Saturday, April 07, 2007

Hints, allegations and other things left unsaid

The Voice continues to repeat the allegations of anonymous letters (sound familiar?), this time accusing senior administrators at the elementary school district of bribing HR director Stephanie Totter and CFO Rebecca Wright in order to help inflate their own pensions. The gist of the story is that Totter denies Wright's recent retirement announcement has anything to do with the allegations. That's better than the original article, I suppose, in that at least somebody was given a chance to respond.

But by repeatedly printing denials, the press can create the illusion of a scandal despite lacking the any direct evidence of one.

Of course, as Donald Rumsfeld said, that's not the same as the evidence of absence. This is particularly true when the people responsible for finding the evidence don't really seem to be trying very hard to find it. (While news reporters often fit this description, weapons inspectors do not).

To be fair, the state pension board is looking into matter. But the board didn't make a determination that the allegations were credible. It responded to a request from the superintendent, who may have been simply trying to ward off pressure from the media.

The next time the Voice questions somebody on anonymous allegations, I hope they respond with my favorite line from Blue Chips (one of my least favorite movies). Nick Nolte answers a reporter's question about alleged incidents of point-shaving by his basketball team by saying:
"How long are you gonna keep this bullshit up, Ed? Huh? You know Goddamn well there was no such incident. There was an alleged incident which you invented. In the same way that if I assert that you sleep with sheep, than it is alleged that you sleep with sheep.
(And yes, I realize that I don't exactly have clean hands here, given what my coverage of the allegations about the city attorney Michael Martello's relationship with the head of the garbage company. But, despicable as that coverage was, at least we were clear about the source of the allegations and ran a front-page story when they turned out to be unfounded).

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