Inquiries from "ethics" reporter, Part I

Below is an unedited version of questions sent to me today by an iMediaEthics reporter, as well as my responses to those questions. The site has been sifting through my work for weeks now, hunting for inaccuracies, yet their staffers have failed to uncover a shred of evidence suggesting I got anything wrong in the thousands of newspaper and magazine stories I've published since 2003.

Unspurpisingly, the reporter/sender of these questions has informed me that iMediaEthics is unlikely to publish my responses in full. It's for that reason I'm including them here for you, my readers, unedited and unfiltered.  

Dear Mr. Deutsch,

We are preparing for publication of a new story concerning your reporting. We have the following series of questions.

Please let us know if you have any on-the-record response and comment. We have listed detailed questions below to offer you every opportunity to provide evidence.

1) You reported in this Orlando story (http://www.newsday.com/news/nation/omar-mateen-cheered-on-9-11-as-towers-fell-says-classmate-1.11911197) an interview with a Jason Hart, described as a gym-goer who had seen Omar Mateen work out at Gold's Gym Port St. Lucie.

Gold's Gym Port St. Lucie has no record of a Jason Hart in its records. 

a) Where did you meet Hart?

b) How did you verify his claims?

c) Any response to the fact Gold's Gym has no record of him attending the gym in question?

First, I’d like to point out that you’re attempting to reproduce honest criminal justice reporting I did in the field from your seat in a Manhattan cubicle. Your reporting is intellectually dishonest, and your claims wholly inaccurate.

Not a single news outlet, government agency, or person I’ve written about has ever accused me of a single ethical breach. That’s because I haven’t committed any, and, despite your efforts to create a false narrative, I will continue to report and publish stories that make a difference. I’m not going to be silenced.

You have no evidence to suggest I got anything wrong in any of my work, because I didn’t. Your  use of innuendo and implication to try and call my work into question says more about your desire for relevancy than it does about my reporting. But I understand that, from your perspective, claims get clicks. Even false ones.  

You’re taking a handful of stories, from among the thousands I’ve written, and calling them into question based on the fact that your Google searches aren’t turning up current phone numbers for a handful of people, among the thousands I’ve interviewed over the years. This approach is so blatantly disingenuous, I don’t know how any reader could take your coverage seriously.

I’ve been a criminal justice journalist for nearly 15 years, and was stepping in blood at crime scenes when you were doing public relations work. You should be asking about the opiate epidemic that’s killing record numbers of Americans, or the disparities in treatment for people of color—both themes of my book ‘Pill City’. Instead, you’re attacking an honest reporter who’s trying to bring these issues to light. It’s shameful.

As I’ve stated/written, and this applies to you as well:

The actions of my peers demonstrate a fundamental truth about journalism today: Its practitioners publicly preach tenets of objectivity and fairness, but are more than willing to set those ideals aside once a competing journalist—or any convenient target—is in their sights. Without institutional backing, independent journalists like me can become sitting ducks the moment a competing outlet decides to try and discredit them. Write a story that upsets the wrong people—press included—and they’ll use whatever means necessary to cast doubt on your work. There’s not a shred of evidence to suggest I made up sources, but by ignoring exculpatory evidence, misconstruing facts and making the most of implication and innuendo, dishonest reporters have drummed up some good copy at my expense.

Based on the misguided efforts of a handful of reporters like yourself, several outlets are reviewing my work. Those reviews haven’t turned up one shred of evidence showing I committed any ethical breaches, or got a single fact wrong. That’s because my reporting is solid, and I worked my ass off to get the story right each and every time I went into the field.

Your attempt to preempt reviews of my work with this rushed, sloppily reported piece serves no purpose but to earn you a few extra clicks. This kind of misguided attack says far more about your commitment to ethics than it does mine. 

You’re a transcriber of unsubstantiated claims, and should be clear with readers about that fact. No one is fact checking the fact checkers. In essence, you’ve got a license to lie.


With regards to my Orlando coverage, I interviewed a man who gave his name as Jason Hart outside the Gold’s Gym in Port St. Lucie. He was among a group of several men who appeared to have just finished working out at the gym; when I asked if they were members of the facility, they said they were. Hart gave me the quotes attached to his name in the story. The interview lasted all of a minute or two, as I recall; among the people in that particular group of men, Hart was the only one who told me he recalled seeing Mateen, and who commented when I asked what these men remembered about Mateen, if anything. Nothing in my story was inaccurate. If you want to hang a false claim on the word of a Gold’s Gym record keeper, that says more about your commitment to ethical journalism than mine.

 

2) In this New York Daily News story, you reported on Eddy Coello being "heckled" during his 20 hours at Bronx Central Booking by "jailbirds," listing a "Joel Gutierrez, 32, an accused drug dealer" and a "Ronaldo Simms, who was locked up for fighting" and comments they said they made when taunting Coello.

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/eddy-coello-ex-cop-accused-charged-murdering-wife-taunted-night-jail-article-1.124971

a)Where did you meet these men?

I met them while reporting a story about an ex-cop who murdered his wife and was being taunted by fellow arrestees. I covered the Bronx for years, and I’m certain you don’t know the first thing about how the system works there, or the way the NYPD processes arrestees. Reporting in the field is considerably more difficult than sitting in a cubicle criticizing another reporter’s work years after the fact.

b) What evidence did they provide or did you obtain for them having actually been in Bronx central booking with Eddy Coello?

I interviewed both men, who provided information demonstrating their accounts were accurate. Their accounts remain accurate. Beyond that, I don’t see why I should share a shred of information with you, given your dishonest approach to my work. You have zero credibility, and you’re hardly an arbiter of truth.

c) NYPD is in charge of Bronx Central booking. The NYPD has no record of either man being arrested in ​month of ​March 2011​ which includes when Coello was held in Bronx central booking. Any response?

You’re suggesting I reported things I didn’t. My story did not state that the men were “arrested in ​month of ​March 2011​ which includes when Coello was held in Bronx central booking.” Your reporting is inaccurate, and you know it. Your questions here and throughout this inquiry are rife with inaccuracies and false assumptions.

Beyond that, in the real world of reporting, sources sometimes provide names other than their birth names, unbeknownst to journalists. We don't exclude real people from journalism and storytelling because they don't have identities that are intrinsically attached to a stable wireless phone number, or who perhaps live in an apartment that isn't in their name, is jobless, grappling with addiction, or has low level offenses or legal troubles that would preclude them from wanting their real name used, but who are still as real as you or I.

Not everyone has the privilege of a footprint attached to a stable home address, nor is everyone unblemished by contact with the criminal justice system. Your questions suggest a fundamental lack of understanding about the realities of criminal justice journalism. 

3) ​In your Newsday article on Lu Lingzi, the Boston Marathon victim, you quoted a "classmate" Patricia Dula and a friend Michele Hua. http://www.newsday.com/news/nation/boston-marathon-bombing-victim-lu-lingzi-honored-with-posthumous-degree-1.5295546

a) ​Where did you meet these women ?

b) There is no record at BU of Patricia Dula attending. Do you have any response to this missing classmate? 

c) Do you have any evidence in support of these women's existence?

Dula was among a number of people I communicated with on and around the BU campus, as well as by phone, email, and social media, after Lingzi was identified as a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing.  Dula identified herself as a classmate and friend of Lingzi's and related some memories and impressions of her. I have no doubt she was a student at BU, though it’s unclear what name she was enrolled under. As for Hua, she identified herself as a friend of Lingzi's; I have no record in my notes of her identifying herself as a BU student, nor did I report that she was. Your reporting is inaccurate. And again, you’re taking the names of two interviewees from among thousands I’ve spoken with and attempting to construct a narrative around them to discredit me; a narrative based not on any evidence you uncovered, but on a complete absence of evidence. Your approach is despicable.

4) Regarding your complaints concerning our reporting on Aahil Khan

a) Where did you meet Khan?

 

Why in the world would I share this information with you?

 

b) How did you verify his story?

 

I verified his story while reporting in the field during my time in Orlando following the terrorist shooting. His story is accurate, and you have no evidence to suggest otherwise.

 

c) Have you filed any correction request with Newsday?

That’s not how journalism works, Sydney. Your web site made an error in a story about me; you’re supposed to fix it.

d) Our reporting revealed that there is no record of you contacting the school district to confirm Khan's claims about Mateen -- that he was suspended after cheering for 9/11. Again, we ask if you dispute this ​fact or have any evidence to support any fact checking you did, please let us know. .

Unsurprisingly, your reporting is wrong. I dispute not only this false claim, but every false claim in this inquiry.

5) Regarding Eric Baumer, we saw your complaints in the Observer, although we note ​that ​we heard no complaint from you whatsoever on this matter.

My article did not state that Baumer worked for G4S, nor did it specify any other company by name. It said he knew Mateen from working security with him at the PGA property. I’m requesting an additional correction from you to address this inaccuracy in your piece.

 

  1. We note that G4S provides the security at the golf course you name, PGA Golf Club, that Omar Mateen was employed by G4S as you wrote, and G4S had no record of an Eric Baumer. Are you saying that Baumer gave you a fake name?

 

b) You erroneously claimed in the Observer that iMediaEthics' article "falsely suggested that I said Baumer worked for the same security company that employed Mateen, when no such claim was made." 

Your own reporting states Baumer's "security guard shifts at the PGA Golf Club at PGA Village overlapped with Mateen's in 2015," that Baumer was a "colleague," and that Mateen worked for G4S. We contacted the security guard house, which directed us to G4S.

Therefore your own reporting clearly indicates Baumer works for G4S. Any response? Why would you deny this? Will you correct your error? 

 

My article makes no mention of Baumer working for G4S. Not one. Your questions are disingenuous, and your reporting on this matter full of holes. I’d ask that you correct your error. My story is accurate, and again, you’ve provided no evidence to the contrary.

 

My Observer piece also stated the following, which applies to the inaccurate piece you’re writing, as well as the ongoing reviews of my work. To be clear, this also serves as my response to some of your misguided questions/allegations, as well as to your inquiries about the ongoing reviews of my work:

Since I’m a crime reporter, I can’t help thinking about all this in the context of the law. In the criminal justice system, there are protections built in to any prosecution: the presumption of innocence, stringent rules about what evidence is or isn’t admissible, an impartial judge and a burden of proof that rests wholly on the prosecutor.

When news outlets investigate a reporter, none of these protections exist. My accusers have placed the burden of proof squarely on my shoulders. Instead of proving that I committed ethical breaches, they’ve demanded I prove I didn’t commit them. That’s the same unreasonable standard the Sun, City Paper and iMediaEthics expected me to meet when questioning my book—a standard set with the express purpose of making certain the accused is seen as guilty.

Since there are no official rules for journalistic reviews of a reporter’s work, every outlet makes their own. There’s no impartial third party weighing evidence for and against; just a roomful of well-paid editors serving as judge, jury and executioner.

It’s hard enough to get a story published by an outlet in the days after you pitch it. Editors want proof to back up every sentence, as they should. Now, I’m being asked to back up every sentence in stories I wrote months or years earlier—a near impossible task for a journalist like me who immerses in protracted gangland conflicts, spending long hours with dealers and addicts.

How can a reporter demonstrate his innocence in such cases? By providing voluminous notes from his interviews? That wasn’t enough for my accusers. By offering records? That wasn’t enough, either.

Unless I put editors and reporters in touch with each of the drug-dealing gang members, addicts and witnesses that I interviewed on the streets long ago, they won’t stand by—or stop questioning—my work. It’s a standard that didn’t exist when these stories were published. To institute it now is disingenuous.

Maybe these critics want to see additional proof like the bloodstains in my backseat—which are still there from the time I aided a stabbed gang member on Long Island—or the medical records from when I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following a year I spent covering a Bloods-Crips gang war. Maybe they want to talk to my former fiance, who couldn’t accept the risks I was taking in Baltimore, or to any of my colleagues in the industry, who know me as a reporter who goes where others won’t in pursuit of a story.

6) Regarding the NYTimes missing sources:

a) Have you found or provided any evidence since the editor's note published by the NYTimes to prove the existence of these men?

b) You state that it's often the "standard occurrence" for people related to drug/addition stories provide "something other than their real name." If that is the case, why did you not take verification steps to ensure the sources you spoke with gave you correct information? Why not inform the Times you were not sure the sources gave the correct information before publication?

These questions are so misguided, the thinking behind them so naïve, I don’t know where to begin. No outlet but yours has used the term “missing sources.” Just because an iMediaEthics reporter can’t find someone via a Google search from her cubicle doesn’t mean a source is “missing.” It just means the reporter doesn’t know what he/she is talking about.

The Times said they couldn’t track down two people I interviewed following addiction recovery meetings, and for that reason, they removed the two interviewees quotes from my piece. The Times hasn’t retracted my story, nor have they issued a correction. That’s because the story and all of my other journalism is accurate, and your attempts to impugn it, dishonest.

Here’s what I’ve posted on my site with regards to the Times matter:

On Feb. 25, 2017, The New York Times published an inaccurate editor's note about my work. I've twice submitted a letter to the editor (pasted below), and contacted the newspaper's public editor, Liz Spayd, in an attempt to have this brief response published in The Times' print or online editions. So far, The Times has not responded to my letter. This, at a time when the paper is publicly boasting of their commitment to free speech and objectivity.  

I'm posting the still unpublished letter here to demonstrate a simple fact: The Times does not get to decide who has a voice in our society, and who doesn't.

"I was disturbed by the misleading editor's note The Times published on Feb. 25, 2017 about my Dec. 29 article, "Fentanyl Outpaces Heroin as the Deadliest Drug on Long Island." The note stated that "the main facts and thrust of the article, including the official data and quotes from the authorities, were confirmed. However, after extensive reporting efforts, The Times also has been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted." The note also claimed that I had "not been able to put The Times in contact with either source, or to provide any further material to corroborate the account." I share The Times' commitment to accuracy, but the above statements are untrue. I offered to provide Times editor William Ferguson, who'd been tasked with investigating my work, with the notebooks I'd used during the relevant interviews. He never responded to my offer. 

I also provided details about how and where these interviews were conducted. Both occurred following 12-step recovery meetings attended by the interviewees. It now seems clear each interviewee gave me a name other than their legal name, but I had no reason to believe that at the time. Instead of taking into account the very real stigmas surrounding heroin addiction and overdose, The Times chose to ignore this context . People in general are hesitant to give their real names to reporters; after walking out of 12-step meetings, even more so. Covering addiction and rehabilitation is a difficult task, and for doing my job, The Times has attempted to tarnish my reputation. There's not a shred of evidence to suggest I made up sources in my journalism or books, including "Pill City: How Two Honor Roll Students Foiled the Feds and Built a Drug Empire," which has come under fire from competing reporters in Baltimore who remain angry they missed this explosive story. That hardly seemed to matter to Times editors, whose rushed probe into my work--and convenient exclusion of exculpatory evidence--ensured their own reputations remained intact."

 

7) We are aware that Newsweek, Newsday and New York Daily News are all currently reviewing your work. And, we know you say you are participating in the reviews of Newsday and NYDaily News.

a) Are you also participating in the Newsweek review?

b) What is your involvement with the reviews? Are you in the newsrooms meeting with the reviewers/editors on a frequent basis, or are you asked for information when needed? How is the review operating on your end of it?

 

You’re not aware of much, Sydney. The reviews of my stories haven’t uncovered a single inaccuracy, because my work is solid. The responsible thing for you to do as a reporter would be to wait until these outlets complete their work. Your attempt to preempt their reviews with this story demonstrates your desire to try and discredit my work without evidence. A reporter who attacks other reporters for doing their jobs—in essence, a journalistic bottom feeder—is not someone the public can trust.

 

Again, I’ll refer you to my Observer piece about reporters who engage in this kind of garbage: http://observer.com/2017/03/kevin-deutsch-plagiarism-allegation-response/

 

8)  Regarding Twitter:

a) We note that you blocked many critics and reporters from your Twitter account, including us on March 7. Why?

b) The Twitter user @donvito89 that tweeted in defense of you last night​ from a new account ​ 

--- Did you set the account up? 

---What role did he play in your book?

---Did you ask anyone else to tweet on your behalf?

c) The Twitter user @etamas44 was set up last month and tweeted in defense of you last night.

-- Did you set the account up? Have you written or suggested any of the tweets?

-- Did you ask Ms. Tamas to tweet in your defense or on your behalf?

I’m not responsible for what people Tweet about me or my work. I do appreciate the outpouring of support I’ve received from Pill City readers.

These other questions are so absurd, I’m not going to dignify them with a response.

9) You offered for the Baltimore City Paper and the Baltimore Sun the opportunity to review your notes in New York. We're based in New York. Does that offer extend to us? 

 The day I let you in my home, Sydney, will be the day you start doing real journalism.

10) Wikipedia has warned that your page is apparently being edited by someone close to you. Are you editing your page? Do you know who is?

Again, this question is so utterly ridiculous, I’m not going to dignify it with a response.

 

11) Regarding resignation:

a) You mentioned you resigned Queens College to work on your next book. Do you have a publisher lined up yet? St. Martin's Press said it doesn't have any other books under contract with you.

b) Queens informed us you sent in an e-mailed resignation Monday morning after the editor's note from the Times and our inquiries. Queens informed us you ​​didn't teach your class that day. Why didn't you give them any notice if you resigned to work on a book, something you can plan in advance? Why didn't you show up for your class that day?

c) You wrote in your previous e-mail, "But I continue to teach journalism and writing to students interested in the craft." Where and how are you doing this? 

I love teaching, and continue to work with students interested in journalism and writing. The privacy of my students is my priority; I’d ask that you not involve them in this fraudulent hit piece you’re crafting.

I’m at work reporting another book. I won’t say anything more about the project at this point.

But I will say this: Your dishonest targeting of my work—and your digging into my personal life—is anything but noble.

Kevin Deutsch