By Mark David Blum, Esq.
Journalism and news is dependant in part on the courage of citizens to come forward with information and ‘leaks’ so that society can keep government and wrongdoers in check. We the People depend on journalism to nurture and encourage such avenues of information. A newspaper that ignores or mistreats ‘sources’ cannot be trusted. As a news vehicle, true unfiltered information is the lifeblood upon which credibility is assessed.
In the modern era, newspapers have also become quite savvy at playing within the legal boundaries the First Amendment provides. We want a vigorous and open media. Our nation depends on the media getting the story and getting it right. We depend on the integrity of purveyors of news and information. Nobody can tolerate a lie, misrepresentation, or half truth. Skilled reporters and publications with an agenda know how to use the shield of the First Amendment as a sword by which they slay the good name and character of private citizens. When they do, I get involved.
Former 14 year Chairman of the Oswego County Legislature Russ W. Johnson was the target of a character assassination plot by the Fulton Valley News and one of its reporters. In response, a lawsuit was filed and is still pending. In that lawsuit, listed in 33 paragraphs are time after time again that the newspaper manufactured tales that were untrue or falsely presented. Of great note, though they seek a dismissal of the lawsuit on technical grounds, neither the newspaper nor its reporter have denied their actions or denied that their actions were intentionally designed to mislead the public.
Now a private citizen, Mr. Johnson recently came upon information that the Republican caucus of the Oswego County Legislature was considering providing medical coverage to all its members courtesy of the Oswego County taxpayers. Given this issue was one hotly debated in previous legislative sessions and a privilege which former Chairman Johnson successfully fought to revoke for cost savings, it was an issue of great public concern.
The same newspaper against which citizen Johnson has a lawsuit decided to run a letter to the editor from Mr. Johnson exposing the legislature’s attempt at providing health insurance. Three days later, that newspaper and the reporter named in the Johnson lawsuit, wrote a story showing only one side of the dispute and using several column inches to go after Mr. Johnson personally. He was given no chance to respond. The newspaper also gathered up another letter to the editor from another Legislator which also targeted Mr. Johnson personally. It would appear that not only was Mr. Johnson wrongly smeared by the processes and procedures used by the Fulton Valley News but the real story itself went largely ignored.
A newspaper that only publishes one side of a story and does not give someone a chance to rebut allegations or provide their evidence is not worthy of having the title of “newspaper”. They cannot be seen by society as a legitimate or trustworthy news source. Hiding behind a First Amendment shield is where cowards go when their words lack honor and truth.
I call out the Fulton Valley News for using their newspaper to set up Mr. Johnson only to knock him down and for doing a terrible job in getting the story. It would appear that the reporter’s goal was not to get the story but to get Mr. Johnson. That kind of reckless behavior should not be tolerated. The newspaper knew Ms. Thompson was already sued by Mr. Johnson and responsible editors would have assigned another reporter. But the use the this particular reporter and reading the content of her essay reveal a great deal about the darkness and anger in their hearts. That is not what we expect from an allegedly objective news source.
The MarkBlum Report did do a little homework and presents for your consideration responses from both former Chairman Johnson and Michael Kunzwiler, the current Minority Leader. At least here on this website, all sides of the issue are aired for reader’s consumption.
There is indeed evidence that the Oswego County Legislature, a gathering of part time politicians, was considering voting itself MORE taxpayer funded health insurance. From what Ms. Thompson reports, some if not a majority of members already are benefitting from the luxury of the County’s health plan; also taxpayer funded. Mr. Kuntzwiler says clearly that, “three or more new Republican legislators *** were also pushing very hard to get taxpayer-funded health-insurance coverage.” He makes it clear that it was not a Democratic agenda but an agenda by Republican legislators. This was the original point made by former Chairman Johnson in his original letter. How a reporter missed this information raises serious questions about her skills and/or integrity.
The bottom line is that honor and integrity have to stand above all else in a news organization. We the American people have no independent means by which we can evaluate and test the veracity of our news sources. When the news vehicle becomes the personal bully pulpit of a publisher and reporter with an agenda against an individual citizen, then all integrity and credibility is lost. Someone needs to give the Fulton Valley News a roadmap back civility.