This column has been changed from its original version, which included an erroneous statement.
I’m fatigued by the Krabloonik saga, as I’m sure many readers are, but there’s one version that hasn’t been told: the Aspen media’s embedment in this story.
My greatest mistake in our Krabloonik coverage was allowing our part-time photographer, Leigh Vogel, to continue working as a newsroom employee when this story erupted (again) in October. Leigh, hired by the Times last summer, has been involved with the activist group Voices of Krabloonik, which for years has been trying to effect change at the kennel by raising its standards of animal care.
Leigh and I had a clear understanding that she would not shoot for any stories related to Krabloonik, and when we did quote her in our news coverage, we disclosed that she was a photographer at the Times. But in December, Leigh became the spokeswoman and figurehead for Krabloonik, and eventually it became an impossible situation for us to have the appearance of neutrality on this story, given Leigh’s role with Krabloonik, which included her speaking at Snowmass Town Council meetings and organizing anti-Krabloonik rallies.
Last week, I consulted higher-ups within the company that owns the Times, and it was clear that Leigh’s involvement was too close for journalistic comfort. And, as part of our ethics policy states: “They (newsroom employees) must take care to not express opinions that could lead the public to doubt their objectivity or that of the news organization.”
While Leigh’s photography for the Times has been outstanding, I had no choice but to give her the option to either leave the Times until the Krabloonik situation goes away or abandon her role with Krabloonik. She chose Krabloonik over the Times, and I respect her decision and hope she can resume work here when the time is right.
It would be unfair, however, to single out Leigh as the sole media member who has potentially helped shape the coverage of Krabloonik.
• In December, local writer/author Jay Cowan contacted me about publishing a Krabloonik story that he was writing. He said it would provide Krabloonik owner Dan MacEachen’s side of the story. I was compelled by the offer since MacEachen had not once returned our phone calls seeking comment for this story. At the end of the conversation, I asked Jay if Krabloonik were paying him to write this story. He answered affirmatively, and I elected not to run a gushing advertorial written by a hired gun for Krabloonik.
• Personally, this story has made me uncomfortable because one of MacEachen’s sister-in-laws was my daughter’s nanny for three years. I have met the MacEachen family and found them to be unassuming and more than gracious, not to mention the fact that the nanny provided an undeniably loving and positive influence on my daughter. Yet news is news, and my personal discomfort did not, and will not, affect our coverage.
• It was Aspen Daily News columnist Doug Allen’s call to District Attorney Sherry Caloia that purportedly triggered the eight misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty against MacEachen.
• Rob Henneberg, a former publisher of the Aspen Daily News, was hired as the manager of Krabloonik’s restaurant in December. Incidentally, Krabloonik has given Rob’s former paper exclusive coverage, as evidenced by MacEachen’s recent interview with the Daily News.
None of these examples of are surprising given how small the Aspen and Snowmass communities are. Yet I was dumbfounded when Krabloonik’s criminal attorney, Greg Greer, suggested that our Snowmass Sun editor, Jill Beathard, was a willing participant in an effort orchestrated by former general manager Guy Courtney to give the dog kennel negative publicity so that Courtney could buy the operation for less-than-market value.
When Jill asked Greer for a comment about Krabloonik — in yet another unsuccessful bid to get their side of the story — here’s what Greer said: “Jill, I haven’t replied because your name turns up in emails in conjunction with Guy Courtney who has used this story to push a business agenda.”
After reading the emails that Greer argued put Jill in a cahoots with Courtney, I could only conclude that Greer is plainly an attorney doing anything he can to make a case, which includes throwing Jill under the bus.
Then Monday, Greer had the gall to ask us some of the following questions:
• What are the terms of Leigh Vogel’s leave?
• What is the Times doing to correct the biased influence of Leigh on their news organization prior to her leave?
• Do you think the Leigh Vogel/Times/Guy Courtney relationship and reliance on him as a source is similar to the Lara Logan/60 Minutes/Benghazi scandal?
Thank goodness I had a light meal before I read that, or I probably would have thrown up in my mouth.
We would have been fools to play ball with Greer — and make him money in the process while he attaches our reply to his next court exhibit. Greer thinks we have an agenda. Greer is wrong.
Yet there’s no mistaking we let Leigh stay on too long as this story developed. The blame rests with me on that, and I hope this story goes away, one way or another, for purely selfish reasons: I want our photographer back.
Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.