On Jan. 13, the V.I. Daily News published an open letter from Police Commissioner Elton Lewis [which also had been published on Jan. 12 by the Source]. In that letter, Commissioner Lewis conveyed his shock and dismay at the manner in which Lee Williams of the Daily News reported his Jan. 9 press conference, at which several reforms were announced.
Specifically, Commissioner Lewis took exception to Williams' suggestion that the reforms and the press conference were "in response to" the Daily News Dec. 30 "Deadly Force" report.
In response to Commissioner Lewis's letter, the executive editor of the Daily News, J. Lowe Davis, stated that "the Daily News did not print that the [reforms] were 'the result of' the report." Davis went on to state that "the Daily News used the terms 'after the report' and 'in the wake of the report' to show the timeline of events, which is far different from cause and effect."
While it is true that the Daily News used the phrase "in the wake of [the] report," it is untrue to state that this phrase refers solely to the timeline of events and does not refer to cause and effect. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary states quite clearly that the phrase "in the wake of" has two definitions.
The first is "close behind and in the same path of travel," which does not fit Williams' usage of the phrase in this situation, where no actual movement is involved. The second is "as a result of: as a consequence of," which fits Williams' usage perfectly.
The fact of the matter is that the Daily News was attempting to draw a causal connection between their report and the commissioner's reforms and to take the credit for those reforms. In fact, by implying that they were the sole motivating factor in achieving those reforms, the Daily News was not only attempting to take credit for the commissioner's reforms but was also attempting to discredit Commissioner Lewis based on that falsehood.
Executive Editor Davis then went on to "set the record straight" with respect to the Daily News's quotation from U.S. Attorney David Nissman in the "Deadly Force" report.
In a Dec. 30 letter to Executive Editor Davis [also published by the Source], Mr. Nissman explained that he had had a "vigorous discussion" with Mr. Williams regarding the prospect of federalizing local homicide cases and that he had explained that he did not feel that it was appropriate, and furthermore that "the Virgin Islands Department of Justice has come a long way under the tutelage and leadership of both Attorneys General [Julio] Brady and [Iver] Stridiron" and that he had "never been critical of Attorney General Stridiron's leadership."
Mr. Nissman stated that the statement attributed to him on page 38 of the "Deadly Force" report "says exactly the opposite." Executive Editor Davis's response to that fact and the public outcry regarding that "lie" was to emphasize another nonexistent distinction. Executive Editor Davis quotes Mr. Nissman as saying that he "never accused The Daily News of lying" and states that what he "should have said was that the statement created the opposite impression" of what he thinks.
Executive Editor Davis would have you believe that intentionally taking Mr. Nissman's words and carefully editing them and presenting them out of context so as to create an impression completely contrary to the clear meaning of his words is somehow not "lying." The Daily News took Mr. Nissman's entire dialogue with Mr. Williams — in which the U.S. attorney essentially said it was his opinion that the last two attorneys general have made the office a lot stronger than it was but that there is inadequate funding — and carefully selected its quotes so that the public read only his comment that "Local prosecution should be done by local prosecutors. What I think is necessary is a good leader with adequate funding." The clear implication being that the Department of Justice currently has neither a good leader nor adequate funding.
Finally, on Jan. 15, just two days after Commissioner Lewis's open letter, the Daily News ran a giant cover story headlined "Under Fire" about a letter from various Police Department unions which called for the investigation of Commissioner Lewis for fraud, mismanagement and corruption. However, that letter was two months old and had been circulated two months before to each senator, the governor, the U.S. Defense Department and national news outlets.
To an observer, there seems a strong possibility that the timing and prominence of this story were motivated by the Daily News's desire for retribution for Commissioner Lewis's open letter of two days before.
It may well be that each and every concern raised by the "Deadly Force" report and the "Under Fire" article is absolutely true and valid. I don't know either way. However, it is absolutely clear that the Daily News has taken what might well have started as a genuine search for the truth and replaced it with a self-promoting vicious set of attacks in which exaggeration and mischaracterization take center stage and trump all other concerns.
In short, beginning with its "Deadly Force" report, the Daily News has devoted its coverage of this issue to publicizing and emphasizing the significance of that report and attacking any government officials involved with the issue. Perhaps the most telling example of this emphasis must be the Daily News's decision to print so many letters from people who agree entirely with the Daily News to the virtual exclusion of all those who hold other opinions.
However, it takes no more than a few minutes spent listening to the local radio stations and their callers to hear just how unrepresentative those letters appear to be. If one were to take the Daily News's reporting of this issue on its face and without reference to any other media, one would mistakenly believe that the entire Virgin Islands held the same opinion as that expressed by the authors of "Deadly Force." And that does a disservice not just to the people of the Virgin Islands but also to the great journalistic traditions to which the Daily News once subscribed.
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