KGUN9's DeCamp coverage unfair? The sniping continues
KGUN9 viewers weigh in, and a DeCamp supporter responds
KGUN9 News has received yet another email from the DeCamp camp. See the update in bold italics at the bottom of this story. -- FC
Notes by: Forrest Carr, KGUN9 News Director
If you make a decision to walk away from your upside-down mortgage -- is that wrong? If you're running for office, should such a decision disqualify you -- especially if, as part of your duties in office, you'll be helping to make decisions about tax rates and budgets? After all, millions of Americans also are underwater with their mortgages. We're all victims of the economy, right?
That question -- or rather I should say, a KGUN9 News report exploring that question -- is at the crux of an ongoing dispute between KGUN9 News and the Tucson mayoral campaign of Green Party candidate Mary DeCamp. Now some KGUN9 viewers have added their voices to the discussion.
It started on October 4, when DeCamp held a press conference and invited, among other media, KGUN9 News. What was the purpose of that presser? Here are DeCamp's exact words, as spoken from the podium: "I called today's press conference to answer the inevitable questions of how someone who cannot handle her own personal finances is qualified to be mayor of a city with a budget of 1.3 billion dollars."
DeCamp then went on to try to answer that question. The gist of her statements is that even though she could have prevailed on friends and family to help save her underwater mortgage, she chose not to do so. In defense of that decision, she blamed the wrecked economy that has left so many other people victimized in the same way, along with the financial institutions that have profited from those home owners' misery. She declared that her problems with her own finances would in no way affect her ability to handle the city budget. DeCamp went on to point out that she has a track record of success in handling other projects, including the finances for them. DeCamp said this track record shows she would be a responsible mayor.
KGUN9 News reporter Steve Nuñez aired a news report and wrote a KGUN9.com web story about the press conference. In doing so he asked DeCamp a couple of questions on camera. In one of them, he posed the exact same question that DeCamp herself had asked rhetorically at the top of her press conference, as quoted above. In the other, he asked DeCamp to explain to voters why they should trust her. In both instances, he presented the gist of her answers.
Steve's report sent the DeCamp camp into a tizzy. Next, several things happened. Among them: the DeCamp campaign posted a video on its YouTube channel labeling Steve's report a "hit piece." The video used repeat, stutter edits in an attempt to mock, belittle and ridicule Steve. DeCamp then sent an email to me calling the video to my attention. A friend and supporter, Dr. Victor Shamas, who is a psychologist at the University of Arizona, sent Nuñez an email declaring his story to be deceptive, skewed, inaccurate, irresponsible and unfair. "I am familiar with Ms. DeCamp's track record," Shamas wrote, "and it is pretty impressive." Dr. Shamas demanded that KGUN9 provide him airtime for an editorial in support of DeCamp.
This led to an extended exchange between me and Dr. Shamas, in which he expanded his attack to include accusations that Nuñez had a personal agenda, that in his news report Steve had offered personal criticism of DeCamp's actions, that Nuñez was biased and maybe even sexist. Further, Dr. Shamas suggested that in one instance Steve may have been lying. In support of those accusations, Dr. Shamas offered no verifiable facts. But Shamas did offer a passionate defense of DeCamp's position and character.
In response, I invited Dr. Shamas to back his claims with facts. In particular, I asked him to quote the precise passage wherein Steve allegedly offered personal criticism of Mary DeCamp. Shamas did not do so. Nor, in a total of four emails to KGUN9 News, did Shamas present any verifiable facts challenging the veracity of anything Steve had said in his report. But Dr. Shamas did reaffirm his unsubstantiated allegations, and continued to stand by them.
Finally, DeCamp wrote me again. "I have to agree with Dr. Shamas that the KGUN-9 coverage was not 'fair,'" she wrote. "Not that this makes one whit of a difference to the past coverage, of course. But it made me feel better that those who know me best feel that I am worthy of their trust and respect."
DeCamp then went on to defend her character -- which, let the record reflect, the KGUN9 News story had not questioned. "I can sleep soundly at night, feeling I am living a good life and behaving responsibly towards my fellow man." She continued to justify her decision to walk away from her home loan, writing, "... the corporations all profited magnificently off of their involvement with me while I took the hit."
In addition to the email and video campaign, one self-described DeCamp supporter confronted KGUN9 News reporter Jessica Chapin Saturday night at the Occupy Tucson demonstration. The supporter launched into a rant about the alleged unfairness of the Nuñez story, then demanded to know whether Chapin intended to spin or skew her report about the Occupy Tucson protests by describing them as crazy or violent (she did neither).
The six emails, the attack video, and the confrontation Saturday night all have one thing in common: None presented any verifiable facts in support of the accusations that Steve's report was unfair, inaccurate or in any way dishonest. Instead, for the most part the accusations were "ad hominem" in nature -- personal attacks not substantiated by specific facts.
In my response to DeCamp on Monday, I pointed this out, and added this: "Further, with the YouTube video you posted on your site, which you commended to my attention in your first letter, your campaign has given up any high moral ground from which to make complaints about anyone else's fairness or professionalism. That video, which calls Steve's story a 'hit piece' and uses repeat and stutter edits to mock Steve, would not be appropriate even for a high school sophomore, although it might be more expected from that quarter than from an allegedly serious mayoral campaign."
Nevertheless, in my response to DeCamp I told her that we do not require courtesy or professionalism from those we cover as a pre-condition for KGUN9 News to provide that same treatment to them. I told her that our coverage of the mayoral campaign would continue, and that she could expect us to provide her more opportunities to address our viewers -- with the understanding that no such opportunities would include a pledge from KGUN9 News to ask only puffball questions.
I also pointed out to her that in our 9 On Your Side Viewers' Bill of Rights, KGUN9 News promises to conduct its business openly. Accordingly, I told her that I would make our viewers aware of this dispute and let them decide.
In fulfillment of that promise, both of my email exchanges with Mary DeCamp are available at upper left, along with each of the three supporting documents that she sent us over the weekend.
To date neither DeCamp nor Shamas has responded to my most recent email. But some KGUN9 viewers are speaking up. In comments posted on KGUN9.com and on Facebook after an earlier version of this Viewers' Voice column went live on Monday, some viewers supported DeCamp, and some didn't, but only one continued the attack on KGUN9.
Jen Wagner wrote via Facebook: "Millions of people are upside-down on their homes and it has NOTHING to do with fiscal irresponsibility. Mary did not cause the housing crisis, she was a victim of it just as so many other Tucsonans."
Teresa Buzard Gebhart doesn't buy that argument, writing via Facebook. "Everyone is upside down right now, and it sucks! But people walking away from their responsibility and commitment to pay their mortgages is only going to make the situation worse! I agree that something needs to happen but NOT walking away from a loan you agreed to pay for." Gebhart also was critical of the campaign's attack video.
"tucdan," via a posting on KGUN9.com, sided with the DeCamp campaign, posting a scathing criticism of KGUN9. "Atchley and Waddell claim to offer exclusive investigations, when what they take pride in is character assassination. The two Bottom feeders are the most irresponsible of Tucson's talking heads & love to wallow in fantasy controversy."
But "ladyswiss" took the opposite view, responding to "tucdan's" comment with this advice: "Ignore DeCamp, she isn't going anywhere. But, KGUN9, good article. You have a good record to stand on!"
Update: On Wednesday, Dr. Shamas sent his fifth email to KGUN9. I responded. The entire exchange is posted below. Viewers can join the debate here or on our our Facebook page.
From: Dr. Victor Shamas [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 2:29 PM
To: Forrest Carr
Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org; Steve Nunez
Subject: RE: Mary DeCamp
Dear Mr. Carr,
Because of vacancy rates due to foreclosures, Tucson was just been named the "emptiest city in America":
This would have been a far more productive angle for your reporter's coverage of Ms. DeCamp's foreclosure than the finger-pointing approach that your news department chose to adopt. Clearly, what happened to Ms. DeCamp is part of a much larger trend in our city that cannot simply be a matter of homeowners not being fiscally responsible.
Maybe next time your news department will get it right.
Victor Shamas, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
From: Forrest Carr
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 3:36 PM
To: 'Dr. Victor Shamas'
Cc: email@example.com; Steve Nunez
Subject: RE: Mary DeCamp
Dr. Shamas, we're going over old ground. To repeat: One, our news department pointed no fingers. You keep making allegations that Steve Nuñez criticized your candidate. I invited you to quote the passage from his story where he supposedly offered such criticism. You have not done so. You should either prove your allegation or drop it.
Two, our story DID get it right. You've had five opportunities to offer facts contradicting anything we reported and have failed to do so.
Yes, I get it - you feel Ms. DeCamp's actions were fully justified and that she was an innocent victim of the economy. So does she. The two of you may be right. Or you may be wrong. KGUN9 News is arguing with neither one of you about that. We make no judgment. We did represent DeCamp's viewpoints in the story you're attacking. In fact, in terms of interviews presented, her viewpoints were the ONLY viewpoints included in the story. I don't see how anyone can come away from our story not understanding how DeCamp justifies her position about the foreclosure. But if you continue to feel that ignorance of the facts is the only thing keeping KGUN9 viewers from endorsing DeCamp's actions, then I think you might find some of the viewer comments that have come into KGUN9 most instructive. They're available on KGUN9.com and on our Facebook page.
You and Ms. DeCamp are both welcome to join that conversation. I will re-post the Viewers' Voice column dealing with this issue to our Facebook page and you're welcome to express your views there. You can also append them to the comments section at the bottom of the Viewers' Voice story on KGUN9.com, although I regret that the space limitations for those comments are more restrictive than on Facebook. Going forward, we'll also be providing DeCamp more opportunities to express her viewpoints in our TV news coverage, as I have promised.
In terms of news coverage, that's the best KGUN9 News is going to be able to do for you. I understand your desire to spin this story in favor of your friend, but that is not what we do. If you do not find that to be satisfactory, I'd suggest contacting our sales department, which will be happy to quote you some advertising rates.