By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Michael McDermott

T&G editor says he held Fattman story because it lacked ‘confirmation’

The Telegram & Gazette of Worcester published a story with some mighty odd timing. Like many media outlets, the paper reported Tuesday that state Attorney General Andrea Campbell’s office had reached a settlement with state Sen. Ryan Fattman and his wife, Worcester Registrar of Probate Stephanie Fattman, to end a three-year investigation into campaign-finance improprieties.

But wait. The T&G story, by Kinga Borondy, includes quotes from an interview with the Fattmans conducted at Sen. Fattman’s Statehouse office last Friday. “There was no finding of liability, no admission of wrongdoing,” Ryan Fattman was quoted as saying.

On the surface, it looks like the T&G held important news about campaign-finance irregularities for four days. Lance Harris, who writes the Central Mass. Politics blog, wrote on X/Twitter: “Wait. The T&G knew Friday that the Fattmans were settling the case with OCPF [the Office of Campaign and Political Finance] and sat on it until today? The Fattmans gave an exclusive ‘our side of the story’ in exchange for the T&G embargoing the interview?”

I asked the T&G’s executive editor, Michael McDermott, why his paper held the story. Here was his emailed answer:

We did have an interview with the Fattmans on Friday afternoon and a story was filed. I felt that what they said needed to be confirmed by the attorney general’s office, so I decided not to publish until we got that confirmation. It came on Tuesday morning. Once we got the confirmation, we published. I’m glad we waited because the attorney general provided significant additional context that would have otherwise been missing.

You know what? That’s a good answer. If the T&G had rushed to publish as soon as the interview with the Fattmans was over, it would have only had one side of the story. By waiting, the paper was able to include the attorney general’s official disposition of the case, which covered both Fattmans, other members of their family, and state and local Republican committees. It’s a complicated story, but the bottom line is that the Fattmans owe several hundred thousand dollars in compensation and fines.

Borondy’s article includes a statement from Campbell that said: “Enforcing our campaign finance laws, and holding those who violate them accountable, are critical functions of our office. We will continue to hold accountable those who misuse positions of power, break the law and undermine the public’s trust.”

And I give McDermott credit for resisting the urge to press the “publish” button before the T&G had a complete account.

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Muzzle follow-up: A settlement is reached in a Worcester public records case

A final price tag has been set on the city of Worcester’s years-long campaign to withhold public records pertaining to police misconduct from the Telegram & Gazette, the city’s daily paper, and its reporter Brad Petrishen. Open government watchdog Andrew Quemere writes that the T&G and the city reached a settlement in February for $180,000 to cover most of the paper’s legal fees plus $5,000 in punitive damages.

Last summer I gave former Worcester city manager Edward Augustus a New England Muzzle Award, published by GBH News, for leading the effort to keep residents of his city in the dark about what their police department was up to. District Court Judge Janet Kenton-Walker awarded the T&G $101,000 in legal fees in addition to the punitive damages, ruling that such a harsh penalty was justified because the city had misrepresented aspects of the case in its dealings with the court.

Not harsh enough, as it turned out. The T&G’s lawyer, Jeffrey Pyle, appealed Kenton-Walker’s ruling, arguing that the paper’s legal fees of $217,000 should have been covered in their entirety given the city’s misconduct. The state Appeals Court agreed, overturning Kenton-Walker. That led to the February settlement.

“The Telegram & Gazette spent more than three years fighting for the right to have access to documents of considerable public interest,” T&G executive editor Michael McDermott was quoted as saying in Quemere’s post. “I’m proud of reporter Brad Petrishen for pursuing these records and thankful to our lawyers for successfully defending the public’s right to know.”

And, finally, my disclosure: David Nordman, who was the T&G’s editor until this past summer, is now a colleague of mine at Northeastern. We work on opposite sides of the campus, literally and figuratively: he’s the executive editor of Northeastern Global News, part of the university’s communications operation, and I’m a faculty member at the School of Journalism.

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