Letter to the Editor Public Information Officer

Filed under: Government |

April 20, 2020

 

Dear Editor:

The First Amendment protects the freedom of the press and with that freedom comes a responsibility to report facts, to back up reporting with credible sources — not anonymous hearsay — and to be truthful and fair in gathering information to produce a fair and honest article; one would expect no less from a paper that receives approximately $10,000 taxpayer dollars yearly to publish the Town’s legal notices. But that is not what we have in recent reporting on a Town personnel matter. The Northport Observer/Huntington News published an article in their respective April 16, 2020 editions, entitled “Supervisor investigated,” with at least two glaring falsehoods, supported only by anonymous sources, which have been republished by other news outlets using the original false report as a source.

I received a request for a comment from the Supervisor mid-day on Thursday, April 16, when I responded that I was working on getting a quote for the reporter at 12:00pm. I responded again, at 1:30pm, and asked for the deadline (during this public health crisis, the Supervisor has a lot going on, as do I, and typically if there is a deadline, reporters will tell me in their initial request, or wait when they know I am working on their request). Forty-five minutes later I received a reply: “Now.” I was able to produce a reply before close of business on Thursday, April 16, yet the paper went to print without the quote.

The quote provided by the Supervisor was:

“The Town Board voted unanimously to authorize the retention of outside legal expertise to review a personnel matter. As with all personnel matters, I will not engage in public discussion of that which is meant to be dealt with confidentially, and I hope my fellow Town Board members will do the same.”

The paper incorrectly reported the false information, from an anonymous source, that a male Town employee filed a complaint against the Supervisor: this claim is 100% false and illustrates the reckless practice of relying on anonymous sources to support the “reporting” in an article.

While I am not privy to the details of the alleged personnel complaint, which are dealt with confidentially to protect the privacy of employees and the integrity of the process so as not to expose the Town to lawsuits, I can confirm that no male Town employee, nor any male Town official, filed this complaint. I can also confirm that the alleged “victim” in the alleged complaint did not file the complaint.

I would like to remind the media and the public that when reporters rely on anonymous sources, reputations can be destroyed based on false allegations. The original article falsely reported a complaint of a “sexual” nature based on an anonymous source. Due to the heightened scrutiny that complaints of this nature receive — as they should — anyone with a political agenda, or other ulterior motive, can do immense damage to a person’s reputation by making anonymous allegations, or personnel complaints for that matter, and there are plenty of people who have the motive and the means to do just that.

Astoundingly, the same publication that produced the original article containing false information on April 16, also emailed the Supervisor the same day asking for his office to support the struggling paper’s operations by advertising in the paper. Asking the target of this false reporting to pay a fee to the paper the same day they published this anonymously sourced article is a very bad look for a free press.

 

Lauren Lembo

Public Information Officer

Town of Huntington

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