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Justice Integrity Project

Kreig’s investigative reporting includes two articles that ultimately cost federal judges their jobs, while affording them a full opportunity to tell readers their side of the story. One documented a longtime bankruptcy’ judge’s ethical lapses during the course of an otherwise distinguished career. The other revealed an administrative law judge’s sexual harassment of staff.

 

 

Another exposé grew out of his coverage of a Hartford trial that marked the first major success of prosecutor Paul Coffey, who went on to lead the Justice Department’s national Strike Force on Organized Crime and Racketeering. After the trial Kreig asked City of Hartford officials: Who recommended for a gun permit a defendant convicted of racketeering? When they refused to answer, Kreig filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) action to compel disclosure—leading to a precedent-setting victory in the Connecticut Supreme Court decision City of Hartford v. Kreig. Disclosures enabled Kreig and the Courant to report that the city’s mayor and the state’s top lower court prosecutor had provided character recommendations for the gangster. The ruling helped solidify FOIA nationally as a way to obtain local records.

 

Exploring how an innocent person might be sentenced to death, Kreig authored a Courant editorial describing the death row ordeal of murder defendant Jerry Lee Banks, who tragically relied upon an incompetent defense lawyer during a frame-up by local police in Georgia.

 

Spiked: How Chain Management Corrupted America's Oldest Newspaper

"To Spike": Originally, to make a cannon useless by driving a spike into its fuse hole. In newspaper slang, to with hold information from publication -- either by impaling a typed story onto a spindle or by vaporizing words from a computer screen.


Each day across the country, clusters of editors meet to decide what the public should learn about "the news" -- everything from sports to crime. Sensitive questions arise. For example, how hard should reporters try to ferret out the sex lives of a politician, judge or minister? People with a solid stake in their communities once ran these news conferences for the most part. But giant chains are taking over the American information industry. Their executives must respond to pressures from distant corporate headquarters and, ultimately, from Wall Street's investors.


The first book of its kind, SPIKED is the inside account of one acquisition, that of the Hartford Courant in Connecticut. SPIKED shows how hidden imperatives and taboos corrupted America's oldest newspaper after it was bought by one of the most respected media firms in the country, the Times Mirror Co. of Los Angeles. Learn how the chain's executives:

  • Repeatedly misled readers, government officials and Pulitzer Prize judges;
  • Shamelessly inflamed minorities against police while its own reporter was finding irrefutable evidence that police did nothing wrong;
  • Intimidated public officials so that they did not dare reveal the newspaper's deceptions;
  • Refused to report health hazards and abusive insurance company practices uncovered by experts and its own staff of reporters;
  • Paid a reporter $50,000 in hush money.

 

As the chain twice transformed Connecticut's dominant newspaper from top to bottom, a lavish advertising campaign kept telling readers, "We're interested in what you think."But behind the Madison Avenue glitz, a chilling real-life drama unfolded in secret.


Zealotry. Bungling. Conflicts of interest. Cruelty to the powerless. Deference to the powerful. Deceptive news stories and prize applications. Sexual pressure upon staff. Cover-up. This occurred in a sophisticated, high-income state known as "The Land of Steady Habits." Yet it could be anywhere.


Throughout the print and broadcast industries, large firms are acquiring and transforming smaller ones. In revealing a pattern of grossly unethical conduct, SPIKED raises serious questions about whether anyone is watching our society's watchdogs.


SPIKED is as timely as today's headlines -- and just as important.

AFTERWORD (1988 Paperbound Edition)

Connecticut's CBS-TV affiliate WFSB broke Spiked's revelations during a special investigative report prepared with my help over several months and broadcast August 26, 1987.

The newspaper's management immediately threatened law- suits against me and my small publisher. But as the book became Hartford's No. 1 bestseller, top Courant executives met in a strategy session to devise a more effective response. Management then:

  • Ran as its answer to the book an editorial that took up nearly two-thirds of a page. It relied on distortions, half-truths, unsupported character slurs and outright errors for almost every point;

  • Refused to publish my letter-to-the-editor describing some of these problems, and refused to publish any of the other letters to the editor the paper received from other readers criticizing the editorial;

  • Falsely claimed that no such letters or telephone calls had been received;

  • Declined to send a representative to any radio or TV show to comment upon Spiked, despite repeated invitation

  • Pressured broadcasters not to interview me. This included an effort to keep me off a consumer affairs show on the Hartford cable television franchise. This was the same franchise that state regulators had forced Times Mirror to sell because of their foresighted fears that the parent firm was consolidating too much media muscle in Connecticut.

The newspaper's actions might seem astounding when listed here in isolation. But casual readers of the paper were not likely to think much about them because the matter quickly disappeared from the Courant's pages. And the newspaper continued, of course, to provide stories on all manner of other subjects.

 

The Journal Inquirer, a 45,000-circulation newspaper within the Courant's circulation area, summed up the various developments in an editorial. "The Courant's response to Spiked," it said, "has confirmed the book's premise: that the power of a monopoly newspaper requires scrutiny, and that under ownership by the Times Mirror group, the Courant-Connecticut's largest and only statewide newspaper-has not kept its great power under ethical control. "

 

The Courant's long editorial attacking Spiked proved to be a serious blunder. The editorial was the product of two weeks of work by top Courant executives, editorial writers and reporters. Among other major points, it accused me of being a poor re- searcher because my book on Page 88 had credited Metro Editor Roger Moore with helping to win a Pulitzer in Kansas City. The editorial asserted that Moore had not even been in Kansas City during the Pulitzer-winning Hyatt-Regency coverage in 1981 by the Star and Times.

 

I produced from my files Managing Editor Marty Petty's memo to the staff in 1984 announcing Moore's appointment in Hartford. In it, she said, "As much as anyone, Roger played a large role in The Star [sic] winning a Pulitzer prize for its coverage of the Hyatt sky walk collapse in 1981." A Courant story published the day after the 1984 memo had claimed the same honor for Moore in announcing his appointment. My vindication received extensive coverage on local television. The Journal Inquirer went on to disclose that the Courant's top editors from Kansas City had also boasted to journalism trade magazines in 1984 that Moore had helped win the ig8i Pulitzer-even though Moore said that he had told Petty the day he saw the memo that it was wrong.

 

This flap illustrated the new editors' apparent contempt for the public. When they wanted to puff up their track record in Kansas City they told people that Moore had helped win a Pulitzer there. When they wanted to create the impression that I was a careless researcher, they said something else.

 

In general, other news organizations provided favorable comment on the book. Only two hostile reviews appeared to my knowledge among scores of treatments. These were in the Gannett chain's USA Today and in a smallish Connecticut paper, the Middletown Press. Of the criticism the book received, much of it centered on the disclosures about sexual harassment at the office and about Davies' personal life. Critics wondered why I had not been more specific about the names of the malefactors and victims, or whether these descriptions were relevant to the book's broader themes. Yet my intention was not to crucify individuals by identifying their involvement in sexual harassment episodes, but to give a sense of the environment in which careers were made or broken. As for Davies? The hypocrisy of his using his media muscle to try to expose a judge for this same kind of dalliance was too important to overlook.

 

Spiked was excerpted by such diverse outlets as Yankee Magazine and the national ethics report of the Society of Professional journalists. Both the right-wing New American and the leftish In These Times provided positive reviews. My more than sixty broadcast interviews, mostly on radio, included some that were syndicated regionally, nationally or in Canada. The nationwide cable television networks CNN and C-SPAN used interviews totaling nearly an hour.

 

The path was not easy, however, especially at the beginning. The New York Times and the three leading journalism magazines rushed into print with timid pieces that deferred to the Courant's executives on key points, with little or no independent investigation. In a scantily researched news story headlined "EDITOR ASSAILS CRITICAL BOOK AS A'GRUDGE,"' the Times trivialized the book as the venom of a disgruntled employee. It disregarded normal journalistic practice by seeming to endorse Davies' erroneous claim that government officials supported the specifics of the Courant's bridge inspection investigation.

 

The Columbia journalism Review never contacted me before publication despite my repeated invitations to discuss the evidence and the false allegations the Courant was spreading about the book. As it turned out, its writer mistakenly assumed that I was trying in Spiked to ascribe every problem in Hartford to chain management. Therefore the critic assailed the book for material showing other causative factors. Actually, there were four different reasons for the problems in Hartford: chain power; near-monopoly market dominance; individual wrongdoing; and lack of oversight by the institutions of journalism, including top corporate management, ombudsmen and journalism reviews themselves.

 

Elsewhere, the real-life episodes in Spiked paralleled some of the fictional events underlying the movie Broadcast News and Tom Wolfe's best-selling novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. During Congressional hearings, journalism school dean Ben Bagdikian testified that the number of companies controlling half of the nation's 25,ooo major media outlets had fallen in five years from about fifty in 1981 to less than twenty-seven. He said that the number might drop in the 1990s to just a half dozen or so huge mega- corporations. Fascinated by such disclosures, one Congressman repeatedly asked witnesses whether it were not dangerous for the conglomerate General Electric to own the nation's highest rated TV network (NBC) while it operated as the second biggest defense contractor.

 

Top executives from all three networks testified that no news- room improprieties could ever occur without massive publicity and walkouts. My own experience was not so reassuring. Not only did I see apathy by the journalism trade magazines and major media critics-the professions key watchdogs. But coverage elsewhere of Spiked showed how hard it is for ordinary journalists to uphold ethics. Who can afford to protest when problems are industry-wide?

 

Virtually none of the revelations in Spiked ever could have come out unless there had been a book as a "news angle." Even then, my small publisher had limited distribution and virtually no money for book promotion.

 

The reality is that no one really benefits from this kind of research except the public. That’s why it is so seldom done. My out-of-pocket expenses on Spiked consumed the lion's share of any income, even though the book made a Publishers Weekly listing of hot regional sellers and appeared for a week in a window of a Doubleday's store on New York City's Fifth Avenue.

 

Newspaper coverage often required courage by both a reporter and editor. During the spring of 1988, about half of my newspaper interviews never appeared, despite the apparent enthusiasm of the reporters involved. One editor confessed that the imminent sale of his own newspaper to a chain prevented him from providing the coverage he thought merited. It reflects the persistent idealism within the news industry that so much about Spiked actually did appear in print.

 

The Courant's top executives, to their credit, apparently did not retaliate against those employees quoted in the book. How- ever, conditions in general remained so unhappy that reporters and editors throughout the paper created an employees' association. The number of those reporters and editors leaving since the beginning of 1983 rose to more than 200 by the spring of 1988. However, all the top editors in power when the book appeared remained in their jobs nine months later. The parent firm Times Mirror provided no outward reaction to its difficulties in Hartford.

Some former colleagues fell away from me in reaction to the criticism of their work. The ombudsman-who had been a friend of mine throughout our time together at the paper-walked away without a word when I approached him one evening at another friend's wedding. But I was heartened beyond description by the reaction of others who made extraordinary efforts to help me. Three of these were reporters who had been criticized in the only times that the book mentioned their work. But they believed that the larger themes were more important than personal considerations.

 

The controversies continued long after I had imagined they would be resolved. For one thing, experts in other communities kept telling rite that they were encountering the same kinds of problems with their own newspapers. For another thing, many of the situations were quite complex. By 1987, for instance, the Courant was making a relatively strong effort to recruit minorities for reporting jobs. On the other hand, internal corporate memos that came to light through a lawsuit indicated that the newspaper was trying to discourage home delivery of the newspaper to streets occupied by blacks and Puerto Ricans because such customers were unattractive to advertisers. The newspaper's declaration of these streets as "Off Limits" to its telephone sales workers provided shocking evidence of corporate greed.

 

Nine months after publication, it was time for me to move on and do something else. In my Hartford home, I packed up the assorted records and mementos of eighteen years of Connecticut journalism. In doing so, I came upon a 1970 letter that reminded me of why I felt satisfied with my book even though its tangible impact remained so elusive.

 

The letter came from Russell Baker, the New York Times columnist. About to begin my professional career, I had written him of my admiration from afar for a caustic column he had written on the then-raging Vietnam War. I suggested that such efforts doubtless had a considerable public impact, though they perhaps fostered pressure from his Times superiors not to write in such strong terms. By return mail, he explained that he could not craft his work worrying about such factors. "It is neither public nor pressure that determines the character of a column in the long run," he advised. "Simply, you write the only kind of column you can write."

 

NOTES AND SOURCES

- AFTERWORD

Ran as its... "Newspapers Are Not Immune To Criticism, But...,"Courant, Sept- 15,1987.

 

Refused to publish... "Spiked Again/Courant Won't Print Author's Reply to Editorial, "Journal Inquirer, Sept- 25, 1987.

 

Falsely claimed that ... Connecticut Magazine, November i987: "Dennis Schain, communications manager for the Courant, explains the decision this way: 'In this case, we were the subject of the story [in the book] and we don't see any purpose in printing a response to our response.' He adds that the paper has received no other letters about the editorial and no calls to its 'reader representative,' Henry McNulty. 'I think that shows how much people care about all this,' says Schain. " Yet the January 1988 issue of Connecticut contained letters from readers who said that they had actually sent letters to the Courant, which were never published.

 

Pressured broadcasters not... "A Book They Can't Put Down," Hartford Advocate, Dec. 28, 1987; see also Dennis Schain letters to Cynthia Bercowetz and United Cable, Oct. 14, I987.

 

The Courant's response... "Spiked Affair Shows. a Newspaper That Can't Bear Scrutiny, "Journal Inquirer, Sept. 28, 1987.

 

My vindication received…The broadcasts, not counting reruns, included WVIT-TV. Sept. 16; WVIT-TV, Sept. 20; WFSB-TV, Sept. 21; and Connecticut Public Television, Oct. 2, 1987.

 

The Journal Inquirer…"Courant Knew Its Claim of Pulitzer for Him Was Wrong, Ex-Editor Says," Journal Inquirer, Oct. 5, 1987.

 

These were in…"Former Reporter's Spite Takes Swipe in 'Spiked, "' USA TODAY, Nov. 5, I987; "'Spiked': Barking Up the Wrong Tree," Middletown Press, Sept. 17, 1987.

 

Spiked was excerpted…November 1987, Yankee; 1987 National Ethics Report of the Society of Professional Journalists.

 

Both the right-wing…"The Paper Chase," The New American, Oct. 12, 1987; "Local Papers and the Truth in Chains, "In These Times, Oct- 7-13, 1987.

 

The New York Times…"Editor Assails Critical Book as a 'Grudge,"' New York Times, Sept. 6, 1987; "Tear Down the Journalism Clubhouse," The Quill, October 1987; "Spiked in Hartford," Washington Journalism Review, November 1987; "Spreading the Blame," The Quill, December 1987; and "Courant Events," Columbia Journalism Review, January/February i988. All but the articles in the Times and Washington Journalism Review prompted letters-to-the-editor that were published.

 

In a scantily researched…According to statements made Sept. 4, 1984, to the author and Peregrine Press President Barry Hildebrandt, Times media reporter Alex Jones received his review copy that day. It was a Friday, the day of his deadline for his Sunday piece and eight days after the book became physically available in Hartford. Nine months later, he told the author that he had probably read some chapters from another copy before that day, though he said he was not absolutely sure.

 

It disregarded normal…The Times said of the bridge stories, "Mr. Davies defended the articles as 'a fine piece of investigative reporting' and noted [emphasis added] that a state investigation later corroborated The Courant's findings and that several of the inspectors were dismissed." Normal journalistic practice would be to write that "Davies ... said" since the word "noted" implies that the Times believed his comments to be true. In fact, only two inspectors were dismissed. State officials disputed a variety of the newspaper's findings. Jones declined to reexamine the situation despite repeated requests by the author. The Times story, characterized to the author by Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff as having "a typical pro-management slant," had considerable importance for the book because it was the first national treatment. It was for weeks the only one widely available outside of Connecticut.

 

During Congressional hearings. . ."Television Network Mergers," House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance, Serial No. 100-26, April 28 to 30, 1987.

 

The ombudsman-who…The ombudsman never addressed the book and the issues it raised in his column, as of this writing ten months after publication.

 

On the other hand ... Giambattista vs. Hartford Courant, No. 327999, Hartford-New Britain Superior Court. See also, "What's Black and White and Redlined All Over?" Hartford Advocate, Jan. 25, 1988; "Trial to Proceed Against the Courant," Courant, Jan. 27, 1988; "Suit Over Firing to Go to Trial," Editor & Publisher, Feb- 13, 1988. The newspaper's management denied that its policy violated the law or public interest.

 

The letter came…Russell Baker letter to Andrew Kreig, May 15, 1970.

Additional information