Tulsa World Category

UPDATE 2013/06/20: See below regarding the letter from Tulsa World attorney Schaad Titus to blogger Sean Kelly.

This is a bizarre story, and it doesn't look good for one of the stars of local print journalism. Other outlets have covered it well, but it deserves to be noted here.

Tulsa World investigative reporter and enterprise editor Ziva Branstetter has been accused of supplying research about a blog critic of Tulsa restaurant franchiser and consultant David Rutkauskas to Rutkauskas, which Rutkauskas then apparently used in a combination Twitter attack and legal campaign against the critic, Sean Kelly of UnhappyFranchisee.com. Last week, Rutkauskas dropped his lawsuit against Kelly and apologized publicly on his website. Neither Branstetter nor anyone at the World has apologized to Kelly, according to Kelly and a story last week in This Land Press.

The Branstetter / Rutkauskas story was broken by Urban Tulsa Weekly reporter Jaime Adame in the paper's June 5, 2013, issue.

Sean Kelly of UnhappyFranchisee.com describes himself as having "25 years of experience in franchising as VP of an international franchise consulting firm, Director of Marketing for an international franchise company, President of a franchise marketing firm, writer for national franchise magazine, and an expert witness in franchise cases." UnhappyFranchisee.com collects stories of problems experienced by franchise owners with the franchising companies, across all industries, including janitorial, fitness, tax preparation, hotels, insurance, multi-level marketing, and restaurants. The site logs lawsuits, criminal charges, and SBA loan default statistics for dozens if not hundreds of franchise concepts.

Kelly has written a number of critical articles about Beautiful Brands International, a Tulsa company headed by David Rutkauskas. BBI began with Camille's Sidewalk Cafe and grew to include other franchise concepts like FreshBerry and Coney Beach. BBI also provides consulting to help prospective franchisors develop a new concept.

Given reports he was reading from unhappy BBI franchisees and partners, Kelly was perplexed at the softball treatment BBI received from Oklahoma media outlets. He writes that he provided information to several local business journalists and received no indication of interest.

In February of this year, the Tulsa World did run a story headlined, "Camille's empire copes with setbacks." Here's UTW's Jaime Adame's account of what happened next:

The lawsuit against Kelly states that Kelly's comments posted to the World story in February as well as his writings at UnhappyFranchisee.com are "false, malicious, defamatory and libelous" and written "with an intent to cause disrepute, public hatred, contempt, ridicule and embarrassment to BBI, to deprive BBI of public confidence, and to injure BBI." The lawsuit -- which includes a signature from Rutkauskas dated May 6, apparently two days before Branstetter's email to him -- is asking for both actual and punitive damages, each in excess of $10,000.

Kelly says that his comments were posted under a pseudonym, and he had not publicly identified himself as the owner of UnhappyFranchisee.com until the Tulsa World notified him that they would not defend against a court order to reveal his identity after Rutkauskas's company filed a suit against the John Doe owner of UnhappyFranchisee.com and commenter on TulsaWorld.com. After Kelly outed himself, Beautiful Brands refiled the suit, naming him as defendant.

Oh, yes, Branstetter's email. From Adame's story:

Ziva Branstetter, the Tulsa World's enterprise editor and star investigative reporter, sent Rutkauskas a complete report on the background of Sean P. Kelly, a frequent critic of Rutkauskas and the company Rutkauskas founded, Tulsa-based Beautiful Brands International, LLC.

In a word, it's "unbelievable" to Jonathan Fortman, the attorney defending Kelly against a defamation lawsuit filed on May 14, just days after Branstetter's email.

Fortman provided a copy of the email to Urban Tulsa Weekly. What he provided shows information sent from Branstetter's Tulsa World email account.

Though the email could not be independently authenticated, Branstetter did not deny having provided information about Kelly to Rutkauskas. At the Tulsa World office, Branstetter met for about five minutes with a UTW reporter but declined to comment for this story....

The report included information on a bankruptcy, the number of Kelly's children and property records....

Rutkauskas did answer a few questions in a phone interview. Asked about Branstetter's email, he only remarked: "Whatever she sent me was in confidence, and I don't want to get into stuff about that."

Holly Wall's story at This Land Press has the text of the purported letter from Branstetter to Rutkauskas, and samples of the angry, insulting, and obscene tweets that Rutkauskas directed against Kelly, apparently drawing on the background information he received to make the insults more painful and intimidating, a tirade that started mere hours after the email was sent. This Land Press contacted Branstetter, who replied but said she couldn't answer their questions, and they attempted to contact the World's attorney and the newly installed publisher, Bill Masterson, but hadn't received a reply at press time.

Meanwhile Kelly himself has unsuccessfully attempted to elicit an apology or at least an explanation from Branstetter. In one email, Kelly turned the tables on Branstetter, citing information in the public record which might embarrass her or worry her if widely disseminated, in an effort to help her empathize with the emotional impact of the information she allegedly provided to Rutkauskas. Kelly thoughtfully redacted the specific information from his public posting, but it was simple enough to fill in the blanks with OSCN filings and other information readily available on the web.

In that same email, Kelly reflects on his 2007 bankruptcy (one of the items mentioned, with the wrong year, in the alleged Branstetter email to Rutkauskas), and how he handled the adversity:

As a business owner, I had tried to play by the rules, and did the best I could for my clients and my employees.

While I would always feel ashamed, I knew I hadn't done anything to be ashamed of.

Eventually, it occurred to me that this hardship was actually an opportunity.

It was an opportunity for my wife and I to show our kids how to face adversity with integrity and grace.

It was an opportunity to teach them not to panic, to walk tall, and to work together in a crisis.

It was an opportunity to show them that if you conduct yourself ethically and try to treat people fairly, you've got nothing to be embarrassed about.

Ziva, that terrifying ordeal made me better in a lot of ways.

It made me unable to just divert my gaze when I see someone who is leading others to their own dark, dark mornings and empty driveways.

It made me unable to remain silent when people like David Rutkauskas, empowered with the validation of media like Tulsa World, encourage individuals to gamble their family's futures based on misleading claims, misinformation, and a semi-fictional success story.

MORE:

UnhappyFranchisee's complete archive on Beautiful Brands International, LLC, including his pieces on what he calls "ZivaGate."

Ziva Branstetter is running to be a board member of Investigative Reporters and Editors at this week's IRE conference in San Antonio. She is also 2013 president-elect of Freedom Of Information Oklahoma. Sean Kelly has written an open letter to IRE members about Branstetter.

UPDATE 2013/06/20:

Tulsa World attorney Schaad Titus has sent a letter to Sean Kelly's attorney putting Sean Kelly "on notice" that Branstetter only sent the dossier she had compiled on Kelly to Rutkauskas to help Rutkauskas understand why there wasn't a story of local interest for her to pursue. Titus seems to be suggesting that for Kelly to continue to write about Branstetter would put him at risk for a "false light defamation" or harassment suit. Titus demands on behalf of Branstetter and the Tulsa World that Kelly "cease and desist from any further communication or dissemination of this information about Ziva Branstetter."

In response, Kelly offers a rebuttal that seems to poke several holes in Branstetter's justification of her actions as reported by Titus.

Notably, Titus's letter seems to confirm the authenticity of the email reported to have been sent by Branstetter to Rutkauskas. The claim that Branstetter was merely trying to explain why she wouldn't pursue a story doesn't seem to be consistent with the first line of the email (emphasis added):

Here are the reports I pulled on him. It may be hard stuff for you to interpret but if you look at it long enough you can pick out the pieces of info you are interested in.

There's not a hint of that motivation in the rest of the email either.

One detail got me curious: Titus mentions that Branstetter used "Lexis Nexis (or what she calls auto track)" to investigate UnhappyFranchisee.com and discover the owner's identity. This may be a reference to a service called ChoicePoint AutoTrack XP, a service that was sold in 2008 by LexisNexis (under an FTC consent order) to Thomson West as the core of a new business called West Government Services. AutoTrack XP is described as a service that "allows users to search through billions of current and historical records on individuals and businesses when investigating fraud, conducting criminal and civil investigations, locating witnesses, finding missing children, or locating and verifying assets." The target audience for the service appears to be law enforcement and other government agencies. The information that might take "20 to 30 minutes to compile" using AutoTrack could take hours or days without it, and some of the information might only be available to the general public by mail or in-person inspection of records, if it was available at all.

There is one fact that appears to contradict both Kelly's and Branstetter's explanations of Branstetter's email. Beautiful Brands International LLC filed a dismissal in its case against "John Doe" on April 19, 2013. The dismissal names Sean P. Kelly as the defendant, not "John Doe," so at that point Kelly's identity was known to Rutkauskas's attorney and presumably to Rutkauskas himself. So Rutkauskas would have been able to provide that name directly to Branstetter on May 6 or 7, and indeed Kelly notes that "the search record documents she sent to Rutkauskas indicate that she initiated her searches with the term 'Sean P Kelly.'" So it would appear that Branstetter would not have needed to learn of Kelly's identity as webmaster of UnhappyFranchisee.com via "auto track" as Titus asserts she did, but neither would she have needed access to any secret internal Tulsa World information about his identity, as Kelly seems to suggest.

Seems to me Branstetter and the Whirled could have put this whole thing to rest with a simple, "I'm sorry. I understand how hurtful this was to you and your family. It was poor judgment on my part to provide a background check on you to someone in order to cultivate what I thought might be a source for future stories." Instead, they send a four-page legalese version of "'Shut up,' he explained," which is unlikely to make the story go away. (See Streisand effect.)

(UPDATED 2017/04/11 to convert UTW and This Land links to Internet Archive version.)

The Tulsa World announced today that BH Media Group, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, will buy the newspaper from the Lorton family, with the sale expected to close in March.

A sale to Berkshire Hathaway is good news for the employees of the World, at least those involved directly in producing content. It has long been Warren Buffett's policy to let an acquired company's management continue to run things without interference from Omaha. When Berkshire Hathaway acquired FlightSafety in 1997, there were no immediate or radical changes to policies or management structure. Changes happened, but gradually and driven by FlightSafety's management. What did change was access to capital for improvements that would allow the company to expand.

There is a difference between this acquisition and the FlightSafety purchase. FlightSafety came into Berkshire Hathaway as a standalone subsidiary, but the World will be one paper out of dozens of dailies and weeklies owned by BH Media Group. As part of a multi-newspaper group, the World may also be able to cut costs by taking advantage of central purchasing and central administration, perhaps to include IT support and web development. So the news may not be so good for the administrative and support staff at the paper.

It's also good news for coverage of Tulsa. Buffett's May 23, 2012, letter to the publishers and editors of the newspapers he was about to acquire from Media General Group:

Though the economics of the business have drastically changed since our purchase of The Buffalo News, I believe newspapers that intensively cover their communities will have a good future. It's your job to make your paper indispensable to anyone who cares about what is going on in your city or town. That will mean both maintaining your news hole - a newspaper that reduces its coverage of the news important to its community is certain to reduce its readership as well - and thoroughly covering all aspects of area life, particularly local sports. No one has ever stopped reading when half-way through a story that was about them or their neighbors.

Don't expect the World's metered model of limited web access to change. From the same letter:

We must rethink the industry's initial response to the Internet. The original instinct of newspapers then was to offer free in digital form what they were charging for in print. This is an unsustainable model and certain of our papers are already making progress in moving to something that makes more sense. We want your best thinking as we work out the blend of digital and print that will attract both the audience and the revenue we need.

Berkshire Hathaway bought its hometown newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald, in December 2011 for $200 million. In May 2012, BH Media Group was formed to include the World-Herald and the newspapers acquired from Media General for $142 million, to be managed by a sister company, World Media Enterprises. Earlier this month, BH Media Group announced the acquisition of the Greensboro News and Record from Landmark Media Group.

MORE:

Omaha World-Herald's story on the purchase.

A cautionary note: In November 2012, BH Media Group cut 105 jobs, shutting down the Manassas (Va.) News & Messenger and its related website and weekly paper, and cutting 72 positions elsewhere in the chain.

Greater Tulsa Reporter Newspapers, a chain of six monthlies, takes the occasion to declare themselves "the only remaining locally-owned community newspaper group in the Tulsa metro region." Of course, the Tulsa Beacon, Urban Tulsa Weekly, and This Land Press are all locally owned. The Journal Record, which has a Tulsa office, is based in Oklahoma City. Community Publishers, Inc., based in Bentonville, publishes nine newspapers in the Tulsa metro area.


This Land Press links and comments on the World's sale.

Tulsa's sole daily newspaper, the Tulsa World, will launch its new paywall this coming Monday, according to a story at PaidContent.org, which, ironically, is free. The paywall will allow viewing only 10 locally-produced stories a month without a subscription. According to the announcement in the World (see it free while you can), an online subscription will cost $16.99 per month, with discounts for paying for six months or a year in advance. Print subscribers will get the online version free; $12 per month will get you a Sunday-only print subscription plus "unlimited access to [the paper's] digital products."

The PaidContent.org story notes that this is not the World's first paywall:

The paper decided to charge $60 a year for an online-only subscription in 2000--and had attracted 2,000 online-only subscribers by the time it was taken down in 2005, according to a Newspaper Association of America report. Publisher Robert Lorton III told the NAA that the removal of the paywall resulted in a tripling of the newspaper's online pageviews and online ad revenue that was more than seven times what the World had been able to bring in from online subscriptions.

I can certainly appreciate the need to generate revenue to pay for news coverage. And as someone who likes delving into local history, I appreciate the archival importance of print publications -- not just newspapers but also telephone directories, city "criss-cross" directories, and street, highway, and fire insurance maps. However incomplete or biased that record may be, at least with a newspaper you have a contemporaneous record that some significant event occurred.

To the paper's credit, it appears that the World is making an effort to minimize the annoyance factor to subscribers and to occasional visitors drawn to a local story of national interest. The metered approach should keep the paper from being shut out of search engine results; that was a problem with their earlier paywall. PaidContent.org quotes the paper's web editor as saying the system was developed in-house by a team of 13 designers and developers. That will allow them to control the site's inner workings and to avoid software license fees. On the other hand, with custom software, they will lose the formal and informal product support that comes with using a commercially available or open-source platform in wide use.

That said, the likely result of the new, friendlier Whirled paywall will be an increase in visitors to the websites of local TV and radio stations, who will continue to offer their local news content online free of charge, as they already do over the airwaves.

The paywall won't fix the Whirled's biggest problem: The paper long ago lost the trust of the very people who ought to be a local paper's lifeblood -- the Tulsans who are passionately engaged in civic and political activism. These people from across the ideological spectrum are the sort who want details about, e.g., this week's planning commission meeting, who would value local in-depth news content enough to pay for it -- if they felt they could trust it.

The problem for the Whirled is that many, perhaps most, of these people have experienced the cognitive dissonance that comes from attending a public meeting and reading about it in the paper the next day. Perhaps a key point in the debate was omitted, perhaps a seemingly harsh statement was run without its ameliorating context, perhaps an especially unflattering or (occasionally) flattering photo of one of the protagonists ran with the story. And there's the suspicion that the significant omission, the sneering photo, and the comment out of context weren't the result of carelessness but were deliberate. Even if the bias is the result of ideological blind spots and group think, the effect on the potential readership is the same as if it were the result of a grand conspiracy.

Over the years I've been involved in local politics, it's been my observation the Whirled has consistently chosen to side with the few and against the many. That's a problem when numbers, the larger the better, are at the heart of how you make money.

Pro-lifers, historic preservation advocates, people concerned about illegal immigration, neighborhood activists, Tea Partiers, Tulsa City Councilors, and tax hike opponents wouldn't expect the Whirled to take their side all the time. They'd just like to be treated fairly and respectfully, not as a lunatic rabble. But that kind of evenhandedness seems to be beyond their Ken.

I've said before that I think it will take some sort of public mea culpa, some acknowledgment that the paper has been unfair and unbalanced in its coverage of local issues, before many local activists are willing to trust the paper enough to pay for a subscription.

My trust in the Tulsa World began to erode in 1991, as a result of their coverage of a controversial zoning decision in Brookside.

Any lingering trust dissipated in 1992, when (according to Tribune editor and publisher Jenk Jones, Jr.,) the World's publisher refused to extend a joint operating agreement that had been in place for a half-century, leading to the closure of Tulsa's afternoon paper, the Tulsa Tribune. (I can't find the quote online, but it was in TU's daily student-run newspaper, the Collegian, about a month after the demise of the Tribune.)

I decided then never again to subscribe to the Whirled. While the World had the right to refuse to extend the agreement, the paper forfeited any claim to having Tulsa's best interests at heart, and I didn't want to see them benefit by picking up any new subscribers as a result of (for all practical purposes) killing our city's second newspaper.

On Twitter, I follow hundreds of active, involved Tulsans who represent a diverse range of interests and opinions. A similar group of hundreds (with a fair amount of overlap) are friends of mine on Facebook. So it's telling that my Facebook and Twitter feeds each had only three mentions of the new World paywall. It's another indication that the World isn't even on the radar for the very people who should be its most loyal constituency.

RELATED: In the December 1992 issue of American Journalism Review, investigative reporter Mary Hargrove wrote about the last days of the Tulsa Tribune. It includes this interesting tidbit:

Tribune staffers debated slogans for the back of the final edition T-shirt, playing off the name of the surviving Tulsa World. "Good-bye Cruel World" and "The World Is Not A Perfect Place. The Tribune Just Made It Seem That Way." The suggestions were posted on the wall along with a few harsher sentiments including, "Roses are red/Violets are blue/The World got it all/And we got screwed."

The slogans ignited the lingering animosity between the two papers as an angry World publisher had one of his photographers shoot pictures of the T-shirt doggerel. (The Tribune rented space in a building owned by the World.) World Publishing Co. President Robert Lorton called Tribune Chairman G. Douglas Fox the night before the closing and demanded the slogans be taken down. The signs were removed.

On the last day, Tribune staffers were warned they could not re-enter the building after 3 p.m. Maintenance workers began changing the locks at 11 a.m. as staffers watched in disbelief -- one more humiliation.

OKDemocrat.com is a very old-school message board, mainly about struggles within the Oklahoma state and Tulsa County Democrat organizations, but also touching on broader local political issues. If you want to find out which local Democrats don't like each other and why, this is the place to go. Sometimes there are rumblings of stories and scandals weeks before they emerge in the mainstream.

The tone of the board is set by its proprietor, Rusty Goodman, a Vietnam veteran and long-time Democrat operative. Rusty and many of the regulars on the board are old-fashioned, pro-military, pro-traditional-values economic populists who are frustrated with the anti-military, anti-traditional-values liberals who dominate the state and county organizations and, according to the OKDemocrat regulars, are running the Democrat brand in Oklahoma into the ground.

(An aside: I don't understand my fellow Republicans who wish our side had a message board like this. It's fine for the Democrats to air their dirty laundry for our amusement; why should Republicans return the favor?)

All that to say that Rusty Goodman and the OKDemocrat board have had a run-in with Tulsa's monopoly daily newspaper. On February 9, a message was posted on OKDemocrat, apparently by Tulsa World web editor Jason Collington, saying that an OKDemocrat post "contains a copyrighted story from the Tulsa World and it is printed in full on your website, which is a violation of the copyright,' and that the story had been altered, which "makes your website subject to civil action."

The post apparently from Collington went on to ask for the deletion of the offending post "and any other posts that contain complete versions of our copyrighted stories."

The next sentence tickled me: "You are welcome to excerpt our stories and provide a link back to the story." It was six years ago this week that Tulsa World VP John Bair sent me, Chris Medlock, and two other websites a letter saying that we were not at all welcome to do that, that the act of linking and excerpting constituted a copyright violation. (The Whirled made no effort to follow through after the threat received national attention and ridicule.)

I confess I have sympathy for the World's position. I love it when someone excerpts and comments on a BatesLine post, with attribution and a link to the post. I don't like it when someone posts the entire entry, particularly if there's no attribution and no link.

A newspaper needs money to hire reporters, editors, and webmonkeys, and that money mainly comes from advertiser dollars. If you put a complete newspaper article on your website, the reader has no reason to go to the newspaper's website to read it, where his presence boosts readership numbers which in turn can be used to sell ads, so that the reporters and webmeisters can be paid. If you don't even provide a link or attribution, the reader doesn't even know where to go if he wants to read more stories of that sort. The right thing to do is to excerpt a few sentences to provide the context needed for your comments, cite the source, and provide a link to the source if it's on the web.

That said, it appears that the Whirled is taking an odd route to defending its copyright, using people on the content side of the house to pursue the matter, instead of someone on the legal or corporate side of the company. According to statements on OKDemocrat, the paper's state capitol reporter posted a request on Facebook for contact information for OKDemocrat. Web editor Collington submitted his message to an OKDemocrat feedback form and, when that got no response, posted to an OKDemocrat topic.

In reply, Goodman stated, "I have copies of over 30 stories that broke here first and a few days later showed up at the Tulsa World. Some of them almost word for word were printed in the Tulsa World from this site. Yet no credit was given to this site for breaking the news first."

I'll be watching OKDemocrat to see how all this works out. Should be interesting.

The Whirled editorial board says, regarding the news that the new Tulsa City Hall at One Technology Center will cost $1.4 million more to operate than projected this year, draining Tulsa's general fund budget, that "the old I-told-you-so refrain isn't going to help anything."

On the contrary, a healthy dose of IToldYouSo Political Purgative is exactly what Tulsa politics needs. It might stimulate some needful skepticism in our city leaders. It might encourage councilors to ask more questions and to dig in their heels when the answers aren't forthcoming. It might act as a vaccine against the establishment's PR machine.

(Funny how the Whirled makes excuses for and warns against holding officials accountable for the bad decisions that they editorially encouraged. I seem to recall a similar editorial when the Great Plains deal came unraveled. Heaven forfend that those who encourage us to make expensively bad decisions should lose credibility when their folly comes to fruition.)

So here, in chronological order, is what I said about the City Hall move.

In my March 28, 2007, column, I praised the idea of relocating to One Technology Center as a planning concept, but with a big IF:

But as appealing as the move is, aesthetics and urban design aren't sufficient reasons to spend millions of public dollars. There has to be a net cost savings in the near term. City officials need a business plan that will give them a realistic picture of how much the current City Hall block and other city buildings would be worth.

(A business plan for the cost of operating the BOk Center might be a good idea, too. Before we go buying new buildings, we need to know if one we're already building is going to blow a massive hole in the city budget.)

They also need a conservative estimate of energy and maintenance cost savings. They shouldn't underestimate the monetary cost and lost productivity involved in a move, along with the need to support duplicate facilities for a time.

There ought to be a look at alternatives, too. A group of two or three of the historic buildings in Maurice Kanbar's inventory might serve well as a new City Hall.

Tulsans have already committed all our special projects money for the next six years; it's tied up in the Third Penny, Four to Fix the County and Vision 2025. Redirecting Third Penny funds away from existing projects to pay for a new City Hall would be possible, but politically hazardous. (The City might get away with diverting money for other downtown projects.)

It would be a good thing to do, but only if the move could be done without straining the already-constrained city budget. At the very least, it's worth the due diligence that city officials are now pursuing.

After some of that due diligence had been done -- from my June 20, 2007, column:

There are plenty of subjective reasons to like the idea of moving City Hall. The old building is ugly and sits in the middle of an ugly plaza. It was constructed in view of the projected needs of the City of Tulsa in 1985. The new location puts City Hall at the crossroads of streets that tie directly to the expressway system. It also puts City Hall closer to the center of new development activity on the east side of downtown. The newer building ought to be more energy-efficient.

None of that changes the fact that the move will cost $67.1 million, of which (according to the daily paper) $52.25 million is the purchase price of the building. That money has to come from somewhere, and we've already been told that the City budget won't allow for a net increase in the number of police officers, repairing and opening more pools than last summer, or operating the golf courses, even with an increase in utility rates....

In all the material that has been publicly released, there doesn't seem to be anything that says how the City will pay for the new building. It's one thing to claim, as the Staubauch report does, that moving to OTC will save the City $15.2 million over the first 10 years. That claim assumes operating costs to go up at a certain rate and that the City would have to fund $12 million in deferred maintenance costs that are currently unfunded.

(One of the charts that illustrates the asserted savings is a year-by-year graph comparing the costs of different scenarios. The first year estimate that the OTC option will cost less than $2 million vs. about $5 million for the status quo is clearly erroneous. The move to OTC has to be more expensive in year 1 than staying put because the City will be paying duplicate operating costs and additional one-time moving costs. One also has to wonder about the straight line on the graph estimating the cost of the status quo. Surely a thorough accounting of projected capital costs would show some variation from year to year.)

From Brian Ervin's story in the same issue:

Following the conclusion of the feasibility study, [Mayoral economic adviser Don] Himelfarb said operating out of OTC would save the city $15.2 million over the first 10 years by consuming 30 percent less energy and allowing for more efficient use of space.

"This is basically $15 million that is freed up that the city would not otherwise have to spend on police, roads and other services," he said.

The move would also get the city out from under $24 million in deferred maintenance costs to existing facilities, $12 million of which is unfunded.

Here on BatesLine, on the night of the vote, July 12, 2007 (emphasis added):

This deal should be measured by one standard: Will it leave the City with more money or less money available to fund the basic functions of city government?

Based on the numbers in the Staubach Company's report and the analysis of those numbers by Councilor Bill Martinson, there is a high risk that the move will leave the City of Tulsa with less money for police and parks and streets. If one of the current tenants leaves or even reduces its presence, if we are unable to find a replacement tenant who will pay the same price, if rental revenue is less than debt service on the loan, the City will have to make up the difference out of its operating budget. This deal would make the City of Tulsa a competitor in the commercial real estate industry, rolling the dice in a risky business, and using our mortgage money to place the bet.

To shift metaphors, this deal is a house of cards, and if any one of several contingencies fails to occur, the whole thing collapses.

The only facts that matter are these numbers -- how much it costs to operate our current facilities, how much it will cost to operate One Technology Center, how much it will cost to repay the loan on OTC, and how much we are likely to be paid in rent from third-party tenants.

The Council has not been given a full and detailed accounting of the cost of operating our current facilities. This information is surely available in our accounting system -- how much we pay custodial staff, how much we spend on utilities, the cost of repair projects -- based on actual expenditures over the last few fiscal years. Instead, Staubach prepared a sheet estimating cost per square foot for broad categories -- utilities, repairs, security, etc. -- and then multiplied by the sum of those per square feet numbers by the size of our buildings. The $24 million claimed as deferred maintenance costs are buried somewhere in Staubach's per-square-foot figures.

The Council has not been provided with a list of deferred maintenance items, the cost of each one, and the likelihood of needing to fund those items in the near future. Each such item should have a basis of estimate, explaining the work to be done and the manpower and material required. Instead, in response for their request for a detailed list, the Council was given the names of the items and a single number covering the cost of all of them.

With this lack of detail, it would be easy for Staubach to pick numbers for estimates that would make staying in the existing facilities seem to be more expensive than moving. And don't forget that Staubach gets paid more if the deal goes through, so they'd have an incentive to make the existing facilities look as expensive as possible.

The Council should not approve this deal without an accurate apples-to-apples comparison of costs showing that the move will be less expensive in the near term.

That night, here's what I told the City Council (thanks to David Schuttler for the video):

The morning after the eight-to-Eagleton vote, July 13, 2007:

Needless to say, I'm disappointed with last night's results, but I'm going to save most of my commentary for my column, and I've got some family-related entries I want to post. I'm not so much disappointed in the vote to buy OTC as in the reasons the councilors gave for voting yes. In the end, costs only mattered to one councilor: John Eagleton. In this vote, and in previous votes on the budget, he seems to be the only one who thinks through the full financial implications of his decisions. Councilor Cason Carter's solution only protects the City on the income side, and that not completely, as a master leaseholder could very well go bankrupt, leaving the City holding the bag. Councilor Bill Martinson's worse-case (not worst-case) estimate still uses Staubach's S.W.A.G. for the cost of current operations, not the City's actual expenditures, which would be a findable number that would have given them a firm basis for knowing the bottom-line impact on the City's general fund. It is disturbing that they would go ahead without those numbers.

From my column the following week -- Believe in the Cube:

Prior to the 8-1 vote to allow the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority (TPFA) to incur $79 million in debt to buy the shiny symbol of Tulsa's fall from high-tech glory, Taylor read a speech that appealed to anything but hard financial facts. Councilor John Eagleton was the only one able to resist the Mayor's siren song.

I'm not so disappointed that the eight councilors voted for the purchase (it may turn out to be a good deal) as I am in the reasons they gave for their decision. They switched off their B. S. detectors, set aside logic and any concern about cost, and set the City up for a repeat of the Great Plains Airlines debacle.

Although the Council made a show of reducing the risk involved in finding tenants to fill the Borg Cube's excess space, they proceeded to a vote without using the best available information to determine whether the move would leave the city with more money or less money for police, streets, and parks over the near term....

The decision to go into debt to buy OTC for a new City Hall should have come down to this question: Will this deal leave us with more money or less money to spend on government basics?

One would hope that that question would be uppermost in the minds of our city councilors, who had just been through a grueling budget process, unable to open more pools, unable to fund enough new police officers to outpace attrition.

What did the Whirled have to say? A commenter called TCB wrote this comment under their "don't say 'I told you so'" editorial (hyperlinks added):

Based on their recent track records, maybe editorial board and the Chamber of Commerce shouldn't be so quick to hurl insults at city councilors for asking questions about large, complex transactions involving taxpayer assets.

Editorial quotes:

Great Plains:

"There is no taxpayer money involved . . . ." (2-27-00) [actually 7-22-2000]

New City Hall:

"The new building, One Technology Center, would be a perfect fit for city offices. It would require little renovation . . . . the decision to go ahead should be a quick and easy one for the Council." (6-8-07)

Ballpark:

"The plan to fund a new baseball park . . . has the backing of . . . the owners of the majority of the property affected. Delaying the Thursday vote will accomplish nothing, other than stalling progress and driving up costs." (7-10-08)

Over on TulsaNow's Public Forum, there's a link to this front page feature story in the June 7, 2007 Whirled, which used big bold red type to call attention to the projected financial benefits. I think they would have made the ink on the page blink if it were possible. (The print version is even more dramatic.)

CITY COULD SAVE MONEY WITH NEW HOME

Relocating to downtown tower projected to cut costs by $15 million over 10 years


In other news, for possibly the first time ever, I laughed at a Bruce Plante cartoon. Queen Kathy's crown is a lovely touch. Bruce had better update his resume, maybe check into adult education classes for a career change. Wasn't he instructed always to draw Mayor Taylor in a serious and deferential manner?

ONE MORE THING: A friend phoned to wonder if the Whirled is playing up this issue now to try to hurt three councilors -- Westcott, Martinson, and Christiansen -- who voted the Whirled's way in 2007 but have since defied them and Mayor Taylor and now have well-funded (albeit, in two cases, troubled) opponents. The one councilor who voted the right way -- Eagleton -- is safely back in office whether they like it or not.

At 3:46 pm yesterday I received a phone call from Tulsa World reporter Randy Krehbiel, asking for my reaction to the lawsuit filed against me by the World Publishing Co. I told him I was unaware that a suit had been filed and that he was the first Tulsa World representative to contact me about a suit.

According to the OSCN database, at 3:01 pm on Thursday, Jan. 15, just 45 minutes before Krehbiel's phone call, attorney J. Schaad Titus filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of World Publishing Co. against Renegade Publishing Inc. DBA Urban Tulsa, Keith Skrzypczak, and Michael D. Bates alleging libel.

I have not seen a copy of the complaint. Based on the offense named and the defendants named in the suit, it appears to have something to do with a column I wrote, likely the most recent column dealing with layoffs at the daily paper.

It is always my intention to present readers with an accurate picture grounded in fact. I put a lot of time into researching details because I think it's important to be able to back up what I have to say. A friend once told me that the reason some readers get frustrated with my columns is because they don't like my conclusions, and yet I've covered all my bases and answered objections before they've been raised.

If WPC believes I've written something in error, I'm disappointed that the company would file a suit against me without first contacting me with evidence to contradict what I wrote and giving me the opportunity to issue a clarification or correction.

I'm certain that I am not guilty of libel, but that doesn't mean this won't be a difficult time. Your prayers would be appreciated.

Until I see the complaint for myself and have conferred with an attorney, that's all I have to say.

Whirled update

| | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (0)

Mike McCarville reports that cost-cutting at the Tulsa World, which laid off 28 staffers last week, only goes so far:

While executives at the Tulsa World were deciding which 28 employees would be fired in a cost-saving move to help the company deal with reduced advertising revenue, the president of the company, John R. Bair, was being processed for a $90,000 "proprietary membership" in the ritzy Southern Hills Country Club.

A list of those proposed for membership in the exclusive club was obtained by The McCarville Report Online following the newspaper's announcement that 26 newsroom employees and two other staff members were being fired immediately a week ago. Bair's is the first name listed on the December 29th document, prepared by the 650-member club's office on behalf of its board of governors.

The $90,000 figure for a proprietary membership in the club is an estimate; no one would discuss the precise fee, which apparently includes state sales tax.

I understand that you can't keep 28 newsroom staffers employed for $90,000. I understand that country club memberships were, once upon a time, important tools for building business networks and negotiating deals. But Bair's job is handling the financial side of the World, bringing in advertising to cover the cost of putting out the paper. Trust-fund babies aren't going to be buying ads in the paper. The World should be selling less-expensive niche ads for the website, matching ads with appropriate news content. The small business owners who are most likely to buy those ads won't be hanging out at the Southern Hills clubhouse.

As one of McCarville's sources told him, "It just doesn't look very good, does it?"

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Observer reports that the paper didn't fulfill its 2008 pledge toward construction of the Oklahoma Capitol dome and may not make good on its 2009 pledge:

The Tulsa World owners have declined to meet their current $100,000 pledge on the Capitol dome. (They may also defer on $100,000 owed next year.)

(Via Dustbury.)

The Tulsa World announced today that it has laid off 28 employees, 26 of them members of the news staff. Two of the three members of the paper's State Capitol bureau were let go.

This is the second major cutback in a year. The paper closed its Community World bureaus last March, moving some jobs downtown.

The carnage included a designer for the paper who has a blog about newspaper design called Heady Goes Herey:

I was only there for four months, so I don't have the exact tally of what positions were all eliminated and I'm not sure if or how many were laid off from other parts of the company. I do know that the graphics department has been eliminated, I was the only designer, there were two photographers (one of whom was the main videographer), the advisor of the high school section, at least two copy editors, a sports designer/editor, administrative assistants were eliminated and several reporters.

In a thread at TulsaNow's public forum, member sgrizzle reports an intriguing rumor:

I heard that the Lortons were heavily invested into buying another newspaper earlier this year (likely why they cut back in March) and were close to completing the sale when the economy tanked. Now they can't secure the financing and can't complete the sale which hurt them.

Also, they had upped the individual paper cost and upped the pay to their box route carriers (retail stores and vending machines) in response to gas prices, then gas prices subsided. That had to also hurt.

New York magazine's blog had this to say:

The Times is resorting to desperate measures, but the Atlantic thinks that, like, might not make a difference. Forbes is laying off more staffers, and that dream you had of escaping it all and running away to a little publication in Tulsa? Forget it, bud....

Tulsa World, a family-owned newspaper, has laid off 28 staffers. In case you were wondering if there were still jobs in Tulsa.

The same item offers a link to this helpful list of things a reporter should do long before the security guard comes to escort him to the exit -- e.g., e-mailing all your contacts to a personal e-mail account, weeding through personal belongings, and saving your best work to a flash drive.

Another commenter at TulsaNow's public forum, cannonfodder, writes:

Anytime a paper cuts back it cuts back on its content. Which cuts back on its readership. Which cuts back on its ad revenue. A horrible spiral.

What the World needs now is to break out of the stall spin. If they want to regain readership, the World's owners and senior management need to confess and repent. They need to acknowledge that their one-sided editorial section and the bias they've encouraged on the news pages have driven away readers. And then they need to balance the paper -- add opposing views to the editorial board, hire an ombudsman to take a critical look at the paper's news coverage, convene focus groups of the paper's harshest critics. The paper's ownership and senior management need to acknowledge that they have a blind spot and then act to correct it.

It was only four years ago that Ken Neal, then editorial page editor, boasted of the lack of dissent and diversity on the editorial board. That lack of diversity is killing the paper's credibility and its readership. Perhaps the present crisis will inspire some overdue humility and soul-searching.

MORE: The AP story adds some details:

Managing Editor Susan Ellerbach said that overall, the cuts represented about 5 percent of World Publishing Company's work force.

Those laid off were informed at a meeting Tuesday morning. Cuts in the newsroom included two Capitol bureau reporters, a police reporter, photographers and employees in the graphics department, among others.

Newspaper Death Watch mentions the World in its "Layoff Log" and also links to this Editor and Publisher column by Steve Outing with 12 online money-making tips for newspapers. The World seems to be pursuing many of these avenues already. Much of the advice has to do with pursuing niche online content and selling targeted ads for those niches. As for the print edition, Outing advises: "Don't bother chasing young people... Focus on the core demographic... Guide older print loyalists to a life online... Reduce the number of print editions."

UPDATE: 5:28 PM: Brian Barber's comments (a second one explained that copy editors write the headlines, not the reporters) have vanished from the website.

The headline read "Public works audit angers councilors".

The headline doesn't seem to fit Brian Barber's story, and in fact, Barber objected to it by posting a comment on the web version of the article:

Tulsa World Staff Writer Brian Barber, (6/5/2008 8:27:36 AM)

I disagree with the headline that was placed above my story. While comments at the meeting were direct, no one was angry.

Good for Brian. Writers need to speak up when headlines distort the reader's perception of the story. Given the Whirled editorial board's disdain for the City Council, it's easy to suspect a deliberate decision to use the headline to cast the Council in a bad light, when it's Public Works director Charles Hardt who comes across in the story as defensive and shifty.

Barber wrote a solid story that explained to the reader not only what was said, but the dynamics of the discussion between the councilors and Hardt.

Hardt had told the Council that the long-awaited audit of his department would be a self-audit.

The self audit will start in July and last about a year, with the organization's representatives on site to oversee the process.

The areas to be examined include service delivery, effectiveness and accountability, management and administration, teamwork, staff pride, interdepartmental coordination and planning for the future.

Several councilors are quoted in the story expressing concern about Hardt's announcement:

"I disagree with us calling this an audit," Councilor G.T. Bynum said during this week's committee meetings. "In my opinion, an audit necessitates some form of independence.

"I think what's planned will have great benefit, but I do think we need an independent audit of the Public Works Department."

Councilor Jack Henderson said that over the years he's been in office, many people have called for a public works audit.

"But I know this isn't what they had in mind," he said.

There are stories out there about a collapsed and unusable water reservoir tank, about pump stations destroyed because of overpressure required by a poorly planned system, about favoritism toward certain developers in the planning of water and sewer projects, about collusion among local contractors resulting in higher prices. I've been told that Public Works has ways of "hiding" money -- not for personal enrichment, necessarily, but to be able to shunt funds between projects without getting the politicians involved.

Many people have been calling for a full and independent financial audit and a full and independent performance audit of the Public Works department, chief among them former Councilor Jim Mautino. An internal self-audit will not provide the degree of scrutiny needed to find and correct problems and build public confidence in the department.

Hardt's reaction to the councilors' concerns:

Hardt grew somewhat defensive with the talk of an independent audit.

"If you want an audit that looks at the books and financial transactions, that's not what this is," he said.

"This is more of a performance audit that looks at how we deliver service, whether we're effective and whether there are ways we can improve.

"But if you really want to know whether we did something wrong, I think you need to hire a head hunter or a witch hunter and get on with it."

Bynum said he doesn't think an independent audit should be viewed as something to expose "any perceived wrongdoings."

"I simply think there would be some value in it," he said.

Hardt said he's been through such audits before that were wastes of time.

"I've found that you have auditors who have no knowledge or understanding of what the engineering world does and no clue as to what our objectives are," he said.

"This is a far more meaningful process than having an audit firm that doesn't understand one thing about constructing something but tells us how we should have done it. That's awfully irritating."

A member of the city Auditor's Office stepped forward during the meeting and suggested that the process should be called a quality assurance review, rather than an audit.

Exactly right. A quality assurance review measures performance against the department's own rules, procedures, and goals, but it doesn't examine whether the rules, procedures, and goals are appropriate or effective.

A real audit process needs to create a secure environment for employees to speak out about problems they've observed. A citeewurkor needs to be able to say, "We've always done it that way, but { it's always seemed fishy, it never made sense, it seems wrong } to me," without fear of retribution. PW is a big department, and it would be easy for someone to shape rules and procedures in a self-serving way without being obvious about it. (Self-serving doesn't necessarily mean lining one's own pockets. It could also involve power or personal comfort.)

In case you haven't read the latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly (for shame if you haven't), here's a link to my latest column about the recent electrical, political, and financial difficulties of our city's monopoly daily newspaper, the Tulsa World, affectionately known around here as the Whirled for the strange spin they put on local stories.

If I point out when the editor edits my story in a way not to my liking, I ought to point it out when he makes an especially constructive addition. That's how the connection between the termination of the Community World section and its employees and speculation that the Lortons might be readying the paper for sale came to be in my column. It's the first sensible explanation I've seen for the suddenness of the termination and the meanness of the severance package.

There's also Brian Ervin news story on the end of the Community World, with quotes from former CW editor Emily Priddy and World managing editor Susan Ellerbach.

This week is also UTW's green issue, with a focus on sustainable living.

Elsewhere in UTW, Brian Ervin has stories about the demise of a proposed five-story apartment complex project in Brookside (killed by Tulsa's fire codes), the anniversary of the death of Cintas laundry worker Eleazar Torres-Gomez and the results of OSHA's investigation, and the announcement that the Atlas Life building will be converted into a Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

Community World ends

| | TrackBacks (0)

Today, the Tulsa World is spiking its Community World editions. All CW employees have been laid off.

The Community World editions were established in 1993 under the leadership of Charlie Biggs. The intent was to stave off the growth of suburban papers. It seems like the launch of the community papers also helped the World starve the Tulsa Sentinel of ad revenue. (The Sentinel was a weekly paper published by Landon Jones, grandson of Tulsa Tribune publisher Jenk Jones. The Tribune ceased publication on September 30, 1992; the Sentinel launched about a month later.)

Emily Priddy, who was an associate editor for the Community World's Westside edition, writes on TulsaNow's forum about the end of the weekly regional editions:

Their Web site doesn't mention this today, but the Tulsa World is ceasing publication of the Community World and has laid off the entire CW staff. I notice that the announcement on the front of today's Westside issue -- which was added after we'd proofed the Westside pages, and which resulted in a reporter's actual work being spiked to make room for it -- omitted that bit about the layoffs. The announcement also neglects to mention the fact that those laid off were given absolutely no warning and received eight days' pay and 26 days' benefits in exchange for their loyalty to the company. And it entirely fails to notify readers that two of the people laid off had been hired less than two weeks earlier.

One woman had signed a lease on a new apartment four days earlier. Another had put a down payment on a condo a week before the axe fell. One girl had quit a job at Urban Tulsa Weekly just three weeks ago to come to the Community World. A woman who has struggled financially for several years had just gotten back on her feet and was about to move into a house. Another has worked for the company for ... 13 years, I think? She repeatedly asked for an explanation of why we were given no warning that this was coming and no time to find other jobs or make other plans. She was given a reason for the layoffs, but she received absolutely no explanation for the callous manner in which the layoffs were handled.

Money will buy Armani suits and Ferraris and all sorts of other pretty toys. It will put a few kids through Holland Hall, and it will buy their grandma's best friend a byline on a column that someone else ghostwrites for her. But there is one thing money -- even old money -- can't buy: Class. And I've seen far more of that commodity in Oakhurst, Turley, and my beloved Red Fork than I see coming out of the mansions around Woodward Park this morning.

The "grandma's best friend" reference is to Danna Sue Walker, whose byline appears over the World's society column. In an e-mail to me, Emily wrote:

My heart is breaking for my colleagues -- some of whom worked for the World for more than a decade and deserved much, much better than they got, and some of whom were hired less than two weeks ago, only to be terminated before they'd had time to finish walking their beats. Laying off some staff members is understandable: Newspapers are doing it all over the country as upper management struggles to cope with the pressures of competition from the Internet and other media outlets. Laying off staff members with absolutely no warning -- and then giving them a severance package consisting of eight days' pay and 26 days' benefits -- is unconscionable. I'd expect that kind of treatment from Wal-Mart. But I expected better than that from a mom-and-pop business that's been in the same family, serving the same community, for a century.

I thought old money was supposed to be classier than that. Apparently I was mistaken.

The CW editions were where you'd find some of the most interesting and well-reported stories in the paper. Let's hope those talented reporters are able to continue serving Tulsa's readers in some other venue.

An electrical fire early Sunday morning shut down production of the Tulsa World. 60,000 subscribers will get the full paper, but the rest will get only the classifieds, TV World, and ad inserts, all of which are printed and assembled earlier in the week. (Oddly enough, a lot of people buy the paper just to get those pieces.)

You can still read the whole paper -- the PDF version is online. Thankfully, that means you don't have to miss the irony of the front page headline "Downtown among safest areas" juxtaposed with "A man is killed after a disturbance at a downtown club." You also don't have to miss the latest above-the-fold story about Terry Simonson's moonlighting.

Best wishes to the World in getting back up and running, but this incident is bound to start some minds going: If they can deliver the paper to their customers, ads and all, without physically printing and delivering the paper, should they really bother fixing the printing presses?

The hive-mind that writes the unsigned editorials from its Totalitarian-Moderne bunker on Main Street had this to say today about a suggestion made Tulsa Councilor John Eagleton regarding a proposal to make city elections non-partisan:

OK, this one is simply too easy so we're going to let you fill in the blanks with the joke of your choice. And we rarely, if ever, pass up the opportunity for a cheap joke.

In the debate over changes to the city charter, in particular making elections nonpartisan, City Councilor John Eagleton, while supporting the nonpartisan issue, also wants each candidate to be able to add a word or phrase to the ballot that would describe each candidate's political philosophy.

Now, this is where you add your joke. We'll wait a second.

There.

At best, whichever drone wrote this editorial on behalf of the Whirled Collective decided to "phone it in," rather than exert the effort to lampoon Eagleton's suggestion effectively.

But I think it's more likely that the AverillDelCourJonesNealPearson doesn't understand the idea well enough to explain why the hive-mind doesn't like it. Otherwise, they would have set out a cogent argument against it.

The Whirled editorial puts me in mind of a type of adolescent ridicule. The ringleader of the popular bunch points at poor, unpopular Poindexter and says, "What a loser! Poindexter is wearing a black belt on a Thursday!" The ringleader begins laughing. All of his toadies have no idea why wearing a black belt on a Thursday is ridiculous, but they know to take their cue from the ringleader, so they point and laugh, too. The Whirled knows there is a certain constituency (declining in number) that will laugh if they say "laugh." (These are the same people that believed the Whirled when it claimed that non-Councilor Randy Sullivan was intelligent.)

Eagleton's suggestion is similar to one I made in my column in the April 6-12, 2006, edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly:

Would stripping party labels entirely be helpful to voters? In fact, it gives voters even less information to work with. Labels are helpful aids to memory. You may have trouble remembering the name of the candidates you plan to support, and knowing that you decided to vote with your party in the mayor's race and with the other party in the council race gives you an extra hook to recall your decision....

So how do we change Tulsa's system to expand both choice and information for voters?

Instead of non-partisan city elections, let's have multi-partisan elections. Put all candidates for a city office on the ballot, but instead of stripping away the party labels, let's let candidates apply the label or labels of their choosing. Maybe that would be a major party label, maybe that would be the name of a political action committee (PAC), or even both.

There are a couple of different ways to implement this. In the column I suggested that parties and PACs could register with the city and endorse candidates, and then each candidate could choose which endorsements to note next to his name on the ballot, in place of or alongside national party names. The least complicated method, suggested by Eagleton, would allow each candidate to supply his or her own description, up to some number of lines, words, or characters.

That description wouldn't have to be "liberal" or "conservative" as the Whirled editorial hive-mind seems to believe. It could identify the candidate's position on a current issue or describe the candidate's approach to city government. A citywide group might run a slate of candidates, all using the same ballot description. It might just be a catchy slogan. Councilor Roscoe Turner, for example, might use, "Voted Tulsa's Most Believable Councilor." Since candidates are required by charter to use their full legal names on the ballot, a candidate might use the description to identify his nickname to the voters. Some possibilities, in 40 characters or less (about one line on the ballot):

  • Back to Basics: Cops, Streets, Parks
  • Conservative Republican
  • Progressive Democrat
  • Endorsed by Republican Assembly
  • Endorsed by Just Progress
  • No New Taxes
  • Higher Taxes Coalition
  • Preserve Midtown
  • I love surface parking lots
  • Citizens for Responsible Government
  • Tulsa Alliance for Neighborhoods
  • Homeowners for Fair Zoning
  • Tulsa Real Estate Coalition
  • Pimp This Town
  • By George, It's Nigh Time
  • Official Monster Raving Loony Party

Some descriptions would be sensible, some would be frivolous, all would add some color to an otherwise antiseptic non-partisan ballot. (Requiring all candidates to submit a nominating petition, as independent candidates are already required to do, would keep the frivolity within reasonable bounds.)

There's another possible explanation for why the Whirled didn't defend their opposition to Eagleton's idea: They oppose it for selfish reasons which they don't wish to reveal to the reader. A candidate's brief self-description on the ballot constitutes a media bypass. Without depending on the favor of the monopoly daily newspaper, without needing a pile of campaign cash, a candidate would be able to communicate something about himself, albeit very briefly, to every voter, in words of his own choosing.

If the Whirled editorial hive-mind gets its collective way, a city election ballot would comprise lists of bare names, with no other identifying information. As the still-dominant media outlet in Tulsa, the Whirled would define for many voters what emotions and opinions they should hold about each of those names. No wonder they don't care for Councilor Eagleton's suggestion.

This struck me as strange. Maybe this was unintentional, maybe not. You be the judge.

There's a shift in the way the Tulsa World refers to the potential commercial development on the west bank of the Arkansas River at 21st Street.

Prior to the October 9 Tulsa County sales tax election, the paper consistently connected the proposed west bank development to Branson Landing, the retail development on the shores of Lake Taneycomo in downtown Branson, Missouri, and mentioned developer Rick Huffman by name. After the election, the development has been mentioned a few times, but without any reference to Huffman and only one to Branson Landing. After the jump, you'll find examples of what I'm talking about.

One of my favorite columnists, Paul Greenberg of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, remembers editorial cartoonist Doug Marlette, who died last week in a car accident. Greenberg ponders the state of editorial cartooning and relays a pointed quote from Marlette about his profession.

Doug Marlette wasn't just a newspaper cartoonist but a newspaper critic in his way. In his memory, the rest of us in this business would do well to keep in mind some criticism he offered in an interview with Jeff MacNelly's daughter, Kristy Shumaker, when she interviewed him in 2003:

"We've bred this generation of Eddie Haskells, parent-pleasers, suck-ups, careerists that's hurting cartooning as well as newsrooms.... The irony is, readers are falling away, and newspapers can't figure it out as they reward blandness, homogenize the product, dull it down and drain all the humanness out of it."

Newspapers have a lot of competition these days, and have had since radio and television preceded the Internet on the scene. But we have no more serious threat than our own, fatal craving for respectability. Especially when it swells into pomposity. Or a fearful neutrality, as if we were afraid of taking sides. Doug Marlette didn't have any problem along those lines; he was willing to offend all sides.

Here's trusting that Doug Marlette isn't resting in peace at all, but still giving the haters hell.

Tulsa has plenty of pomposity, but the Whirled participates in it when it should be puncturing it. Someone once said that a newspaper's job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Sad to say, Marlette's final employer has been getting that backward for the better part of the last 102 years.

Sad news. Tulsa World editorial cartoonist Doug Marlette was killed this morning in a single-car accident in Mississippi when the car in which he was a passenger hydroplaned and struck a tree. Marlette had previously been with the Charlotte Observer, the Atlanta Constitution, and Newsday, and the writer and artist for the comic strip Kudzu, a gentle satire of Southern small-town life. According to a story on the World's website, he was returning from his father's funeral in North Carolina and on the way to visit friends in Oxford, Miss.

Marlette began drawing for the World in February 2006, and he was a visiting professor at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where he lived.

Condolences to his family and his colleagues at the World.

The Tulsa Whirled has rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic moved editorial pages editor Ken Neal into semi-retirement as "senior editor and columnist." Neal has been an editorial writer for the Whirled since 1976 and editor of the editorial pages since 1994. He will be replaced as editor by David Averill, who has been an editorial writer since 1985.

Don't expect much to change. The five members of the editorial board (including Julie Del Cour, Janet Pearson, and Mike Jones) all march in lockstep and proudly so. At a speech given by Neal in early 2005, I asked him about the lack of disagreement between the Whirled's local columnists:

I commended Mr. Neal on the diversity of his syndicated columnists but asked why there was a lack of diversity of opinion on local issues. He seemed puzzled by my question. I pointed out that you never read Julie DelCour writing that Ken Neal was wrong about something or Ken Neal writing that David Averill was wrong about something. The board is uniformly supportive of any tax increase -- something Neal openly acknowledged a few weeks ago. The board is also uniformly negative about the reform majority on the Tulsa City Council.

His reply was about what I expected: The Whirled is a private company, not a public institution. We have the right to push our opinions and our ideas.

I wasn't questioning the Whirled's right to publish what they wished, just suggesting that the lack of diverse opinion on local issues was a flaw in need of correction. Neal went on to cite the decades of experience of each of the editorial board members, many of them with years of experience covering City Hall. Because they're all so intimate with the way City Hall works, naturally they're all in agreement over how City Hall ought to be run.

He went on to say, regarding the public subsidy of Great Plains Airlines, that "everybody in town thought it was a great idea. It was a Chamber deal." This was a revealing comment. Of course there were people who publicly objected to the plan, including two members of the City Council:

To the Whirled editorial writers, and their allies in the Cockroach Caucus, city politics is utter simplicity. If it's a "Chamber deal," it must be good, and of course, "everybody in town" thinks it's a good idea. Anyone who disagrees is by definition a naysayer, an anti-progress crank, and therefore is beneath notice, no matter how well he can argue his position. The result is an inbred intellectual environment with imbecility as a predictable result.

As for Mr. Averill, I received an education in his mindset when he and Del Cour interviewed me during my 2002 run for City Council:

Given my opposition to "It's Tulsa's Time", I figured a new downtown arena would be the dominant topic. Instead, they were most interested in my positions on three issues. First, they wanted to know my position on abortion. I told them I am pro-life, and that I believe that we have an obligation to protect innocent, defenseless human life. They told me not to worry and that the Whirled sometimes endorses "anti-choice" candidates.

The second key issue was whether I approved of the use of government condemnation to "assemble" land for private redevelopment. Clearly they supported the notion. I told them I felt it was an abuse of the power of eminent domain. And they wanted to know where I stood on the six-laning of Riverside Drive, a pet project for them -- I oppose it because of the effect on the park and neighborhood, and said so.

After the Whirled made an unusually early endorsement of my opponent, I called Averill and asked him why:

He told me that my support for neighborhood empowerment (through the use of urban conservation districts) was why they wouldn't endorse me. Averill said that neighborhoods had opposed every good thing that had happened to Midtown, and they shouldn't be given any more clout to oppose progress. I cited several counter-examples to his assertion, but he was not interested in discussing the matter further.

The bottom line for the Whirled was this: If elected to the Council, I would be an obstacle to their vision for the redevelopment of Midtown, because I would work to protect the rights of homeowners and other property owners and make them a part of the decision-making process. I believe that we can accommodate growth and new development without endangering the character of our older neighborhoods, and with a minimum of red tape and regulation.

Of course, the Whirled's endorsement editorial was not so plain-spoken and made no mention at all of land use, zoning, or eminent domain. These issues did not figure in their news coverage of the race or in their last minute editorial, which blasted me for making no constructive contribution to the community, in their view. They did not dare give zoning and planning issues any exposure, because they know that their position is unpopular, particularly in Midtown.

Under David Averill, as under Ken Neal, the Whirled will continue to back higher taxes at every opportunity, to fight broad public involvement in making important city decisions, to work against the interests of ordinary homeowners and in favor of special deals for special people, to ridicule traditional values and conservative opinions on social issues, and to support the Culture of Death. Despite improvements in other sections of the paper, the editorial pages under David Averill will continue to drive subscribers away.

(For a walk down memory lane with Ken Neal's pontifications, click this link for a Google search of the BatesLine archives.)

Recently, John Hart, Communications Director for Senator Tom Coburn, passed along correspondence concerning several attempts by Coburn's office to correct errors appearing in the Tulsa Whirled. There's so much material here, I'm going to have to spool it out over several entries, and you'll have to click "Continue reading" on each entry to see the whole thing.

Here's the most recent example: On August 6, 2006, the Whirled published a story by Jim Myers, the paper's Washington reporter, about a joint town hall meeting to be held in Muskogee by Coburn and Democratic U. S. Congressman Dan Boren. In that story, Myers wrote (emphasis added):

Probably the biggest difference between Coburn and Boren, however, could be their approach to Oklahoma projects and issues.

Boren so far has followed the more traditional approach of making Oklahoma issues a priority, which led him to join others in stepping up when the state had problems this year with a federal agency's response to wildfires.

Coburn, who had been a critic of that same agency on its response to Gulf Coast hurricanes and sits on the panel that oversees it, chose not to weigh in when it came to the state's request for more assistance.

He has said he will not make requests on Oklahoma's behalf until the deficit issue is addressed.

The joint town hall will begin at noon in Rooms A and B of the Muskogee Civic Center, 425 Boston.

"I encourage everyone to attend this important meeting to share your ideas and opinions on the issues important to you," said Coburn, who barred his office from answering any questions on the meeting.

Senator Coburn then submitted the following letter to the editor:

Dear editor,

Your August 6 story, "Coburn, Boren join for meeting" contained a factual error and, I believe, deliberate distortion, which needs to be corrected as soon as possible.

I was shocked that your paper reported that I had "barred (my) office from answering questions on the meeting" I am holding jointly with U.S. Representative Dan Boren when I have no such blanket policy of not discussing this meeting and when no such policy had been communicated to your paper from my office. Your paper also reported that my office had not weighed in with FEMA on behalf of Oklahoma when our state was ravaged by wildfires when we had, in fact, weighed in with FEMA officials.

No one should have to remind any newspaper that manufacturing facts and indirect quotations is highly unethical and unprofessional and a serious offense to subscribers and readers. No provision in our Constitution grants news organizations the right to invent facts or quotations.

Regrettably, the Tulsa World has set a pattern of inaccuracy and distortion which I have been attempting to discuss with your editors for the past several months. My concerns include your paper’s refusal to correct, or even discuss, previous factual errors as well as the belligerent and unprofessional actions of some of your staff toward me and my staff. Because my concerns have not been addressed, I have instructed my office to make information available to every news outlet in Oklahoma except for the Tulsa World. As an elected official, the only recourse I have when a news outlet is willfully inaccurate, unethical and unprofessional is to deny them information.

I hope the Tulsa World will address these issues but until that time, the Tulsa World has no right to suggest to its readers that I am withholding information from the entire state when I am communicating openly with every other news outlet in Oklahoma and directly with my constituents through town hall meetings, personal meetings in my office, my website, phone calls and letters. In an age when citizens get their news from many outlets including television, radio and blogs, a newspaper that fails to provide its readers with accurate and unique information does not harm the public, but itself.

Sincerely,


Tom Coburn, M.D.
United States Senator

Following a typo in the web version of an August 8 story, Hart sent the following e-mail to Joe Worley, Executive Editor of the Whirled:

Joe,

Jim's story today refers to Dr. Coburn as "Co-burn". Please correct
that at your earliest convenience. Also, have you decided against
running a correction to Jim's fictitious claim that we have an office
policy of not discussing our joint town hall meeting with Rep. Boren?
If so, could you give us the courtesy of explaining your reasoning,
particularly in light of your refusal to print Dr. Coburn's letter to
the editor?

Thanks,

John [Hart]

Worley's response:

So it would seem from Doug Marlette's latest cartoon in the Tulsa Whirled.

I shouldn't be too hard on Mr. Marlette. Since he doesn't live here, he can't be expected to be too familiar with local geography.

For cartoons by a long-time Tulsa resident, pick up one of these.

Somewhat related: On Sunday, Julie Del Cour wrote this:

Every five years for the past quarter century, the city of Tulsa has offered voters a deal: If they approve a third-penny sales tax the city will keep chipping away at capital needs.

"Chipping" is the operative word. Even with regular bond issues and renewal of the third-penny four times, the city has about $4 billion in unmet capital needs. Theoretically the city could dedicate its total budget for the next seven years to those needs and still not catch up.

It's funny: The amount of unmet capital needs has been $4 billion as long as I can remember, at least going back to the 1999 bond issue. If we've been "chipping away at it," shouldn't it be getting smaller? Between two bond issues and two third-penny renewals since then, plus Vision 2025 (which mostly unded one of the biggest single items on the list, the arena) we've funded roughly $1.4 billion dollars in capital needs, if memory serves me correctly.

All the dirt that's fit to print

|

Yes, I've read the front page story in today's Whirled about the dirt being peddled on various candidates. Yes, I have something to say about it, and have already started writing, but I won't finish it until this afternoon.

Whirled hires Marlette

| | Comments (7)

Let's all give a big Tulsa welcome to the Tulsa Whirled's new editorial cartoonist, Doug Marlette. I have to say I'm impressed that the paper was willing and able to hire a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, even though they won't be paying his full salary -- and even though he won't be coming all the way to Tulsa.

According to his bio, his most recent employment has been with the Tallahassee Democrat and yet his home is in Hillsborough, North Carolina. He is moving to Oklahoma to take this position with the Whirled, but not to Tulsa: According to the Democrat's story on Marlette's departure, he'll also be a lecturer at the University of Oklahoma and will live in Norman. (The Whirled's introductory article overlooked that detail.)

It will be interesting to see if he continues to focus mainly on national and global news. If he does delve in to local and state politics, I hope he doesn't rely on the Whirled's coverage alone as the basis for his cartoons.

I invite Mr. Marlette to explore the BatesLine archive about his new employer, with special attention to the international ridicule that befell the Whirled after its attempt to intimidate me and other critics of the paper. That last link will give Mr. Marlette a good introduction to the way the Whirled wields its influence in local politics -- and a clue as to why the Whirled continues to lose favor and circulation.

Marlette's new boss, editorial page editor Ken Neal, writes:

One of the factors in Marlette's selection is the fact that he is not partisan or convinced that one group or another has a lock on "truth." His cartoons reflect a healthy distrust of government and public life, regardless of the affiliations of public officials. That is often hard for readers to remember when their favorite is portrayed unflatteringly.

Hopefully, Mr. Marlette will include within that "healthy distrust" the ownership and editorial board of the Tulsa Whirled and their favorites in local government.

Tulsans for Better Government (TBG), the group promoting a petition to dismember three Tulsa City Council districts and adding three supercouncilor seats (to be elected citywide to four year terms), filed ethics reports with the City Clerk's office, as required by state law. As of December 31, 2005, the group has accumulated $66,350.00 and has spent $18,882.14. Given that they suspended the petition drive on December 5, it will be interesting to see what they do with the remaining money.

Here is the list of donors disclosed on those forms, in descending order of amount contributed:

Date Name Address Amount
12/30/2005 Tulsa World P. O. Box 26750, OKC 73126 $10,000.00
11/30/2005 George Kaiser Family Fndtn 7020 S. Yale, Tulsa OK 74136 $5,000.00
12/16/2005 Ram Energy 5100 E Skelly Dr, Tulsa OK 74135 $5,000.00
11/9/2005 Anchor Stone Company 2021 S. Lewis, Tulsa OK 74104 $4,000.00
10/18/2005 Howard G. Barnett 6742 S Evanston, Tulsa OK 74136 $3,000.00
10/18/2005 A.H. McElroy, II 1964 E 45th Pl, Tulsa OK 74105 $3,000.00
10/31/2005 Hughes Lumber Company P.O. Box 2220, Tulsa OK 74101 $3,000.00
11/16/2005 Ruth K. Nelson Revocable Trust 1350 S. Boulder, Tulsa OK 74119 $3,000.00
11/16/2005 Mike D. Case 4200 E. Skelly Drive, Tulsa OK 74135 $3,000.00
11/30/2005 Leonard J. Eaton, Jr. 2617 E 26th Pl., Tulsa OK 74114 $3,000.00
12/16/2005 Robert J. LaFortune 427 S. Boston, Tulsa OK 74103 $2,500.00
11/22/2005 Coury Properties 201 W. 5th St, Tulsa OK 74103 $1,500.00
10/31/2005 Ted Sherwood & Associates 15 W 6th Suite 2112, Tulsa OK 74119 $1,000.00
11/4/2005 Capitol Club Tulsa OK $1,000.00
11/4/2005 Joseph McGraw 10900 Louisville, Jenks OK 74137 $1,000.00
11/16/2005 MidFirst Bank PO Box 26750, OKC OK 73126 $1,000.00
11/16/2005 Jack and Maxine Zarrow 2660 S. Birmingham Pl., Tulsa OK 74114 $1,000.00
11/16/2005 Philip C. Lauinger, Jr. 320 S. Boston, Tulsa OK 74103 $1,000.00
11/16/2005 Robert A. Franden 525 S. Main, Tulsa OK 74103 $1,000.00
11/22/2005 GBR Properties, Inc. 6660 S. Sheridan, Tulsa OK 74133 $1,000.00
11/30/2005 Frontier Energy Services LLC 4200 E. Skelly Dr, Tulsa OK 74135 $1,000.00
11/30/2005 Richard Minshall 2444 E 26th Pl., Tulsa OK 74114 $1,000.00
12/16/2005 Stephen J. Heyman 3200 First Place Tower, Tulsa OK 74103 $1,000.00
11/16/2005 Midwesco Industries P. O. Box 3445, Tulsa OK 74101 $750.00
11/16/2005 BHC Pipe & Equipment Co. P. O. Box 701166, Tulsa OK 74170 $500.00
11/22/2005 Ranch Acres Wine & Spirits 3324 A E. 31st, Tulsa OK 74135 $500.00
11/16/2005 Donald B. Atkins 1406 S. Terrace Dr., Tulsa OK 74104 $300.00
11/22/2005 James M. Hewgley, Jr. Trust 427 S Boston, Tulsa OK 74103 $300.00
11/16/2005 Paula Marshall-Chapman P. O. Box 4829, Tulsa OK 74159 $250.00

No time to analyze this, but feel free to comment on who gave, their connections with various interests, and their possible motivations.

My entry about the Tulsa World's legal threats against this blog and other websites is number 11 on BlogPulse's ranking of 2005's top blog posts.

A few items down is this funny bit -- imagining what the tech blog Engadget would have looked like circa 1985.

Beyond our Ken, again

|

I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by the backlog of material I'd like to cover here, and I tip my hat to my fellow Tulsa Bloggers for their continuing coverage of all things local.

Ken Neal, editorial page editor of the Tulsa Whirled, has made some noise lately -- even more than usual. I was going to comment on some of his latest stuff, including a very funny little email he sent to the South Tulsa Citizens Coalition, but Dan Paden and Steve Roemerman have done a very fine job, so go read them.

I'm still wondering about something: News stories about editorial cartoonist Dave Simpson's dismissal a few weeks ago for a plagiarized cartoon that was published in July mentioned that the Hartford Courant, where the purloined cartoon was published, complained to an editor at the Whirled, who apparemtly didn't pursue the matter. Was Ken Neal the editor who let the ball drop? It would have been his department. Why is the Whirled so reluctant to name the editor who failed to respond to the Courant?

The Tulsa Whirled is advertising for a cartoonist to replace Dave Simpson, who was fired a month ago for plagiarism:

Unlike many newspapers, the Tulsa World is seeking a cartoonist. The Tulsa World is one of an elite few of daily newspapers that remain family owned. We believe the venerable political cartoon is, and should be, one of the most visible and popular parts of the newspaper. We have been advised to hire a cartoonist with the same careful consideration that we would use in selecting a new dog. Not that cartoonists are dogs, but both situations require mutual like and respect and long commitment.

Our requirements are simple: Our new cartoonist has to be a great caricaturist; be up to the minute on news developments locally and nationally and produce a funny cartoon at least five times a week, or at the drop of a hat. Now, that won't be too hard, will it? If you believe you measure up and will work for something less than an arm and a leg, (maybe an occasional bone), let us hear from you. We promise great working conditions, colleagues who like to laugh and enjoy their work, and a lot of ideas, most of which you can feel free to reject.

Please contact Laura McIntosh at laura.mcintosh(at)tulsaworld.com OR send resume, samples of work and salary requirements to my attention at the Tulsa World, 315 S. Boulder Avenue, Tulsa, OK 74103.

The ad appeared on the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists bulletin board on Monday, which happened to be Black Ink Monday, when cartoonists published cartoons protesting the decision of the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, both owned by Tribune Corp., to lay off their cartoonists.

Simpson's cartoons were a highlight of the Tulsa Tribune, one of the ways the evening paper distinguished itself from the Whirled. (The Whirled had been without a cartoonist for as long as I could remember.)

Back in the '70s and '80s, Simpson could be funny. I have a paperback of his cartoons from the period and still get a chuckle out of them. When the Whirled killed the Tribune, they hired Simpson, but they seem to have put him on a short leash, and every cartoon reflected the Whirled's editorial line. A good cartoonist makes everyone look ridiculous, but Simpson, during his Whirled years, may as well have drawn a nimbus behind Susan Savage's head in every cartoon she appeared in. Not to make excuses for plagiarism, but I suspect working at the Whirled would kill anyone's creativity over time.

Many of the commenters on the EditorialCartoonists.com bulletin board think that the editorial cartoon has had its day. Laurence Simon posted this comment about the Black Ink Monday cartoon gallery. (He posted comments about the individual cartoons on his blog.)

Let's treat this gallery not as a protest, but a pop quiz. "Can you draw an editorial cartoon that's simple, effective, and conveys the message?"

Well, I've graded the class, and there's lots of C's, D's, and F's.

Most of the cartoons failed to convey the basic message, used pointless or goofy symbols that required labels to demonstrate what they represented, showed poor quality artwork, employed pointless dialogue, used a Boss Tweed reference most readers wouldn't understand, or engaged in non sequitur Bush bashing.

If columnists were to engage in such rambling off-topic and obscure activities, they'd find their space replaced with syndicated material and bra ads, too.

Other commenters point out that cartoonists will be more valuable to their papers if they adapt to new technologies (why not cartoon in color?), focus on local issues, and draw well and be funny. Pat Crowley, an illustrator/cartoonist for the Palm Beach Post, wrote:

With the internet ANYONE can be a political cartoonist these days. Your newspapers pay you to draw 250 cartoons every year. That gives you the edge over the internet. Are you using it? Are you a better cartoonist than you were last year? ... The art of editorial cartooning has deteriorated over the years and you can't blame it on the accountants. A lot of the work I see out there looks like it was executed- and written- in less than an hour.... When the editors start rejecting your work because it's too well-drawn, too timely, too local or too funny, you have a case.

A new cartoonist at the Whirled could be a great asset to the community, but not if he's restricted from making fun of the politicians and programs that the Whirled supports. If you're a cartoonist and want to work for a Tulsa publication that will allow you a great deal of creative freedom, you should get in touch with this paper instead.

Don Danz laments that he's been tardy in blogging about our monopoly daily newspaper, but more than makes up for it with a new logo design for the Whirled.

Bobblehead

| | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)

A commenter reminded me that I had yet to link to the video of Tulsa Whirled City Hall reporter P. J. Lassek vigorously displaying her agreement with Councilor Susan Neal at Tuesday's council committee meeting. The discussion concerned a subpoena for the original bank transaction records for Great Plains Airlines. Neal was attacking Councilor Chris Medlock's motives in seeking the records of the publicly-subsidized and failed airline.

Thanks to KFAQ's ever-alert Chip Anderson for capturing and posting the video. That's P. J. sitting along the wall on the right, behind and to the left of Chris Medlock.

Steve Roemerman was actually at the meeting -- here's his account.

More comments on the video from Our Tulsa World and Hooah Wife.

Tulsa roundup

| | Comments (1)

Roemerman on Record will be quiet for a while, as Steve Roemerman is off to Gretna, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi from New Orleans, with a group from his church to help Convoy of Hope. We'll keep Steve in our prayers and look forward to his report when he returns.

Our Tulsa World has added more video clips from Mayor Bill LaFortune's September 6 third-penny meeting at the Zarrow Library. This is a great service that Mr. Schuttler is doing by filming, converting, and posting these video clips. Too often the claims and promises made in this sort of meeting are lost to history. His summary of the meeting puts the clips in context. In another entry he has the response from Mayor LaFortune and Fire Chief Allen LaCroix to the question, "Are we prepared if Keystone Dam breaks?"

MeeCiteeWurkor has a special comments thread just for registering your opinion of the Tulsa Whirled. He's asking for submissions in a contest -- things you can do with a Tulsa Whirled. And he's about to add a new contributor to the blog.

City Councilor Chris Medlock has a recent entry on his proposal regarding the sales tax money currently going to Tulsa County for "4 to Fix the County." He says that the county is fixed now, and between the Vision 2025 sales tax and rising property taxes, the county is well fixed for funds. By denying a renewal of the 2/12ths cent "4 to Fix" sales tax, City of Tulsa voters could opt to pass the same size sales tax at the city level and earmark it for public safety.

Another noteworthy item on MedBlogged cites two Tulsa Whirled City Hall stories, one from 2002, one from last week. The March 2002 story has Mayor-elect Bill LaFortune saying he plans to have a direct, face-to-face relationship with the City Council, which lines up with my recollection of my first meeting with LaFortune as he started his run for office. The September 2005 story has councilors, including recently-elected Bill Martinson, complaining that LaFortune won't deal directly with the Council on issues like the new third-penny proposal.

Tulsa Downtown reports that new clubs are opening in the Blue Dome district.

Tulsa newcomer Joe Kelley has been trying the immersion approach to understanding his new hometown, and he's posted a list of some of the people he's met with so far, and would like suggestions for others he ought to talk to. About a week and a half ago, I introduced him to the tawook at La Roma Pizza (a Lebanese restaurant disguised as a pizzeria), and we had a very enjoyable conversation. He seems to be a very astute observer and a quick study.

Tulsa Topics has an audio tribute to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, including their radio theme song, "Okie Boogie," "Cadillac in my Model A," and tributes by The Tractors and Asleep at the Wheel. One thing I love about Bob Wills songs -- you don't need liner notes, because Bob tells you who's playing as the song proceeds.

As always, you'll find the latest and greatest entries from blogs about Tulsa news on the Tulsa Bloggers aggregation page.

Cockroaches at large

| | Comments (3)

Why is the Tulsa Whirled beating the drum for at-large seats on the Tulsa City Council? Dan Paden has it figured out:

Election campaigns are expensive, and city-wide campaigns are necessarily more expensive than district-wide campaigns. It is hard enough for good people to raise the money to run for a district seat. It will be harder for them to finance a run against the deep pockets of the Cockroach Caucus and their candidates. The more at-large councilors there are, the more pull the CC will have at city hall.

He's right, and it's even worse because a city-wide election makes it difficult to conduct a low-budget, grass-roots campaign. Jim Mautino, Energizer bunny that he is, knocked on nearly every door in his district (which has a population of about 43,000) during the recent recall campaign. Imagine trying to knock on every door in the city. (The city election calendar already works against grass-roots campaigns, with campaign season limited by Christmas and New Year's and falling during the coldest and shortest days of the year, which severely limit door-to-door campaigning. For those reasons and others, I'd love to see city elections moved to the fall of odd-numbered years.)

Be sure to read Dan's whole piece. I especially liked this pithy comment:

[T]he Tulsa Whirled has become something of a reverse barometer for Tulsa. That is to say, if the Whirled thinks it's a good idea, somethin' jist ain't right.

That's a very useful heuristic.

I see that despite a hint of a concilatory tone in the Whirled's Thursday editorial, the paper still hasn't run out of ways to show contempt for those they dislike. In Pamela Jean "P. J." Lassek's Sunday "story" on potential candidates for City Council and Mayor in 2006, she refers to 2004 District 4 Republican nominee Eric Gomez as Jason "Eric" Gomez.

As I pointed out over a year ago, Eric is the man's legal middle name, which he prefers to his first name. He was on the ballot as Eric Gomez and uses Eric Gomez in his real estate business. I've known Eric since 1999, and I never knew Eric wasn't his first name until the Whirled started printing his first name and putting sneer quotes around his middle name. There is no legitimate reason for the Whirled to do this. What's implied by the use of sneer quotes (also known as scare quotes) is that Gomez either is an eccentric (like Virginia "Blue Jeans" Jenner) or is trying to be deceptive in going by his middle name.

As a blogger, I'm allowed to be snarky and to mix opinion with news content, but mainstream media types are supposed to be objective and dispassionate observers. At a time when the Whirled has already taken some huge credibility and objectivity hits over Great Plains Airlines, the 71st and Harvard F&M Bank rezoning, and the recall, this petty but obvious example of bias doesn't help them.

UPDATE: I was informed that Ms. Lassek did not write the part of the article about the District 4 race, but it was written by fellow City Hall reporter Brian Barber. (I don't know what Brian's full legal name is, so I don't know if I should be putting sneer quotes around any of it.) As a resident of District 4, Ms. Lassek doesn't write on District 4 politics as a matter of the newspaper's policy. Perhaps the decision to so style Mr. Gomez was made by city editor Lewis "Wayne" Greene. I was also informed that the reason to use Gomez's full name is because he has a couple of misdemeanors on his record, which you can only find in OSCN if you search on his full name. I guess they want to make sure readers can look those up. That still doesn't explain the use of the sneer quotes around his middle name.

Tulsa should be proud! Our monopoly daily newspaper is one of eight nominees for the 2005 Mapes Award for Stupidity:

Ooooooo-klahoma, Where the Newspaper’s Head is up its Rear: Fair Use Censorship on Both Sides

The Tulsa World tries to bully blogger Michael Bates into submission, threatening legal action for linking to the World and excerpting articles for criticism, both very much protected under fair use. The blogosphere rose to the occasion, frequently hitting Bates’ tip jar when they weren’t hitting the World upside the head with a clue bat. Legal counsel for the Media Bloggers Association did a little threatening of his own, thus putting the World in its place.

On the flip side, Creators Syndicate tried to threaten a liberal blog, News Hounds, for linking to a Bill O’Reilly column.

The award will be made at the end of the year by Rathergate, a media bias watchdog that was involved in uncovering the forgeries purporting to be from President Bush's superiors about his service in the Air National Guard. The award is named for Mary Mapes, the 60 Minutes II producer who "found" the memos and pushed to get them on the airs.

It shouldn't be forgotten that I wasn't the only blogger or website threatened by the Whirled. Chris Medlock, Tulsans for Election Integrity, and TulsaNow also received similar threats -- see articles here and here. Although blogs and websites supportive of the reformers on the City Council were threatened for merely linking and excerpting for the purpose of criticism, no such threats were received by the group pushing to recall two of those reformers, even though they published the full text of 76 articles from the newspaper, without any comment or criticism, and have not received any threats from the newspaper for their blatant copyright violations, which are still online. In fact, the pro-recall group published the full text of Tulsa Whirled articles in the attack newspapers sent to voters in the affected districts.

As the Rathergate article mentions, there was an outpouring of encouraging support from my fellow bloggers, who recognized that the Whirled's threat is a threat to every blogger. You can read the whole saga, including links to some of the heartening and humorous reaction from the blogosphere, in the Tulsa World category archive.

The latest and greatest example of media bias at the Tulsa Whirled? Robert Lorton, chairman and CEO of the Whirled's parent company (and former publisher of the paper, and daddy of the current publisher), contributed $2,500 to a political action committee which channelled the money directly to a campaign committee supporting the recall of two Tulsa City Councilors. It appears that by giving to the PAC, Lorton intended to avoid exposing his contribution until after the election, but thanks to alternative media -- including this blog -- word of the contribution became public, and the newspaper acknowledged the contribution at the end of last week. The paper has been slow to disclose their owners' other business interests when there is a connection to a political controversy.

Thanks to Rathergate's Kevin Craver for helping to spotlight the Tulsa Whirled's bullying tactics. And even more thanks to Kevin for his service to our country in the U. S. Army. Best wishes, Kevin, as you're demobilized and return to civilian life.

You read it here first, but the Tulsa Whirled this morning acknowledged that the chairman and CEO of World Publishing Company, Robert E. Lorton, gave $2,500 to Build PAC Issues, which money was given directly to the Coalition for Reprehensible Government 2004, the committee supporting the recall of Tulsa City Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock. According to the Whirled story, the PAC registered with the City Clerk's office on June 16, and all the money it has raised so far has been contributed to CFRG. According to CFRG's ethics report, Build PAC Issues contributed $13,600 on June 29.

Josh Fowler, the staff director of Build PAC Issues, who is also executive VP of the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa, told the Whirled the PAC wasn't set up to conceal contributions. Then why was it so hastily set up, and why has it given its entire pot of money to one campaign? Since there are no maximums for contributions to issues campaigns (which is how a recall campaign is classified), and since corporate contributions are allowed, there is no reason other than concealment -- PAC contributions don't have to be disclosed until after the election on July 31 -- for someone to give money via this PAC rather than directly to the campaign. And why would a newspaper publisher give money through a home builders PAC, except to try to conceal the donation from the public? (What's that Bible verse on the Whirled masthead? "Publish and set up a standard; publish, and conceal not.")

I wrote earlier that the PAC provided a loophole to avoid the intent of the law that campaign contributions be disclosed before an election, but if the PAC exists only for the purpose of supporting this issue, it must follow the same reporting rules as CFRG and Tulsans for Election Integrity. Enforcing that provision will require someone, and it probably needs to be a registered voter in District 2 or 6, to file a complaint with the District Attorney that Build PAC Issues has violated 51 O.S. 314 and 315.

In other recall news:

District 6 voters have been getting calls claiming that it's not important to show up to vote against recall on Tuesday because Jim Mautino is retiring anyway. That's an utter lie, obviously intended to depress turnout among Jim's supporters.

Dan Paden takes apart this morning's Tulsa Whirled editorial endorsing the recall of Tulsa City Councilors Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino. Click the link and read Dan's entry, "Pukoid Postings at the Whirled". I was going to respond to the Whirled's dreck point-by-point, but Dan's piece is so well-put it doesn't seem quite as urgent. (I've been busy with some behind-the-scenes efforts to help Chris and Jim.) Go read the whole thing.

Oh, and don't expect the Whirled to look into this, but there are reports that the Lortons have contributed $2,500 to the Homebuilders PAC, to be passed through to the Coalition for Reprehensible Government 2004's (CFRG) campaign in favor of recall. By using the PAC to launder the contribution, the Lorton name wouldn't appear on CFRG's list of contributors (assuming the list is even turned in on time). Since the Whirled didn't bother to disclose its interest in Great Plains Airlines until very late in the game, and as far as I know never declared their owner's connection with F&M Bank, don't expect that they'll call attention to any backdoor contributions to the pro-corruption forces.

Over on the Homeowners for Fair Zoning blog, HFFZ counsel John S. Denney has posted an excellent analysis of the way the Whirled does its dirty work. Included in the piece is a response to Whirled editorial board member David Averill's Sunday op-ed calling for at-large councilors as a way to ensure that future councils are firmly under the thumb of the Cockroach Caucus.

Here's one excerpt from Denney's article:

Cynical efforts to bait the reform Councilors into responding to attacks upon them eventually led to an atmosphere of hostility in Council meetings. Unlike the World, a real newspaper would have told the truth about the situation, instead of heaping scorn on the reformers and attempting to discredit their efforts. Some very intelligent people in Tulsa are being gulled by these tactics into believing that honest and hardworking Councilors like Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock are disruptive and uncivil. These men have both civility and integrity which would be the envy of most of us. When faced with personal conflicts of interest on the Council created by baseless lawsuits aimed at compromising their votes, they have properly removed themselves from participation in related Council actions. Not so with Councilors like Bill Christiansen who folded like a cheap tent under a lawsuit filed by F & M Bank.

Many of the attacks upon reform Councilors at Council meetings are carefully scripted by opposing Council members and those seeking to paint them in an unflattering light. Their responses, no matter how civil, are then treated in the newspaper the next day as hostile and self-serving remarks without giving the true picture of the Council exchanges.

And when the Whirled talks of civility, this is what they mean:

The type of Council civility the Whirled, new District 5 Councilor Martinson and the Chamber advocate is the silencing of legitimate dissent and genuine efforts at reform. You, like many, may consider powerful and ruthless leaders of our community to be necessary evils in the quest for an economic turnaround for Tulsa. This assumes the trickle down theory of economics applies in a situation where the hand on the tap also controls the direction the water flows. How many large companies will be happy moving to a community where the government is controlled by a few powerful men and a newspaper unworthy of the name? The best way to promote Tulsa is to drop your subscription to this newspaper and to find one worthy of your support.

Go read the whole thing.

Tulsa City Councilor Chris Medlock will be slammed in this morning's Tulsa Whirled over the status of his MBA degree from the University of Tulsa. Medlock was contacted Friday by Whirled reporter P. J. Lassek and told that they were investigating rumors that he did not actually have an MBA degree. This allegation stunned Medlock, who tells his side of the story on his blog:

The only thing more shocking to hear would've been to have been told something to the effect of, "Your campaign literature claims that you have been married to your wife Cheryl for 25 years, but we can find no record of your marriage." Just as I had, in 1979, stood before a Baptist preacher who was more nervous than I, and repeated wedding vows, I knew that I had gone to TU for a year and a half, and studied in the Graduate Business School.

He believed that he had completed all course work for the degree. Because he finished in August of 1992, there was no graduation ceremony for him to walk in, and by the time the next commencement rolled around, he was well-established in his job at T. D. Williamson and didn't seek to participate.

After hearing from Lassek, Medlock visited the TU registrar's office and discovered that he had an incomplete in one course in the Spring 1992 semester for failing to complete one paper. His recollection is that he could have taken a "C" in the course without the paper, but he asked for an incomplete to try to finish and keep his GPA at the needed level to graduate with honors. Over the summer, however, he worked a full-time job, took his final two courses, and worked 10-15 hours a week in the TU computer lab for the scholarship stipend he received, and the paper wasn't completed.

What I find amazing, thinking back to my college years, is that his faculty adviser didn't alert him to the problem. If I recall correctly, MIT checked the records of graduating students some months before commencement and alerted them to anything that might pose a problem.

I expect the Tulsa World and the rest of the Cockroach Caucus to make a mountain out of this molehill. Medlock attended all the required courses, did all the work, save for one paper, and for the last 13 years has believed that he finished his MBA. When the Whirled challenged him about it, he took the initiative to find out what happened and has shared that information openly and publicly.

In the meantime, it appears that the Cockroach Caucus was tipped off about the problem before Medlock was approached. At Thursday night's Council meeting, Councilor Bill Christiansen made reference to Medlock's MBA in a way that seemed like a rhetorical question, but then he waited until Medlock confirmed that he had the degree before going on with his remarks.

MORE: David Arnett comments at Tulsa Today that this is another example of the Whirled's "assassination by adjective."

True Blog Comics!

|

Thanks to Sean Gleeson for a brilliant comic-book-cover-art tribute to the Media Bloggers Association's valiant intervention in response to the Tulsa World's threat of legal action against this blog. Sean urges his readers to vote for MBA to win a Freedom of Expression award from Reporters without Borders.

Reporters without Borders has nominated the Media Bloggers Association for a Freedom of Expression Blog award, in the International category.

You'll recall that the Media Bloggers Association provided legal assistance to BatesLine in response to the threat letter I received from the Tulsa World back in February. If you appreciate what MBA did on my behalf, help them get some well-deserved recognition by clicking here and voting.

This morning's Tulsa Whirled features the usual clueless column by Ken Neal, this time about the recall and Tuesday's special meeting where lack of a quorum stopped the Cockroach Caucus from rushing the recall to a May election date. Neal's column confirms something I wrote about him and his colleagues last month:

To the Whirled editorial writers, and their allies in the Cockroach Caucus, city politics is utter simplicity. If it's a "Chamber deal," it must be good, and of course, "everybody in town" thinks it's a good idea. Anyone who disagrees is by definition a naysayer, an anti-progress crank, and therefore is beneath notice, no matter how well he can argue his position. The result is an inbred intellectual environment with imbecility as a predictable result.

Let's just take apart his latest offering, line by silly line. Ignoring the throwaway opening, here's the first substantive point:

This week's Oklahoma Gazette -- Oklahoma City's alternative weekly -- has a story by Deborah Benjamin about the Tulsa World's legal threats against BatesLine.

For the story, Benjamin spoke to me and to my attorney, Ron Coleman, the general counsel of the Media Bloggers Association.

The story contains the first public comment from an attorney representing the World, Schaad Titus. Titus doesn't address the issue of excerpting (which is what I do) at all, but merely states that it's necessary for those who post articles in full to seek permission first.

Titus explained how, in his opinion, a hyperlink can be a copyright infringement:

He added that direct hyperlinks, which don’t outright copy content but refer to an HTML page where it can be found, also act as a copyright infringement because they “avoid the pay provisions of the Tulsa World’s Web site.” If such links prompted the reader to pay before viewing the content, then the hyperlinks would be acceptable, Titus added.

Note that this differs from the World's earlier assertion: The letter from World VP John Bair said that any link to their content without written permission constituted copyright infringement.

I can't see how a hyperlink can "avoid the pay provisions" of any website. If someone sends me a link to a page on the web, and I can view that page without logging in or being asked for payment, what "pay provisions" were avoided? And how is it avoiding "pay provisions" to pass on that same link to others? If you put something on the World Wide Web and want people to have to pay in order to see it, it's up to you to install the necessary screens. It's a bit like putting elaborate Christmas lights on the outside of your house -- if you put it out there for everyone to see, you hardly have a right to complain when people give directions to your house.

Ron Coleman points out that newspapers could prohibit their registered subscribers from deep-linking as part of the "click-wrap" user agreement. Of course, such an agreement wouldn't be binding on non-subscribers.

I like Ron's comment on how the World is handling this:

“They’re so heavy-handedly telling him, ‘You have no First Amendment rights as regard the Tulsa World: You can’t link to us; you can’t excerpt from us.’ And that’s just not true,” Coleman said. “... It’s just such an incredible emblem of the thick-headedness of old-media monopolies and their own inability to react rationally to a new-media landscape.”

Last October, Deborah Benjamin wrote a Gazette story about blogs as media watchdogs, speaking to me, Charles G. Hill of Dustbury, Mike from OkieDoke, and Alfalfa Bill. That story and this latest piece demonstrate that she understands blogs and their relationship to traditional media. I'm glad at least one newspaper in the state gets it.

Turkey ALA king

| | Comments (1)

One of the more notable reactions to the Tulsa World's legal threats against BatesLine came from Michael Gorman, the incoming president of the American Library Association (ALA). His response was not a defense of fair use and its role in public discourse, but a knee-jerk reaction, which, as it turns out, reflects a deeper lack of respect for blogs, the Internet, and the electronic availability and searchability of the written word. Karen G. Schneider has documented Gorman's reaction to the World controversy, along with his other controversial statements, on the blog Free Range Librarian.

The "Tulsa World silliness," as Ron Coleman calls the World's legal threats against BatesLine, got more airtime on CNN's Inside Politics on Friday, talking about the Media Bloggers Association coming to my assistance. Bob Cox of the National Debate (and the founder of Media Bloggers Association) has video and a transcript excerpt.

Bob Cox was scheduled to be on MSNBC today to discuss bloggers organizing. He should have video up at some point.

Bob also has a thorough entry on the hard work of being a credentialed blogger at an event like CPAC:

As I attempted to sort out my role at CPAC, I reflected on a point made by Judith Donath of MIT coming out of the Harvard confab, "bloggers tell their readers what they think is interesting or important, but there is no attempt at comprehensiveness." I agree but I don't take that to be a bad thing. Comprehensiveness is not part of the blogger "value proposition". Blog posts are more like points of light, colored onto canvas by George Seurat; sometimes the result is a grand mess while other times the result is La Grande Jatte.

I soon accepted that my role at CPAC was not to determine the news or to fit my reporting into someone else's (an editor, a readership) larger definition of what is important about the event I was covering but rather to write about what I could see that seemed important to me and share that with my readers (and the readers on the CPAC feed aggregator). And so I wrote about what I saw: a heated argument between Michael Medved and Al Franken, a backstage look at a surprise appearance by Matt Drudge during Ann Coulter's speech, John Fund helping himself to laptops in Bloggers Corner because one of them was mine and other little tidbits of information that, taken together with other CPAC coverage by blogger, might bring blog readers a more personal view of the goings-on at CPAC.

MBA general counsel Ron Coleman (wearing his blogger hat) has a couple more comments related to the Tulsa World silliness here (on the perils of deep linking) and here (on the best way to protect your copyright).

Meanwhile, Okiedoke has had visitors from tulsaworld.com looking for passwords.

I was using Technorati to see what bloggers are saying about the Tulsa World's threats against BatesLine. Chellee of Telling Deeds posted an entry calling the World's missive "wonderfully fascist" and praising Joel Helbling's wonderful parody of it.

What caught my attention was this comment from "Apathy Bear":

Yeah, I just checked out this guy's site. His blogroll's got some interesting links. "Club for growth" is not a good sign... Also, the guy's name-dropping people like Hugh Hewitt and Michelle Malkin. Malkin, for example, is an apologist for the Japanese internment of WWII. On the surface, Bate's claims appear legit; I have my reservations, however. I'll look into it some more. Something tells me that we're not getting the whole story from Mr. Bates.

Be sure to check out his take on the Terri Schiavo deal. I'm smelling the unpleasent reek of fundy mindrot here...

For the most part, left-leaning bloggers who've commented on the World's threats have focused on the copyright issue. They recognize that the matter affects every blogger, regardless of your ideology. So this comment shouldn't be taken as typical, but it is revealing of a certain mindset. He appears to have reservations about my credibility, reservations which are based entirely on his finding that I have conservative bloggers and organizations on my blogroll. It's as if he were saying, "I'd believe him if he were a Daily Kos reader, but Club for Growth supporters are shifty and dissembling." It really is another form of the World's blindness -- the idea that anyone with a different perspective must be stupid, unbalanced, or disingenuous.

And what about my "take" on Terri Schiavo is evidence of "fundy mindrot"? If "fundy" means someone who believes in the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, I plead guilty, but it doesn't seem to have eroded my mental ability enough to keep me out of MIT or Phi Beta Kappa or to stop me from writing software for the last 25 years.

Anyway, what's "fundy" about believing that you shouldn't kill a human being by depriving her of food and water? I'd hope every one would agree with that.

Chellee's reply was quite decent:

I saw that the site has definite conservative ties. I'm not one to defend conservatives, except when it comes to constitutional issues. I believe in freedom of speech, and threatening someone in the name of copyright to shut them up doesn't sit well with me.

Hugh Hewitt comments on a Washington Post story on the print media's response to circulation decline. Hewitt says you can't lay all the blame on more hurried lifestyles and the rise of the Internet:

Nowhere in the article is there any discussion of the contempt for most newspapers felt by millions of center-right readers, and the barriers to subscription or even reading put up by pieces like David Shaw's today, discussed below. The newspaper people blame the pace of daily life and the move towards internet consumption of information, and both are factors. But in an age of decline, the indifference to losses in reaction to ideological bias is a testament to the depth of that bias and the accompanying blindess to it.

I've written about the Tulsa World's blindness to their own bias. Every day, the World publishes a biased story or ignores a story because their bias blinds them to its significance, and in the process makes a few new enemies, people who decide that they would just as soon never give the Lorton family another penny for their worthless rag. The World demonstrates daily contempt for the conservative perspective on social issues, for evangelical Christianity, and for the notion that government should serve the people (not the other way around). They are losing circulation because they are out of step with the Tulsa market, but it's more comforting to believe that it's because they neglected to put all their content behind their firewall.

Today makes one week since I received a cease-and-desist letter from the Tulsa World, claiming that by linking to their articles and quoting from their articles (for the purpose of comment and criticism), I was infringing on their copyright. I posted their letter and my response, and notified some friends and acquaintances in the blogosphere. The story has received hundreds of links, including from most of the most-visited blogs, and was mentioned two days in a row on CNN's Inside Politics. BatesLine has gone from being about the 2000th most linked blog to, as of yesterday, the 178th most linked blog. This story is getting attention around the world.

So far, most local Tulsa media outlets have ignored the story. Only Talk Radio 1170 KFAQ and KTUL's website (but not the TV station) have covered the issue.

It's possible the other local media outlets just aren't hip to blogs and don't appreciate the broader implications of the World's legal attack. Maybe you, dear reader, can help educate them.

Take a minute today, call a TV station or a radio station, call OETA, call the Daily Oklahoman, and encourage them to cover the story. As more Tulsans know about this story, more Tulsans will be able to see through the Tulsa World's bias, and more Tulsans will know about alternative sources of news and perspective on local politics.

Movable irony

|

I was amused to see that Sunday's Tulsa World features an Associated Press story about Ben and Mena Trott, the founders of Six Apart and creators of Movable Type, the content management system that powers this and many other blogs.

By the way, you will notice that the link above (and links in other entries today and yesterday) is to a story on the part of the Tulsa World's website which is open to anyone, not just to subscribers.

At least a couple of bloggers are taking a tongue-in-cheek contrarian view of the Tulsa World dispute.

Mike of OkieDoke says I'm too harsh in my criticism of the World's cease-and-desist letter:

Come on, Michael, lighten up. The Tulsa World didn’t get to be the only daily in town through quality, unbiased reporting and openness to criticism. It took a lot of scheming and legal work to gain the extensive influence over local news the World enjoys today. And besides, they already get accused of more serious shenanigans like making up facts in covering elections.

Mike educates us about the World's "Word Witch" and their bizarre backwards-running presidential vote totals. And he helpfully includes contact information: "If you support the right of Tulsa World’s efforts to preserve their professionally crafted opinion dynasty by denying First Amendment rights and criticism from regular folks, contact the paper’s ‘guiding lights’ and give them the support they justly deserve."

Joel Helbling of Chez Joel seems to think that the Tulsa World was too gentle, too timid, too polite in approaching me with their claims of copyright infringement. He has composed a much more impressive form letter that Big Media can use to put bloggers in their place. It begins like this:

Dear Mr. Scumbag Uppity Blogger:

I am writing on behalf of ____________ Publishing Company, publisher of ____________, Main Stream News Media Newspaper, Informer of the Realm, Apostle to the Smug, Mouthpiece of the French. We are perturbed to learn that despite our continuing Magnanimity© in allowing you to publish your insular epithets on the Internet™ at ____________ (your so-called "blog"), you have flouted our beneficence and strained our considerable patience by reproducing. You have also reproduced (in whole or in part or not at all) the wisdom of articles and/or editorials from ____________ newspaper and/or have jury-rigged egregious and nefarious hyper-links™ on your "website" which direct your cretinous so-called "readers" to ____________'s fascinating and irrefutable content.

The tone bears a striking resemblance to Vogon poetry. The icing on the cake is Joel's headline:

"blogger bates behemoth, behemoth blandly blubbers"

Joel's latest entry features a couple of quotes from Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels With A Donkey in the Cevennes about magnanimity in persecution and the value of an honest friend, offered "as a salute to all the bloggers I admire and respect, especially those fighting legal battles today." Thanks, Joel.

Congratulations to the Tulsa World on taking responsibility for protecting access to online material that they claimed they wanted to protect. Now, if you follow a link to a PDF page, such as this one picked at random from a Google search, you get a PDF file that says "PDF permission denied!" with instructions and links to log in for access. Some PDF files, pertaining to special reports, are still accessible, but I assume they correspond to freely avaliable HTML files.

A website owner is within his rights to limit access to his online content, but he is also responsible to take technological measures to enforce those limits. If you put something on the web, you have to assume that anyone can and will get to it, even if you don't make it easy to navigate to the page.

This move contradicts the claim by World publisher Bobby Lorton that the PDF files were premium content, but they had no way to protect them. As I said in reply, they could if they really wanted to. It appears I was right.

This move marks the World's further retreat from Googlespace. Put up enough barriers for people to find out what you have to say, and pretty soon people will cease to care.

UPDATE: One more thought -- this move also demonstrates that a link to website content in no way interferes with the ability of the website owner to control access to that content. I haven't changed a thing on BatesLine -- all of the links to pages on tulsaworld.com are still there -- but now only tulsaworld.com subscribers can read the content.

Meanwhile, the Coalition for Responsible Government, which is pushing to recall Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock, continues to display the full text of 69 Tulsa World articles on a single page, and the full text of a further seven articles on another, apparently unchallenged by the copyright owner, who claims to be unaware of the infringement.

"I'd be hiring him"

|

I am highly complimented by this comment from "Sven Haagendaas" in response to Rhetorica's post on the World's attack:

Aside from the stunning ignorance from a newspaper about fair use, what's amazing to me is how the World jumped on the wrong side of a debate about transparency and just keeps digging.

Here's Bates' devastating (and fact-based!) takedown of a World editorial on it's conflict of interest in the airline "scandal." No wonder they don't want him using their own words against them!

If I were the World's owners, I wouldn't be suing Bates, I'd be hiring him. The guy got me interested in Tulsa politics, and I live 1,500 miles away.

If the World's goal were rebuilding credibility and readership, they would hire folks like me to bring some new perspective and energy to the paper. But the folks who run the World are quite happy with the fossilized perspective they already have -- just ask editorial page editor Ken Neal.

The following letter from my attorney is en route to the Tulsa World tonight, in response to their allegations of copyright infringement and threat of legal action against BatesLine. I am represented by Ronald D. Coleman, general counsel of the Media Bloggers Association. Many thanks to Bob Cox of the National Debate (and a founder of the Media Bloggers Association) for contacting me about the organization, and many thanks to Ron Coleman for working with me. If you are a blogger engaged in coverage or criticism of the media, you should join the Media Bloggers Association.

Here is the text -- a PDF of the letter is linked below.

February 17, 2005

BY OVERNIGHT

Mr. John R. Bair
Vice President
Tulsa World
315 South Boulder
P.O. Box 74103-3423
Tulsa, OK 74102-1770
RE: Batesline.com

Dear Mr. Bair:

I am general counsel of the Media Bloggers Association (www.mediabloggers.org) and write on behalf of Mr. Michael Bates, in connection with your letter of February 11, 2005.

The World's complaint appears to be twofold. Let us dispose of the first issue quickly -- the claim that Mr. Bates's website "has inappropriately linked . . . to Tulsa World content." Why a newspaper with a website would want to prevent Internet users from gaining access to that website, regardless of the referral source, is a question best left to the World Publishing Company's board of directors. But while Mr. Bates's links may be "inappropriate" in the view of your newspaper, Mr. Bair, there is no legal basis whatsoever on which the World may prevent it.

Regarding the World's claim that Mr. Bates is reproducing copyrighted material in whole or in part in violation of the Copyright Act, this accusation must be rejected as well. Not only does the First Amendment protect Mr. Bates's activities, but the Copyright Act itself includes a "fair use" exception, granting parties the ability to use copyrighted material without permission from the owner for purposes of commenting or criticism. Mr. Bates's use of excerpted material from the World is obviously fair use and constitutionally protected speech.

Your organization's attempt to intimidate a small media competitor and a critic with the threat of legal action over his free speech is ironic, but it is unfortunately not unique. The Media Bloggers Association Legal Defense Project was formed expressly for the purpose of providing legal advice and counsel, and if necessary to assist in securing local counsel, for webloggers and others whose freedom of expression is threatened by established institutions who act as if the purpose of the First Amendment were to protect a sort of media monopoly. It is not.

We write therefore to advise the World that Mr. Bates is represented by counsel and by the Association, and that any further attempts to silence him, including the filing of meritless litigation as threatened by your letter, will be vigorously defended, including to the extent appropriate by the seeking of sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 in connection with the filing of meritless litigation claims.

Very truly yours,

Ronald D. Coleman

You'll find a PDF of the letter here.

The Everlasting Phelps believes that the Tulsa World has gone too far in pressuring the hosting provider for Tulsans for Election Integrity and has opened itself up for legal action:

This sounds to me, as a layperson, as an open and shut case of tortious interference with a contract:
The causing of harm by disrupting something that belongs to someone else -- for example, interfering with a contractual relationship so that one party fails to deliver goods on time.

TFEI had a contract with it's hosting provider. That contract has now been broken because Tulsa World sent a fraudulent and malicious letter to the hosting provider.

Phelps goes on to list the elements of tortious interference under Oklahoma and argues that at least two of the three have been satisfied.

UPDATE: More from Fire Ant Gazette on this topic.

For our mutual convenience, I've set up a new category which contains everything I've posted so far about the legal threats I received from the Tulsa World and the reaction from the blogosphere. As updates are posted, you'll still find them on the home page, but they'll also be here, in a category archive called "Tulsa World", and I encourage other bloggers to link to it.

The number three result on Google for "Tulsa World" is this.

The number four result is this.

The number five result is this.

I'm grateful to ktul.com, the website of Tulsa's ABC affiliate, for taking an interest in the Tulsa World's threats against this blog and other bloggers and websites. I was impressed that they were able to reach World publisher Bobby Lorton and get comment from him for this afternoon's story.

Here's what Lorton said in response to my statement that linking can't violate copyright, because nothing is being copied:

Lorton says Bates is opening a channel to PDF, or Portable Data Files, hosted on the Tulsa World website. Lorton says those files are owned by the Tulsa World and should not be free, but that they cannot lock the files.

"One way to stop it is to pull the PDF files, and I don't want to do that," Lorton said.

The World's website is unlike any other newspaper site with which I'm familiar. Some content -- theater listings, classifieds, and some special sections -- is free, but HTML-formatted versions of the articles from the current week are only accessible to subscribers. The firewall for current stories was added a few years ago; I forget exactly when. Before that, current stories were available without registration of any kind.

The World provides a selection of stories from each section in their wireless edition -- you don't need a subscription to access any of those stories.

Stories older than a week are in an archive which goes all the way back to 1989, and they cost 50 cents each (if bought in bulk). The same archive is available for free at Tulsa City-County Library branches. If you needed to search the World's archive, you could go to the library, do a search, then e-mail every story of interest back to yourself for later review at your leisure.

The World allows Student-Voices.org to publish the full text of a selection of their news stories and some editorials, mostly about local government. They have stories going back about a year. No subscription or registration is required to read these stories.

You also don't need a subscription to access PDF files of every page of every edition of the Tulsa World going back to sometime in early 2003. A Google search for PDF files on tulsaworld.com returned 3,510 results.

Balloon Juice actually phoned the Tulsa World's web editor:

I spoke to Scott Nelson, the Tulsa World Web Editor (They can be reached at (918) 583-2161), and tried to make sense of their policy, and got nowhere. I am even more confused with what they are trying to accomplish than before I called.

According to Mr. Nelson, you need written permission to print the article and must print the article in full. I responded that I didn't want to copy a whole article, just a quote, and he said that was not allowed and would be copyright infringement. When I asked why, he said it was their policy so that things wouldn not be 'taken out of context.' ...

He also said, contrary to the letter to Bates Online, that linking was allowed, which leads me to believe that Mr. Bair, the Vice-President, was perhaps a touch overzealous or using terms he was not familiar with. Who knows.

Counterclaim

|

Here is one of my favorite responses so far to the World's demands. A blog called Christianity and Middle Earth has posted a tongue-in-cheek letter in response to Tulsa World VP John Bair:

I am writing on behalf of batesline.com, a weblog described as Reflections on the News by Michael D. Bates. We have recently learned that you and/or your secretary have reproduced (in whole or in part) Mr. Bates's name, address and the name of his website and have inappropriately typed said name, address and website name on your letterhead.stationery, and presumably, although I do not have the evidence immediately at hand, also typed it onto a first class envelope which was then sent through the mail, which act may be a further violation of federal statutes. ...

Therefore, we hereby demand that you immediately remove any BatesLine material from your files, to include unauthorized URLs for that website, and cease and desist from any further use or dissemination of Mr. Bates’s copyrighted material. If you desire to use (in whole or in part) any of the content of batesline.com or Mr. Bates’s name and address, you must first obtain written permission before that use. If you fail to comply with these demands, Mr. Bates’s vast network of blog-friends will not be amused and will probably make enough of a bloggy fuss to discourage such imbecility in the future.

Read the whole thing.

Bobby Lorton speaks

| | TrackBacks (2)

Just time to link this: KTUL's website has a new story with comments from World publisher Bobby Lorton and reaction from me.

Funny: He doesn't want me to quote the paper out of context, but he doesn't want me to link to the whole story so people can read it in context.

Whirled threat update

| | TrackBacks (3)

More nastygram reports:

The Tulsa World sent the same threat of legal action to the hosting provider for www.tulsansforelectionintegrity.com, the website for Tulsans for Election Integrity (TfEI) the opposition to the recall of reform Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock. TfEI was told they had 24 hours to remove links and quotes or their service would be cut off. They'll be looking for a new provider, one less susceptible to the World's pressure. Chris Medlock writes about it here.

As far as anyone is aware, the World has not sent a similar letter to the Coalition for Responsible Government (CfRG), the campaign to get rid of Medlock and fellow Councilor Jim Mautino, which has, on this web page alone, the full text of 69 articles from the Tulsa World archives.

TulsaNow, the civic organization, has also received the letter, concerning its popular and lively discussion forums. You can read the TulsaNow forum discussion here.

Many, many thanks

| | Comments (39) | TrackBacks (3)

I am overwhelmed with gratitude at the outpouring of support I've received in the 24 hours since I posted the Tulsa World's nastygram and notified friends and acquaintances in the blogosphere. Trackbacks galore (you can find them at the bottom of the original entry), a radio interview with New York talk show host Kevin McCullough (which will run again online at 1:20 a.m., 4:20 a.m., 7:20 a.m., and 10:20 a.m.), a mention on CNN's Inside Politics, many hits on the PayPal tip jar (prompted and led by Michelle Malkin), an Instalanche (size yet to be determined), and many, many supportive e-mails.

There's some big news about to break, having to do with some of the cozy Cockroach Caucus ties I mentioned. I hope to have something I can report on it by mid-morning.

In the meantime, for the first time ever, I'm opening this post up for comments. I reserve the right to remove anything that exceeds the bounds of good taste and politeness, but I want to give you all a chance to weigh in.

Welcome new readers

| | TrackBacks (4)

Welcome to all of you who've come to read about the legal threats made against this blog by the Tulsa World (or Whirled, as I prefer to call it). You'll find that entry at this link, along with a summary of other blog commentary on the matter.

To give you more of a sense of the mindset of the newspaper, here are two of my recent entries -- a partial rebuttal to an editorial about the Tulsa City Council and an account of a speech by the World's editorial page editor Ken Neal.

I hope you'll take a look around -- BatesLine has a focus on local news in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but I also write about world news, national politics, city planning, right-to-life and other cultural issues, and faith, all from a Christian and conservative perspective, with a bit of whimsy thrown in from time to time.

World vs. Whirled?

|

The BatesLine stylebook, such as it is, decrees that the monopoly daily newspaper in Tulsa be consistently called the Tulsa Whirled. I am bending that rule during the course of the present controversy for the sake of those who may be Googling for information, using the paper's legal name. I will still work in the occasional reference to the Whirled, just so I don't get used to typing it the other way. It's really a better fit. "It's a new Whirled every morning...."

As I mentioned, there's another Tulsa blogger who was targeted with a nastygram by the Tulsa World -- City Councilor Chris Medlock, who is also the target of a recall petition which was filed today. Chris responds to the World's threats here.

The thing that is most interesting isn't that the World has decided to protect what they view to be copyrighted material, but rather the timing of their inquiry. Some of you may still want to cling to your illusions that our paper of record is the unbiased and free press formed by your hours of watching "Lou Grant" rather than doing your homework. However, this paper is locally owned and quite willing to use its influence to make or destroy those in our community the Lorton's like or detest, in that order.

To send this letter right in advance of the deadline for the filing of the recall petitions convinces this public servant (complete with Target logo on the back of all of my suits and sweaters) that our morning paper wants to hamstring our ability to comment on their obvious bias.

He goes on to point out (and link to) evidence that the pro-recall Coalition for Responsible Government is using entire stories and photographs from the World without any indication of permission.

He's got two other new entries up on his blog, about the political situation.

  • His thoughts on the filing of the recall petitions.
  • Chris answers the question, "Are you unemployed?" Nope, he's working full-time as a councilor, a job that pays less than $18,000 a year.

Tulsa is blessed to have a Councilor possessed of such intelligence and good humor, someone who loves the city enough to forgo a higher salary and devote himself to public service.

If you want to contribute or participate in the opposition to the recall, visit the website of Tulsans for Election Integrity, the official recall opposition group.

Today on CNN's Inside Politics with Judy Woodruff, the legal threat to this blog from the Tulsa World made the "Inside Blogs" segment of the show. Here's a link to the show transcript -- the blogs segment is about 1/3 of the way down. The segment featured CNN blog reporter Jacki Schechner and Washington Post media critic Howie Kurtz. Schechner says the story has been "rising all day" in the blogs, and particularly mentions Wizbang's Kevin Aylward, who published the letter he sent to World VP John R. Bair, author of the nastygram.

I liked Howie Kurtz's take on the World's threat:

It sounds like [Bair]'s saying nice little site you got here, it would be a shame if anything happened to it. But, you know, if this blogger is really just picking up bits and pieces from the biggest newspaper in Oklahoma's capital [sic], and putting his own comments on it, everybody does that these days.

I do that every day on WashingtonPost.com. I provide the links. Other news organizations like that because it drives traffic to their sites.

Schechner concluded by saying, "Well, that's what they were saying, that he's linking. And really that's not infringement or anything. So we'll keep an eye on it and see if this gets any bigger."

UPDATE (3/10/2006): CNN.com still has the transcripts to the BatesLine mentions on Inside Politics:

February 15, 2005
February 16, 2005
February 18, 2005

I'll be on the air today at 1:20 p.m. Central Time with New York City radio talk show host (and friend) Kevin McCullough. You can listen live online, or hear the repeats every three hours for the next 24 by clicking on the "Listen" icon on the right-hand side of Kevin's blog.

Kevin writes:

A blog swarm may be necessary to let TULSA WORLD (insert Griswold joke here) know that they may be a relatively unimportant voice in the editorial of the world - but that's no excuse for their shoddy, immoral, and repugnant behavior towards BatesLine or any other blogger. ...

It's possible that TULSA WORLD has had their head in the sand for the last four months while bloggers decapitated CBS and CNN but if this piddly, sad, excuse of a newspaper wants to be next in line for a can of whoop-blog, they are off to a great start...

Be sure to tune in early and keep listening after to hear more of Kevin's show.

NOTE to those of you who normally skip the Tulsa stuff here: Please read this entry. This is not just about the sordid little world of Tulsa politics. This is the old media trying to intimidate their critics in the new media into silence. It has repercussions for any blogger engaged in media criticism. It strikes at the heart of what blogs do. I'd appreciate your help in putting the blogosphere's spotlight of shame on this legal threat.

Tulsa City Councilor Chris Medlock wasn't the only one to get a special valentine from our friends at the Tulsa Whirled. The Vice-President [sic] of the Tulsa World has threatened legal action against me for "reproduc[ing] (in whole or in part) articles and/or editorials" and for "inappropriately link[ing my] website to Tulsa World content." ("World" is the legal name, although here at BatesLine we call it the Whirled, in the spirit of Private Eye's renaming of the Guardian as the Grauniad.)

Here's the actual letter (click to enlarge):

Here's the text of the letter:

Dear Mr. Bates:

I am writing on behalf of World Publishing Company, publisher of the Tulsa World. We have recently learned that your website, www.Batesline.com, has reproduced (in whole or in part) articles and/or editorials from the Tulsa World newspaper or has inappropriately linked your website to Tulsa World content.

The Tulsa World copyrights its entire newspaper and specifically each of the articles and/or editorials at issue. The reproduction of any articles and/or editorials (in whole or in part) on your website or linking your website to Tulsa World content is without the permission of the Tulsa World and constitutes an intentional infringement of the Tulsa World's copyright and other rights to the exclusive use and distribution of the copyrighted materials.

Therefore, we hereby demand that you immediately remove any Tulsa World material from your website, to include unauthorizedlinks to our website, and cease and desist from any further use or dissemination of our copyrighted content. If you desire to use (in whole or in part) any of the content of our newspaper, you must first obtain written permission before that use. If you fail to comply with his demand, the Tulsa World will take whatever legal action is necessary to assure compliance, Additionally, we will pursue all other legal remedies, including seeking damages that may have resulted as a result of this infringement.

We look forward to your immediate response and cooperation in this matter. Please acknowledge your compliance by signing below and returning to me.

Sincerely,

(signed)
John R. Bair
Vice-President [sic]
Tulsa World

As I wrote regarding the same letter sent to Councilor Medlock, excerpting copyrighted material for the purpose of criticism is covered by the fair use exemption, and linking to content cannot be a copyright violation because nothing is actually copied. The threat is empty, an attempt at using intimidation to silence my criticism of their editorials and news coverage.

Why would a big ol' daily paper, with over 100,000 daily circulation, send a nastygram like this to someone who gets about 1,000 visits a day? And why now? Here's a little background, especially for you out-of-towners:

The Tulsa World has been the only daily newspaper in town since September 30, 1992, when its publisher refused to renew its half-century-old Joint Operating Agreement with the Tulsa Tribune then bought the Tribune and shut it down.

The World is more than just an observer of the local scene. It is an integral part of the tight social network that has run local politics for as long as anyone can remember. This network, which I have dubbed the Cockroach Caucus, has pursued its own selfish interests under the name of civic progress, with disastrous results for the ordinary citizens of Tulsa and its metropolitan area. The World, and the way it wields its influence in the community, bears a strong resemblance to the Dacron Republican-Democrat, the fictional subject of the National Lampoon Sunday Newspaper Parody.

The Cockroach Caucus is most recently infamous for convincing state and local elected officials to pour $47 million in public funds into Great Plains Airlines. This airline promised to provide non-stop jet service between Tulsa and the coasts, but in the end was not much more than the Mrs. Grace L. Ferguson Airline and Storm Door Co. It went bankrupt, leaving local taxpayers liable for millions in loan guarantees. Many leading lights of the Cockroach Caucus, including World Publishing Company, were investors in Great Plains Airlines.

The Cockroach Caucus has wasted tens of millions in public funds on failed economic development strategies, at a time when tens of thousands of Tulsa high-tech workers had lost their jobs, ignored the plight of small business, and has bent and sometimes broken the rules of the land use planning system to favor those with political and financial connections. The same small number of connected insiders circulates from one city authority, board, or commission to another, controlling city policy, but beyond the reach of the democratic process.

Many people in this city are fed up with the World and its allies. For the first time, in Tulsa's March 2004 municipal elections, Tulsa's voters elected a bipartisan majority of councilors who were not endorsed by the newspaper, five councilors committed to reforming city government so that it serves the interests of all Tulsans, not just a favored few. Alternative media outlets played a significant role in helping these reform councilors get their message out and win election -- principally, Talk Radio 1170 KFAQ; the Tulsa Beacon, a conservative weekly newspaper; and this blog. These same sources continue to subject the World's content to critical review on a daily basis. Now all three of us have received some sort of threatening letter from the World.

The empire is striking back. Leading a broader Cockroach Caucus effort, the World has engaged in a sustained campaign in its news pages and editorial pages against the reformers, painting them in the worst possible light. Two of the five-member Reform Alliance majority on the Council, Republicans Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock, have been targeted for recall from office by a shadowy group calling itself the Coalition for Responsible Government 2004. No criminal wrongdoing or negligence is alleged -- they are being targeted because they have voted the "wrong way". They have pursued reforms and investigations that the Cockroach Caucus seems to find threatening to its interests. (The Coalition for Responsible Government used copyrighted World photographs and articles in the Tulsa Tribunal, crypto-racist smear tabloids targeting Mautino and Medlock, but have apparently faced no similar threats from the World.)

The deadline for the submission of recall petitions is this week. I believe the World is hoping to silence alternative low-budget media voices as the recall campaign proper gets underway, so as to create a clear channel for the pro-recall campaign, which will continue to have the tacit support of the World alongside a massive paid-media campaign.

I am not concerned for myself. I believe I have respected the World's copyrights within the fair-use exemption. Let the World name the specific articles in which it alleges that I have exceeded fair use. I have violated no law by directing readers to the Tulsa World's own website to read the Tulsa World's own content as the World itself presents it. I am seeking legal advice for dealing with the matter.

The World deserves the scorn and ridicule of the blogosphere for using bullying tactics against its critics. Let's give it to 'em.

TRACKBACKS: Thanks to fellow bloggers who are showing their support. Click on the links to read all that they have to say on the matter.

Joe Carter of evangelical outpost asks "Did someone at the WPC lose their mind? ... It takes a special brand of idiot to bully a guy with a megaphone. But you have to be a world class moron to push someone around who has thousands of compatriots with megaphones."

Ace writes "the next phase in this battle [between new and old media] is nonstop legal harassment. They've had a monopoly for 50 years and they're not giving it up without a fight... or at least without calling in their lawyers."

Kevin of the Primary Main Objective knows the World and says they're worthy of contempt rather than pity.

Matt of Nerf-Coated World provides some guidelines for bloggers on fair use.

Scott Sala of Slant Point asks "Does the paper intend to only sell its news to those who like what it has to say? Will conversations on the street condeming the paper now be monitored, and those individuals barred from buying future copies?"

Dan Lovejoy calls the World a "fossilized fecolith of the dinomedia."

Charles G. Hill gets to the heart of the local political situation and the World's part in it:

If it weren't so pathetic, it would almost be tragic. There are many cities like Tulsa, where a favored few seek to maximize their profits at the expense of everyone else; what makes Tulsa different is the World, which evidently would rather be a conspirator than a crusader. The people of Tulsa are the poorer for it.

Top-ten blogger and columnist Michelle Malkin reacts to the World's attack: "Can you spell U-N-H-I-N-G-E-D?" And she hit my PayPal tip jar! Thanks!

Thanks to all of my "compatriots with megaphones." Watch this space as more bloggers pick up the story.

UPDATE 9:14 AM: Ironically, I didn't link to the Tulsa World's website anywhere in this entry. That was unintentional (subconsciously trying to protect myself?) but I've fixed it with a link up near the top. Wouldn't want anyone thinking I'm scared.

UPDATE: You'll find a quick intro about this site and me via this link.

UPDATE (12/28/2005): Here is the category archive of all entries related to the Tulsa World.

Whirled threatens linkers

| | TrackBacks (1)

Councilor Chris Medlock has received a nastygram from John R. Bair, Vice President of the Tulsa Whirled, alleging that Medlock has intentionally infringed the Whirled's copyright by reproducing articles in whole or in part and by linking to Whirled articles without authorization. The Whirled demands that Medlock "cease and desist" immediately; if not, the Whirled will take legal action to enforce its copyright and will seek damages.

This is a blatant effort at intimidation, and the Whirled doesn't have a legal leg to stand on.

Providing a link to content on the web does not constitute a violation of copyright because no copying has taken place. I've been amused (but complimented) to get requests for permission to link to BatesLine. My usual reply is, "That's what it's there for."

Here's a link to a summary of a court case on this topic. The judge concluded that no copyright violation had occurred because there was no copying involved:

[Judge] Hupp went on to describe the process of hypertext linking: "The customer is automatically transferred to the particular genuine Web page of the original author. There is no deception in what is happening. This is analogous to using a library's card index to get reference to particular items, albeit faster and more efficiently."

Such hypertext linking, therefore, does not involve the reproduction, distribution or preparation of copies or derivative works. Nor does such linking constitute a "…display [of] the copyrighted work publicly…," as the web page called up by the user is the original web page created by the author.

Saying, "Go here and read this idiotic editorial by David Averill," does not violate any intellecutal property law, unless the Whirled has trademarked the phrase "idiotic editorial by David Averill."

Quoting from an article for the purpose of commenting on it is within the notion of fair use of copyrighted material. Stanford has extensive information on what constitutes fair use and how the courts have ruled in the past. The fair use exemption exists in the interest of public debate and discourse -- otherwise, a publisher or author could freeze out effective criticism by denying permission to a critic. And that's exactly what the Whirled appears to be attempting.

It's interesting that the letter did not come from the law firm that represents the Whirled, which suggests that they know they haven't a leg to stand on and are simply trying to throw a scare into Medlock. "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Averill waste of newsprint

|

Bobby of Tulsa Topics alerted me to David Averill's front-page op-ed in Sunday's Tulsa Whirled.

A full fisking of Averill's nonsense will have to wait, but I have to point this much out: For months, the Whirled has been saying we have to get rid of the Reform Alliance city councilors because elected officials in neighboring cities don't like them and their determination to serve the City of Tulsa's needs first. Now that state legislators representing Tulsa's suburbs have spoken in opposition to the recall and in support of Councilors Medlock and Mautino, Averill is claiming that they are doing so in pursuit of a hidden agenda to keep Tulsa in turmoil and drive growth and development to the suburbs.

It's hard for me to imagine Fred Perry and John Wright, Nancy Riley and Randy Brogdon, Rex Duncan and Scott Pruitt, all sitting around in a dank, smoke-filled room, plotting to destroy Tulsa and boost the suburbs by propping up controversial councilors.

(By the way, Mr. Averill, check your facts: Randy Brogdon was Mayor of Owasso. Rodney Ray is the city manager of Owasso and has been for years.)

So tell me again, Mr. Averill, is it good or is it bad that officials in neighboring towns like our City Councilors?

I can't resist picking one more piece of low-hanging fruit from Averill's screed:

Every time they act to make zoning reclassifications more difficult — as they’ve done with a proposed City Charter change — they limit the chances for redevelopment that is so critical to Tulsa’s future.

The proposed City Charter change, which will be on the ballot in April, doesn't make anything more difficult than it should already be. It restores a protection for property values that is enshrined in the Oklahoma statutes and that was approved, not by our current bunch of "radicals," but years ago under the old city commission form of government. A deliberate misreading of the charter by the City Attorney's office -- saying that the requirement of a majority vote precludes imposing a supermajority in special cases -- has forced the Council to propose a charter change to restore this important safeguard against arbitrary and capricious zoning changes.

The Council voted unanimously in support of placing the proposal on the ballot, although the "Bought and Paid Four" spent a lot of energy arguing that it should not be placed on the same ballot as the bond issue. Brad Colvard of Homeowners for Fair Zoning pointed out to the Council that the charter change proposal will actually help passage of the bond issue, because it represents a promise made and kept by the City Councilors and the Mayor, all of whom expressed a desire to remedy the situation nearly a year ago.

More rebuttal later.

Way back on Monday, I attended the Downtown Kiwanis club luncheon as the guest of my friend John Eagleton. Ken Neal, editorial page editor of the Tulsa Whirled was the speaker of the day. John knew I'd be interested in hearing Ken speak, since I've written about him and the emissions of his editorial board quite frequently.

Ken has a folksy voice and manner. He spoke very briefly about the paper and the editorial section he oversees, and then threw it open for questions, what he called a "horsewhip the editor" session.

I had a pile of questions I could have asked, but narrowed it down to just one. He had just been asked a question about the mix and selection of syndicated columnists on the op-ed pages, and in fact, they now have a decent assortment, including some of my favorite conservative columnists -- writers like Thomas Sowell, James Lileks, and Paul Greenberg.

I commended Mr. Neal on the diversity of his syndicated columnists but asked why there was a lack of diversity of opinion on local issues. He seemed puzzled by my question. I pointed out that you never read Julie DelCour writing that Ken Neal was wrong about something or Ken Neal writing that David Averill was wrong about something. The board is uniformly supportive of any tax increase -- something Neal openly acknowledged a few weeks ago. The board is also uniformly negative about the reform majority on the Tulsa City Council.

His reply was about what I expected: The Whirled is a private company, not a public institution. We have the right to push our opinions and our ideas.

I wasn't questioning the Whirled's right to publish what they wished, just suggesting that the lack of diverse opinion on local issues was a flaw in need of correction. Neal went on to cite the decades of experience of each of the editorial board members, many of them with years of experience covering City Hall. Because they're all so intimate with the way City Hall works, naturally they're all in agreement over how City Hall ought to be run.

The answer to the next question shed further light on the matter. Kiwanis Club president Rick Brinkley very delicately and politely asked a question about the ethics of the Whirled's coverage of Great Plains Airlines, in which World Publishing Company was invested. Brinkley pointed out that as a matter of practice broadcast media disclose potential conflicts of interest: If ABC reports on a new film from Disney, they make mention of the fact that Disney is ABC's parent company. Neal brushed aside the comparison to broadcast media and said that they have all sorts of ethical standards that cover any conflicts of interest they may have as journalists, although he avoided the issue of conflicts of interest involving the newspaper's owners and their other business interests.

Regarding Great Plains Airlines, Neal pooh-poohed the idea that the newspaper abused the readers' trust in order to help anyone get rich. Neal pointed out that the Lortons, owners of the paper, are already rich. (And we all know that all wealthy people are contented with the amount of wealth they have.) Neal said, "Everybody in town thought it [public subsidy of Great Plains] was a great idea. It was a Chamber deal."

That says it all. Neal and company have a huge blindspot when it comes to dissenting opinion. They sit in their bunker on Main Street, with their decades of listening only to the conventional wisdom, and they honestly can't see any other way of running the city. The city's problems are of course not the fault of the powers-that-be and their policies, but the fault of the people who are doing the complaining.

It's cliched to refer to Pauline Kael's quote about Nixon's landslide -- "No one I know voted for him" -- but it fits this bunch.

In fact, there were many voices objecting to the city's financial involvement with Great Plains, including two then-City Councilors, Randi Miller and Clay Bird, who voted against the deal. A story in the Whirled some time back used their no votes as a way to needle Sam Roop and Roscoe Turner, councilors who voted for the deal but are now critical of it and are involved in the investigation of the airport.

To the Whirled editorial writers, and their allies in the Cockroach Caucus, city politics is utter simplicity. If it's a "Chamber deal," it must be good, and of course, "everybody in town" thinks it's a good idea. Anyone who disagrees is by definition a naysayer, an anti-progress crank, and therefore is beneath notice, no matter how well he can argue his position. The result is an inbred intellectual environment with imbecility as a predictable result.

No wonder the Whirled is so mystified and threatened by the presence of a majority of dissenters on the Council. They don't understand that there are tens of thousands of Tulsans unhappy with the way the city is being run and looking for leaders with fresh ideas.

One more interesting quote from the Q&A session: In response to a question about changing Tulsa's form of government, Neal said, "When you don't have a strong mayor, and you have a strong-mayor system, you run into problems." Neal advocates adding three at-large councilors and making the Mayor a member of the Council as well. The purpose behind such a move would be to make it much more difficult for grass-roots leaders to secure a majority on the Council.

The Tulsa Whirled was in full spin mode this weekend in response to the release of the City Council's preliminary investigation into Tulsa airports and the Great Plains Airlines mess, which has the city on the hook for millions of dollars. Let's look at their Saturday editorial defense of parent company World Publishing Co.'s investment in Great Plains:

Mark Twain's wisdom suggests that a lie told about the World Publishing Co.'s interest in the ill-fated Great Plains Airline will be repeated so much by shrill voices in Tulsa that the truth could be lost.

First, the lie: The City Council's investigator, paid $40,000 so far to amass public records, used out-of-date documents to claim the World holds 51 percent equity in the bankrupt airline.

The fact: The final list of stockholders, published elsewhere in the World Saturday, shows that the World owned 3 percent of the airline stock.

Notice the sleight of hand -- the Whirled responds to the fact that it had invested 51% of the private investment in Great Plains Airlines by saying it only owned 3% of the total number of shares of stock. The Whirled is deliberately confusing preferred stock with common stock. In November 2000, World Publishing Co. acquired 233,333 shares of preferred stock for $700,000 -- $3 per share. That's 3,000 times the cost of a share of common stock, which generally went for one-thousandth of a dollar per share. (Some common stock was sold for a nickel a share.) Preferred shares bring greater rights, such as first cut of any dividends. The exact distinction between preferred stock and common stock for a company is defined by the shareholder agreement, which does not appear to be one of the documents released to the City Council investigation. If the the Whirled wants to persuade us that its investment was insignificant, they'll need to show us the shareholder agreement.

As to the "out-of-date" document claim: The City Council's investigator used the latest shareholder list that was provided to it, from February 2001. Only one more investor of any significance came in after that date: Dr. William E. ("Wes") Stricker, the Columbia, Mo., allergist and owner of Ozark Air Lines. Stricker acquired 250,000 shares of preferred stock when Ozark was purchased by Great Plains in March 2001.

Shortly after the Whirled acquisition of Great Plains stock in November 2000, the Whirled editorial board, on November 28, urged the City Council to agree to mortgage Air Force Plant No. 3 to enable a total of $30 million in financing ($15 million in state tax credits, $15 million loan secured by the property). The editorial claimed that the airline would "over the next decade, create 2,000 new jobs and generate $23 million in revenue to the Tulsa Airport Authority. It represents a tremendous private-public partnership to solve a problem, offer a needed service and boost economic development opportunities." The Whirled editorial made no mention of the launch on November 1 of daily non-stop service from Tulsa to Los Angeles on American Airlines, which undercut the need for the niche Great Plains was meant to fill. There was no mention, either, of the failure a year earlier of AccessAir, another airline which had been heavily subsidized by state and local governments to provide service from the midwest to the coasts. There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical, but the Whirled, owner of a majority of preferred stock at that critical moment, didn't let the public know.

More rebuttal after the jump.

Stan Geiger sent along an interesting e-mail exchange between himself and Ken Neal, editorial page editor of the Tulsa Whirled. With Stan's permission, I reprint it below. It is illuminating. It has to do with Omer Gillham, the Whirled reporter who covered recent scandals surrounding administrators at Tulsa Community College over retention bonuses and false attendance figures. For a change it appeared the Whirled was actually engaged in afflicting the comfortable.

Gillham has been reassigned to cover Tar Creek. Stan Geiger asked Ken Neal about the reason for the reassignment, and wondered if there was pressure applied to get Gillham away from covering education.

Geiger makes an important point: The experience Omer Gillham gained while digging into TCC's mess could be used to uncover similar problems elsewhere in public education. It takes time to learn who to talk to, what records to ask for, and what to look for in the records. You don't just open the board's minute book and see a meeting transcript like this:

College President Loombucket: "Gentlemen, I have a cunning plan to make all of us millionaires at taxpayer's expense."

Other board members (singing): "We're in the money! We're in the money!"

Loombucket (gleefully rubbing hands together): "Buwahahahahaha!"

An investigative reporter has to learn how to spot patterns in the public records and spot where the records don't make sense. An ordinary-looking invoice might stand out like a smoking gun to an experienced reporter. Now, instead of leveraging that experience, the Whirled seems to be discarding it. Maybe the Beacon could take him on.

Ken Neal says that he doesn't share Stan's "generally sour outlook on education". This is interesting: Someone who cares enough about the quality of education to expose mismanagement and worse is labelled sour on education, while someone who is willing to overlook problems, take official pronouncements at face value, and tolerate an educational system that doesn't serve the students, considers himself pro-education.

Read the whole exchange by following the link:

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the Tulsa World category.

Tulsa Vision2 is the previous category.

Tulsa::CityHall is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Contact

Feeds

Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
Atom
RSS
[What is this?]