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Times’ Smear Job Is Shameful PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Written by Kathleen McCarthy   
Wednesday, 04 March 2009 10:43

The Quad-City Times' management, most especially the disgraced editors, get to evaluate whether their decision to smear local appraiser Mark Nelson was worth what it has cost them -- the last vestige of credibility they had in the community as reliable news providers. In what it tried to pass as a news story in its print edition on Tuesday, March 3, the Times disparaged Nelson with myriad unsubstantiated claims about an alleged cover letter he sent with an appraisal that discouraged Royal Banks of Missouri from approving a loan to Amy and Amrit Gill of Restoration St. Louis for the redevelopment of the Blackhawk Hotel as a boutique hotel.

The article (if one can call it that) contained several quotes from Amy Gill, who claimed that that Nelson has made negative comments about Davenport and its downtown in his appraisal. The article reports that Gill said: "When he wrote our appraisal, he wrote about how downtown Davenport will never be redeveloped, how our bank should not invest in Davenport, and how awful the city government is."

But after a brief investigation, it was discovered that Ms. Gill had not seen the appraisal, nor had she seen the cover letter referred to in the Times' article. More importantly, neither had the Times reporter, Tory Brecht, or any of its editorial staff. Perhaps that is because said letter does not exist. Nelson attests that he did not write such a missive, and that no such document exists. In other words, reporter Brecht relied on nothing more than hearsay to publish the accusations, and was unable to corroborate a single one of Nelson's "alleged negatives" with any documentation, or even one eyewitness to said letter.

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UPDATE: WOC Radio interviewed Mayor Bill Gluba on the air, the morning the Times' smear article appeared. Mayor Gluba's ad hominem attacks can be heard below.

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Mark Nelson was also interviewed shortly thereafter and his remarks regarding his perspective on the state of downtown development can be heard below.

Ms. Gill later admitted to not having actually seen the documents she commented on, explaining that she was going by what her banker told her. Meanwhile, her banker, in an e-mail to the River Cities' Reader on March 3, stated that the financing for the redevelopment project had been approved. "The Gills' loan with Royal Banks of Missouri was closed earlier this week, so I'm not sure what the true issue is in Davenport," wrote Mitch Baden, executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Obviously the issues in Davenport reflect Mr. Nelson's position against the Davenport Promise -- a proposed entitlement program (whether corporate welfare disguised as economic development for cheap labor, or social welfare disguised as incentives to attract new residents, is just splitting hairs -- it is still a subsidy on the backs of taxpayers whether in the form of current sales taxes or future property taxes) -- that was voted on the same day, and that failed 61 percent to 39 percent.

What is the most shocking about this fiction posing as news is the Times' willingness to jeopardize not only its own reputation, but also the reputation of a 20-year-plus professional appraiser because Nelson solidly refuted the flawed data that supported the Promise. The Times deliberately attempted to undermine Nelson's expertise in risk assessment in order to discredit him as a reliable source of information on the Promise. And it was willing to do this at the expense of accuracy, verification, and truth. In other words, it has finally dropped all pretenses that its readers are of any consequence compared to its advertisers.

This era of blatant lying in the moment, rationalized by offenders' belief in the short-term memories of voters, is getting out of control. Reporter Brecht and his equally culpable Editor Steve Thomas actually justified running this article by saying that the bank would have no reason to accuse Nelson, nor would the Gills because they had no stake in the Promise. This rationale assumes that connecting the two issues (the appraisal of the Blackhawk Hotel and the Davenport Promise) even has validity. It only becomes valid in the light of the smear campaign the Times perpetrated by connecting them in the first place on the eve of the vote.

To further assume that the bank, or the Gills for that matter, have no reason to make any kind of false claim regarding the appraisal is patently irresponsible. That is why journalists investigate and verify. Reporter Brecht's fiction is so full of holes, so irresponsible -- in its complete lack of objectivity and corroboration, and an absurd reliance on hearsay no less than five people deep, not to mention the abundance of misinformation that abounds -- that to publish this anywhere outside of the editorial page reflects a gross departure from integrity to date by an already highly suspect enterprise.


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