulletin may have the policy expressed in the previous email, those may not apply to the Albany Bureau blog."
First, I do appreciate Platsky's commitment to replying — especially on a busy weekend involving a quadruple play of family commitments, the big SU game, Greek Peak skiing, and the Super Bowl.  But I'm just one interested reader, and I suspect there are many others on all sides of this issue who would want to see this.  Platsky's explanation may not be convincing for me, as you might imagine.  But at least it is an explanation, which is better than the silent mystery suffered by any attentive Gannett reader, electronic or print.

Secondly — bullying?  Is that even remotely close to the truth of this situation?  Contrary to popular, media-driven belief, there are grassroots active on both sides of this issue.  And JLCNY's effort unquestionably ranks as a genuine grassroots effort by ordinary people, largely from your own readership area, to plead with each other for enough small, incremental donations in order to go toe-to-toe with Governor Cuomo, in a legitimate, legal assertion of their rights as land-owning citizens.

Thirdly, any kind of journalistic common sense is getting mangled into nonsense here by your own rule-bound minions.  Any blanket, non-discretionary implementation of such an editorial "policy" winds up suppressing all, both the bullying and the bonafide.  In fact, this is a case where "policy," like "statistics," may hold within it a kernel of original wisdom, but it too easily becomes the last unthinking, unfair refuge of a scoundrel.

And that's exactly what I would call whichever anonymous editor it is that's still hiding behind both Campbell and Platsky, in what amounts to suppression of legitimate state and local news.

Totally outrageous.

Full disclosure:  I am in favor of a reasonable balance in most forms of economic development, drilling, fracking, energy, jobs, opportunity, taxes, regulation, and the environment — all guided by an honest press, a truly informed citizenry, official expertise, political leadership, and a foundation of tolerance between all self-interested factions, between all ideologies, and between all classes of people.  Having considered this issue for quite some time, I simply don't accept that developing this resource will be any more or less dangerous, devastating, or unworkable for Upstate New York than a railroad, a highway, a large farm, a timber cut, a power plant, a manufacturing facility, or new housing, all of which have impacts.  I am one of a very small number of New Yorkers currently making a living in oil and gas (land title work), myself for the past 14 years, but none of it on New York projects for at least the last four years.  I have a 1/9th interest in 20 or so acres of recreational property in northern Broome County, but it's never been under lease, no one's ever asked about it, and there's certainly no one asking about it now.  The land is not enrolled with JLCNY, or any of its constituent coalitions, nor do I have any official function with JLCNY, though I am on their email list, and I have personally contributed money in order to get this lawsuit moving.

(And I encourage anyone who manages to read this, and who wants to support this cause, to do likewise, and pronto, at www.jlcny.org.)

Andy Leahy

Blogging and tweeting as:  NY Shale Gas Now

6 comments:

August Braun said...

Andy: great article and I admire you going after the Press on this important issue. There was no mention about Mountain States at all by you or Platsky? Is this not relevant to the discussion?

Andy Leahy said...

August,

Mountain States Legal Foundation's entry into this very eastern dispute is relevant to finally getting JLCNY moving (visible in everything I linked to), but not relevant to the Binghamton Press' knuckleheaded refusal to cover it.

Here's my forecast for MSLF:

The anti's and virtually all mainstream media will be in joined at the hip, exploiting the "outsider" and "conservative" angles for maximum rhetorical effect, and probing for any way to paint the scarlet letter of "industry money" on its participation.

The pro forces, on the other hand, after a brief celebration, are primarily already asking what happened to the previously vowed "takings" angle, and is that still alive?

Another point: MSLF should really consider that there should be a parallel case, limited to PA landowners that remain on a similar drilling lockdown due solely to the topographic fact that they fall within the Delaware River Basin Commission's area of an asserted authority to do nothing.

I have said it before, and I'll say it again, with no apologies to Neil Young: Shoulda been done long ago.

Dave Perotto said...

Andy,
Great job uncovering the Gannett bias, and it is a bias. I have read every fracing reporting article in our Rochester, Gannett paper. My conclusion is that the bias is institutional, they have no objective coverage of the issue, they are in fact decidedly anti-fracing.
Most credible scientific analysis of the pros and cons side with the pro, but you would never know it reading only the Gannett packaged storyline. Shameful on their behalf, cant believe I still subscribe to an anti-American entity. But, "know thy enemy".

Anonymous said...

Victor Furman

If anything the correspondence shows the press believes it is within their right to control the news and not report it. Jeffs answer that some editors are not up to policy is as lame as it comes. This paper seems to have forgotten that their service is to the community and that responsibility has not been met in a long time

Andy Leahy said...

Dave,

I'm actually going to disagree with you in part -- at least over the last three years or so. Any coverage that runs through Albany-based Jon Campbell is generally very carefully and fairly done. There are institutional biases with what they do and don't choose to pursue, with stuff handled by local reporters -- and what does and doesn't get printed, even after it's done.

But Campbell is a far-sight more straight-up than ex-spin-meister Tom Wilber, who formerly dominated coverage in the Southern Tier. And far and away more knowledgable than any other reporter trying to cover this conflict in NYS.

Mary Esch of AP, I would rank second.

Susan Oliver said...

My husband and I met with Tom Wilber and metro editor Ed Christine a few years ago to address the paper's bias and we'll never forget what Christine said: "In your lifetime, you'll never see drilling in NYS; maybe your kids lifetime, but not yours."