Putting the “Yellow” Back in Journalism
By Ron Lee
In the 1890s it was coined “yellow journalism” and according to Wikipedia on-line reference yellow journalism is defined as “unethical or unprofessional practices by news media organizations or individual journalists,” and for years this type of behavior has been carried on by the Grants Pass, Oregon newspaper, Daily Courier. Courier Reporters like Howard Huntington, Patti Richter, and Shaun Hall, along with editor Dennis Roler, continue their efforts to subtly manipulate readers into following their own political agendas and it is no more evident than their continued reports and commentaries on new Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson. According to Scott Jorgensen, a reporter with the Illinois Valley News, “There have been a significant number of people who have been questioning the extent and credibility of the Courier’s reporting, especially of late, with it’s handling of the sheriff’s office.”
Articles that landed on the front page of the Daily Courier even
included a “news-worthy” story about Gilbertson’s uniform.
Hall and Roler have been furiously pumping-out “news” stories and commentaries focusing on sheriff Gil Gilbertson since before he was sheriff. In fact prior to the primaries the Daily Courier supported then undersheriff Brian Anderson, and after Gilbertson won the right to a run-off with Anderson, the Courier turned up the heat. While trying to look into Gilbertson’s work history, it has been alleged that Shaun Hall tried to steal Gil Gilbertson’s personal files. It was after this incident that Hall wrote an article calling into question Gilbertson’s ethics saying that he decieved the public with statements about his past, but in fact and supported by a phone call later placed to Gilbertson, Hall was never even able to contact any of Gilbertson’s past employers making Hall’s article nothing more than a politically-motivated supposition.
The US~Observer then printed the article, “‘F— the Public’ Says Brian Anderson – Affidavits cite Anderson as saying, ‘citizens get what they pay for'” and the Courier’s response, also having the affidavits, was to publish a story that called into question the validity of the affidavits as they were provided without signatures to protect the individuals from reprisal. The Courier purposefully published the lie that since they didn’t have signatures they weren’t valid. Whenever a notary puts their seal on an affidavit it is a legal document that has been signed, period. The Courier is guilty of trying to do damage control for Brian Anderson. And, even though they never formally supported a candidate the slant put on their articles were obvious.
Dennis Roler admitted it himself in a meeting where discussions of the affidavit articles were had, says Paul Walter of NewsWithViews.com. “I talked with Roler and he was saying how the US~Observer is so in-your-face and then he went on to say, ‘at least we’re more subtle about it.’ That’s what he said!” Walter stated. He maintains that Roler knew the affidavits were good and just wanted to utilize the public’s naiveté to spin the story for the Courier’s man.
With more recent headlines like “Gilbertson silences employees” and “Press should be a watchdog, not sheriff’s lapdog” along with front-page photos of the sheriff which have obviously been chosen to portray Gilbertson in an unflattering manner, it is apparent the Daily Courier is trying to soil Gilbertson and make him appear as if he is nothing better than a Dave Daniel – which is absolutely furthest from the truth. And even though the Daily Courier has recently come-out in support of a proposed levy to secure money for the sheriff’s department should alternative funding for the lost O&C payments not transpire, their continued personal assault against Gilbertson has the potential to be counter productive to the levy’s success. However, many citizens who are supportive of the positive changes Gilbertson has already employed are seeing it for what it is – a “demeaning” personal attack. As Patricia Auld’s letter to the editor published in the Daily Courier asked, “why does the Grants Pass Daily Courier, and Shaun Hall in particular, continue efforts to demean, criticize and mock the voters’ choice for sheriff?”
According to one Daily Courier employee who has overheard inter-office phone conversations the current row between Hall and Gilbertson stems from the episode before the election and the subsequent article. According to this employee Gilbertson no longer wishes to have Shaun Hall report on the sheriff’s department due to Hall’s diligence in uncovering questionable acts. And, Dennis Roler made it clear that Shaun Hall would continue covering the sheriff’s department when he wrote, “as for this paper, it can’t let government officials dictate which reporters cover them,” even when he had been informed by Gilbertson himself of Hall’s attempt to obfiscate with Gilbertson’s personal files. This calls into question the methods the Courier finds appropriate to obtain their news and also the level to which they will go to cover-up Hall’s wrong-doings within their own office.
In a letter obtained by the US~Observer written by Sheriff Gilbertson, he shows his obvious frustration with a publication which, for whatever reason, is out to harass and debase.
“The media is a powerful tool that can easily sway public opinion. Whatever happened to just presenting truthful facts and let the reader draw their own conclusions? It seems the Courier finds it necessary to provide information that only proves their agenda by weaving enough bits of truth into the articles to make it believable.
I am not looking for a fight, especially with people with lots of ink and have the ability to say whatever they please without regard for truth or fairness. I have enough on my plate to do without wasting taxpayer’s money responding to misinformation campaigns.
Why won’t I talk to reporter Shaun Hall? Because I caught him stealing two of my original documents from the Department of State. And, because absolutely everything he does is negative … he couldn’t care less about the truth as long as it gives him a scoop and sells papers.
Hall later attacked me personally using the newspaper, which probably cost me some votes by inferring that I was dishonest – that I falsely represented myself. Interestingly enough, the issue was over the two documents he tried to steal. Afterwards he called and left a message on my recorder (which I saved and intend on playing to the public over the radio) stating that now he needed my help because he was unable to do any background on me. How can you call someone a liar without any proof whatsoever?
Editor Dennis Roler continues to chip away by twisting and/or not tell(ing) the whole truth. Did you read anywhere in his recent editorial where he threatened to not support the County’s proposed levy, unless I cooperate with him? He would risk the safety of the county residents only to control the sheriff. Where is the wisdom – or ethics – in that decision?
In this same meeting, I advised Roler that he could send absolutely anyone from his paper – including the person that emptied his wastebaskets – and I would provide them with whatever information they asked for. I simply would not provide information to Shaun Hall. He (Roler) did not print that in his recent editorial either.”
In fact in Roler’s February 14 commentary “Press should be a watchdog, not sheriff’s lapdog” Roler does make a threat saying, “… Gil Gilbertson has a responsibility to get his agency’s news, good or bad, to the public in a timely manner, not try to control and manipulate it as he is now. This is especially true as residents prepare to decide on a levy request critical to the Sheriff’s Office in May. They aren’t likely to approve it if they feel the sheriff isn’t telling them all the facts.” Keep in mind that it is Daily Courier reporter Shaun Hall who thus far has manipulated facts and now editor Dennis Roler is trying to control the situation. So, the threat is very clear, Gilbertson can either play along or it will appear that he isn’t being forthcoming with all the facts in their articles. Further proof of the Courier’s “subtle” political agenda at work.
As for Gilbertson’s statement that Hall “couldn’t care less about the truth as long as it gives him a scoop and sells papers,” it does appear that Hall has a practice of creating his own news. It was Shaun Hall who after he was told to leave by the owner went to city officials telling them serious structural work was being done by Larry Lacey on his building on the corner of 5th and “G,” spurring the city to issue a cease and desist as well as an order to vacate which not only affected Lacey but closed down several other businesses as well, including Hunan Garden and Shiki Sushi Bar, which have both since reopened. According to Lacey Shaun Hall did it just to create some news. But, it ultimately created a legal issue the city will likely be mired in with Lacey for quite some time. Whatever the feelings for Lacey, the fact remains that Hall instigated the news he wrote about.
Gilbertson maintains that his department will be a transparent one open to anyone with a question – with the sole exclusion of Shaun Hall – and there have been no other complaints by news agencies accept those brought by the Daily Courier. In fact there has been nothing but praise. According to Illinois Valley News, “Sheriff Gilbertson has been responsive to all information requests we’ve put into his office. And, his decision to serve as the press liason for his department is consistent with most departments.”
If the recent federal bid to secure monies for O&C funded counties fails this month the financial crisis will still be looming for the county and the last thing needed is several rogue reporters pursuing their own agenda hoping to portray a good sheriff as a bad one, especially when Gilbertson is doing such an outstanding job for having inherited a department which was previously so poorly managed.
The Courier’s deceptions don’t just revolve around the sheriff, however, and one citizen commented that he stopped believing the accuracy of the Courier after they had written a story in regard to several individuals with samurai swords, which a friend of his was personally involved, and it was completely inaccurate. In fact there are numerous articles that prove their deceptions and should the Courier ever establish a searchable database of all articles it would be quite revealing. Perhaps when they unveil their new website it will have this feature.
Being a daily newspaper doesn’t give a publication anymore credibility than any other type of news publication. It doesn’t make it anymore “mainstream,” or truthful, or politically unmotivated and if you believe it does they have you already, and their practice of printing half-truths and innuendo works to secure that yellow journalism is alive and well in Josephine County.
Editor’s Note: In all fairness to the Daily Courier we have to give them credit for doing at least one thing right, Dennis Roler has asked the City Manager to fire City Attorney Ulys Stapleton. We couldn’t agree more.