Douglas: Newspaper has obligation
On Thursday, the Steamboat Today published an editorial, “Our view: The public deserves to know,” calling on the city of Steamboat Springs to release a public report about its investigation into allegations of misconduct by Steamboat Springs Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Chief Bob DelValle once the investigation concludes.
On Saturday, the Steamboat Today reported in “City manager wants public to have summary of investigation” that Steamboat Springs City Manager Deb Hinsvark has indicated that she wants the public to receive a summary of the investigation. Time will tell whether Hinsvark provides a report that is comprehensive enough to give the public an understanding of the investigation’s findings. Still, the fact that the newspaper’s editorial sparked a response from the city is commendable.
But beyond questions about the investigation being conducted by Kathy Nuanes — the “independent investigator” retained by the city to examine the claims of wrongdoing — remains the question of the status of the investigative reporting the Steamboat Pilot & Today promised its readers.
More than two months ago, on March 30, Steamboat Pilot & Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman penned “From the editor: Having the right and doing right are 2 different things.” While defending the newspaper’s decision to not publish the 10-page letter containing a wide-ranging list of allegations — allegations that go far beyond “personnel” issues — leveled by former Steamboat Springs police Detective David Kleiber against Rae and DelValle, Schlichtman made several pronouncements and promises about what the Steamboat Pilot & Today would do to provide its readers information about those allegations.
In her column, Schlichtman made the following four declarations:
“It’s now up to our reporting staff to dig deeper and uncover the facts behind the accusations, and that is exactly what we are doing while also reporting on how the city is handling the investigation and more specifics of the case as it unfolds.”
“But not publishing the letter, doesn’t mean we are ignoring the accusations or don’t understand the severity of the allegations.”
“Our investigation into the claims made by Kleiber are ongoing, and as we are able to substantiate additional information in the letter as fact or if some of the individuals named by Kleiber in the letter want to go on record themselves, we will report that information.”
“In the coming days, weeks and months, we may publish additional portions of the letter as our reporting and investigation develops. We are not trying to keep information away from the public, but instead, we are committed to presenting all the facts surrounding this case. This situation will not be resolved overnight, and I can promise our readers we will not grow weary of reporting on it and searching for the truth.”
Those statements, seemingly put forth to alleviate concerns that the newspaper was concealing the allegations against Rae and DelValle, have not been upheld with reporting that demonstrates a commitment to “presenting all the facts surrounding this case” by uncovering “the facts behind the accusations.”
Other than rudimentary reporting about public records contained in excessive force lawsuits filed against the city, there has been little more than a few articles about the process of the investigation.
Bottom line: It is commendable that the Steamboat Pilot & Today put the city on notice that it expects the city to reveal the facts uncovered by its investigation. However, the newspaper has an obligation to hold itself to the same standard by providing at least a status report of what it has done to independently investigate the veracity or falsity of the allegations.
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