By Larry Kamer
When I started working with Melinda Guzman on the Linda Katehi matter, one of the first things I heard from many of you (including a lot of the reporters who are getting this) is that the Sacramento Bee is hopelessly biased against the Chancellor.
Why? Well I heard a lot of theories.
Such as…the Bee couldn’t be objective because Editorial Page Editor Dan Morain’s wife (who used to do PR for UC Davis) was herself involved in the controversial (and ludicrously named) “internet scrubbing” contracts, hence the desire for the Bee to place the blame on Katehi.
Such as…the Bee was getting fed information directly from the UC President’s office and didn’t want to jeopardize a good source.
Such as…the Bee, whose circulation continues to plummet, had adopted a more tabloid-like approach, complete with self-congratulatory headlines and overblown stories, and that the Katehi story was the perfect kind of red meat for such a newspaper.
I took all of these with a grain of salt and figured there had to be another side to these stories. So I soldiered on with the Bee.
I’ve tried to work with the Bee, I really have. But the Bee did something on Wednesday that convinced me – for good – that it is simply incapable of reporting the truth on the Katehi matter and unwilling and unable to accept criticism.
On Wednesday morning, the paper ran another blistering editorial on Chancellor Katehi. I’ve been doing this kind of work for 35 years, and I’ve learned that if you’re going to call to complain about a story or editorial, there had better be a factual error involved. That gets you in the door, and then you’ll likely be heard about bias or things you simply disagree with.
So I called Shawn Hubler, the Bee’s editorial writer who penned the condemnation. I told her the very first sentence of her editorial had a factual error (see below) and we had a rather spirited discussion of all of the other problems contained therein.
Shawn invited me to submit something called “Another View,” which is a kind of flash op-ed that takes issue with an editorial. Get it in by 4:00, she said, and keep it to 400 words. Great, I said, and I wrote the piece that follows below. This took most of the afternoon; any decent writer will tell you that it’s easy to write long. It takes a chunk of time to write something pithy in 400 words.
The Bee’s inaccurate coverage of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi deprives readers of a full set of facts by which they can make informed judgments. Recently, the Bee has lost interest in even asking for our side of the story.
The first sentence of Wednesday’s editorial (“Some things a UC rule change cannot fix”) is factually incorrect. Chancellor Katehi never served on the DeVry board. I called attention to this error to writer Shawn Hubler, who accused our team of “splitting hairs.” We thought facts mattered to a newspaper.
Ms. Hubler did not call us while writing her editorial. She already knew our “narrative,” as she called it. Shouldn’t it be standard practice to check with the subject of a harsh editorial about the facts?
Diana Lambert’s July 16 story (“UC regents consider tougher rules on outside pay for top administrators,”) was also factually wrong, and it violated a basic rule of journalism by burying the lead.
The story says: “Eight senior managers with outside jobs, including Katehi, held three or more outside paid positions in 2014” (emphasis added). That would exceed the proposed policy’s maximum of two…Katehi sat on the Wiley board, National Science Foundation Division of Electrical Communications and Cyber Systems, as well as on the board of a company in which she has ownership, EMAG Technologies.”
Wrong. The NSF position is NOT compensated. Chancellor Katehi did NOT hold “three or more outside paid positions in 2014”.
The real news, about the 49 UC officials who serve on outside boards, appeared in paragraph 21. Other major papers led with this. The Bee led with 20 paragraphs of rehashed Katehi news.
There are other examples of exaggeration or misreporting.
A July 1 story about the Chancellor’s planned donation of $200,000 to UCD claimed she was “withholding” the gift, even though we made clear that she was taking no action at all during the investigation. “Withholding”? Invented by the Bee.
A June 15 headline screams “UC Davis chancellor sent aides to Switzerland to learn image-boosting tactics,” when in fact she met with Nestle’s CEO to learn about its digital accelerator, establish one of the first such labs at a U.S. university, and strengthen the organizations’ important relationship.
The Bee has improperly become a partisan in the Katehi matter, overly fixated with sensationalizing the news and exaggerating its own role as its readership continues to decline.
Late in the day, Shawn and her op-ed colleague Foon Rhee told me they would not run the piece. Here’s what they said:
This isn’t an Another View. You should look at a couple we have run. An Another View is, essentially, a short op-ed that names the editorial you disagree with and then presents readers with an opinion contrary to that originally expressed.
This is more a demand for a correction, both from the opinion and news side. If that’s the case, then the chancellor needs to reach out to us directly. We don’t publish those kinds of requests as if they were op-eds.
If you want to submit an op-ed or an Another View, we are still happy to consider it. An op-ed on this subject would be signed by the chancellor rather than her spokesperson. And it would affirmatively contest the assertions in the editorial.
For instance, if she takes issue with the editorial’s version of how she came to be put on administrative leave, she would offer her own version of the events. And if she takes issue with our view on the pros and cons of outside board seats, she would share her own arguments on that subject.
Here is an example of an Another View, of publishable quality:
Happy to talk through this more if it helps.
I always appreciate it when journalists tell me how to do my job. No, the Bee is not going to get a piece from Linda Katehi herself after the way they’ve treated her. I’m her spokesperson, and Dr. Katehi, like a lot of CEOs I work with, has authorized me to speak for her in the media.
Does the Bee refuse comment from the UC Office of the President because Janet Napolitano herself doesn’t “reach out”?
I can accept a newspaper’s hostility toward a client. I’m in the crisis business, and that’s a fact of life. But what I can’t accept is the kind of disingenuousness exhibited by the Bee on a daily basis, and its refusal to hear a valid critique of its work – even after it has asked for it.
Linda Katehi’s career and reputation are on the line here. This is a woman who has propelled UC Davis into the top tier of public universities. She’s raised over a billion dollars, built the most diverse faculty of any UC, the most diverse undergraduate student body, the largest number of Californians at any UC campus, the best STEM school for women in the country, and on and on. In her zeal to show “leadership” Janet Napolitano has sought to try her in the media, stack the deck against her with a biased investigation, and has asked her to do things that no man in the UC System has ever been asked to do.
To Melinda Guzman, the Chancellor’s attorney, and me, the Bee’s biased and self-congratulatory coverage is serious stuff, and it needs to be exposed.
“Over the years, The Bee’s mission has not wavered from the journalistic principles first established by James McClatchy,” says this paper on its website.
I think McClatchy would be spinning in his grave if he saw the coverage of Linda Katehi.