Aspen gadfly contends all’s not FAIR
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
ASPEN ” Aspen-based FAIR, an independent reporting agency, has cut ties with its sole reporter and editor after repeated criticism levied by a town gadfly.
As a result of a controversy involving FAIR’s investigation into gadfly Marilyn Marks, FAIR is no longer associated with the man who had been its sole reporter, Jonathan Lekstutis, and the local online blog that is Lekstutis’ formal employer, aspenpost.net, which is run by local political commentator Michael Conniff.
FAIR, a nonprofit organization that was established earlier this year, stands for Factual Aspen Investigative Reporting.
Two members of the FAIR board of directors, Bill Dinsmoor and Roger Marolt, confirmed Monday that the organization is looking for a new reporter to accomplish its mission, and will not be publishing any of its paid news stories, which appear as half-page advertisements in the local newspapers, anytime soon.
Dinsmoor said the break with Conniff and his blog came after the board concluded that the stories being generated did not fit with the FAIR mission statement, which says, among other things: “Currently there is an absence of quality journalism and news reporting addressing issues and topics of importance to the citizens of Aspen,” and pledges to fill that gap by “adhering to the strictest standards of journalistic impartiality.”
Marks, who has expended considerable effort criticizing certain policies of Mayor Mick Ireland and City Hall, was interviewed recently by Lekstutis after he agreed to allow Marks to read any story about her before it could be published.
This practice is avoided in traditional journalistic circles, and when Conniff got wind of the agreement, according to Marks, “he changed the agreement and would not let me read the story.”
Instead, after considerable pressure from Marks, Conniff sent her an e-mail containing what he termed “footnotes,” which appeared to be summaries of the ideas that were to go into the article.
“I think I counted that 50 percent of the footnotes were wrong,” Marks said, adding that she was only trying to ensure that the story was accurate, not control what it said or whether it was published.
“It can be as critical of me as you want it to be,” she maintained. “I’m all about free speech and the right of expression. But if it’s going to be delivered as news, it ought to be accurate.”
In their e-mail exchange, which Marks provided to The Aspen Times, Conniff argues that the article was accurate, and in one message indicates he had taken Lekstutis off the story and would be writing it himself.
But in the end, as confirmed by both Dinsmoor and Marolt, the story was not published. It was scheduled for Nov. 12 in the Aspen Daily News, but the FAIR board spiked it on Nov. 11, Dinsmoor said.
Marks denied applying pressure on the FAIR board to kill the story.
But Marolt, when asked whether she had tried to get the story canceled, replied, “There is truth to that. If she hadn’t put any pressure on us, the story would in all likelihood have run.”
Marolt continued: “It wasn’t that great a story in any event.” Marolt, who writes a weekly column for The Aspen Times, said the board decided to kill the story mainly as a way of keeping the peace.
Conniff, in a “letter of resignation” released Monday afternoon, confirmed Marolt’s contention, referring to “30 phone calls [from Marks] to one of you alone, a FAIR board member” as his understanding of why the story was killed, and in justifying his decision to sever ties with the organization.
Conniff also pledged to publish the story on his blog “once the controversy dies down and it can be judged on its own merits.”
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