Losing his faculties

This older gentleman? A teenager is wiser than he is.

Ed Meadows is president of Pensacola State College in the Florida Panhandle. He made the most headlines of his long career just last week, when he told the 18-year-old Spenser Garber, co-editor of the PSC student newspaper, three silly things…

1. Garber shouldn’t cover the school’s contract negotiations with faculty. That will only “distract students from their studies.”

2. If faculty leaders update Garber on their negotiations, everyone is violating the law. Besides, Meadows said, “What benefit would it be for students to know?”

3. It’s impossible for Garber to write a balanced story on faculty negotiations – because Meadows refuses to speak to the newspaper. “Good journalism requires two sides to every story and, unfortunately, I can’t give you the other side,” Meadows says. Therefore, nothing should be written at all.

The story quickly bled beyond the Panhandle’s borders.

It traveled at the speed of sound from a higher-education website (Gag Order in Sunshine State) to a campus watchdog group (Fla. college censors student reporters, tells them to stick to ‘basketball games’) to a student legal center (Fla. community college president discredits student newspaper’s reporting, gags faculty) to a student rights group (Pensacola State Official Offers Embarrassingly Bad Justifications for Censorship of Student Media).

But Garber has grown increasingly uncomfortable with the coverage’s hyperbole, which peaked when Gawker got involved (Florida College President Is Either a Thug or a Moron).

When I spoke with Garber last week, two things impressed me…

1. He’s not easily intimidated. At 18, he’s more fearless than many older college journalists I’ve known. In (too) many cases, students crumple at the first sign of conflict, trading defense of the First Amendment for some vague sense of self-preservation – which, of course, is exactly the opposite way to achieve that goal. So Garber says he’ll keep covering the stories his readers want to know about.

2. He’s not easily excitable. Garber is adamant that he’s not out for blood. He doesn’t want Meadows fired over this. Meadows is wrong, he says, but no one has threatened to shut down the paper or prevent him from writing what he wants. Garber struck me as the most mature person in this dust-up: He’s disappointed in Meadows but not angry at him, and he’s calmly trying to add some nuance in an echo chamber of online hyperbole.

I asked Garber, What would you want to tell journalists about what’s happened? Below is his open letter he wrote over the weekend.

Journalists of the United States…

The past few weeks have been stressful to say the least. By trying to do my job as a journalist, national news sites like Gawker and Inside Higher Ed have picked up a story that isn’t really true.

On October 31st, a letter was sent to the Faculty Association of Pensacola State College. That letter was CC’d to the Corsair in an e-mail. In this e-mail, sent by lawyer Mike Mattimore, two laws were outlined stating that no college organization shall exploit students for personal gain. One specific law, Florida Statute Section 447.501(2)(f), had been ruled unconstitutional a while back.

Here’s where the misunderstanding started. I kept trying to tell the administration that the original information I obtained about a PSCFA straw poll was not from a PSCFA member. It wasn’t even a person that works at the college. They insisted that I had to get the information from a PSCFA member, even if it didn’t come from one that told me (these meetings are open meetings, anyone could have seen the straw poll vote).

After the letter was sent, things got blown out of proportion fairly quickly. Some people interpreted the letter as a restriction of the Corsair’s freedom of the press. That isn’t true. The letter was outlining the legality of the PSCFA talking to the paper, which puts the fault on the PSCFA, not the Corsair. Since the college’s realization of the unconstitutionality of Florida Statute Section 447.501(2)(f), they have changed their stance on the PSCFA’s ability to talk to the Corsair.

It is unnecessary to interview President Meadows about the “gag order” sent to the PSCFA, as it is a moot point. It is unnecessary to interview me about the Corsair’s restriction of freedom of the press, as it is nonexistent. There is no real news in a story about the faculty and administration negotiating a contract. If you want an update on the story, there will be a Board of Trustees meeting on November 18. Afterwards, there will most likely be a story uploaded to the Corsair’s web site.

Best Wishes,

Spenser Garber
Co-Editor at Pensacola State College

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Schick Piss Fuck

The opinions expressed below (and above) are not necessarily those of the management of this blog.

Then again, they aren’t necessarily the opposite, either.

The man expressing those opinions is David Schick, a college journalist I’ve written about a few times before.

He’s a little nuts, I won’t lie. But I’ve always said this about mentoring students:

It’s easier to dull a sharp knife than sharpen a dull knife.

In other words: The biggest asshole on campus can mellow into an adult who keeps an edge, but how many college cowards grow up to take the right risks?

So I like the guy. Here’s Schick’s latest shtick, in his own words. Make of it what you will…

Last month was Free Speech Week. And when it comes to the First Amendment, I’m more than an advocate – I’m a fanatic.

To celebrate, I decided that I wanted to pay tribute to a couple of my favorite cases regarding free speech. One day last week, I wore my old Army battle dress uniform and made some minor alterations to the back. I spelled out “Fuck The Draft” in duct tape on the back.

The reactions were mixed. Some people just scoffed at the profanity, others asked me why I was wearing it—the real reason why I wore it, to educate people on the famous U.S. Supreme Court Case, Cohen v. California—and one of the Communications Law professors at my school laughed and actually took a picture with his phone.

In my first class, a philosophy course, one student told me that I could be tried under the Sedition Act and sent to jail for wearing it. You know, the Sedition Act that was passed in 1918 and repealed in 1920? That one.

On another day I paid homage to the late George Carlin and his Seven Dirty Words. In sharpie marker, I wrote out, “Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, Tits,” on my journalism schools’ t-shirt they hand out to new students.

Remember the Communications Law professor who laughed before? Well, now I was “over the top.” I shook my head. Where did he draw that line? I wondered. Clearly “fuck” was okay in reference to a notable Supreme Court Case, but the addition of the other six “dirty words” in reference to a comedy sketch was no longer celebrating the First Amendment.

I carried on because “over the top” is how I am about the First Amendment. For me, there’s really no room for saying that one set of speech is okay but another is not.

And it may be cliché, but to correctly quote Evelyn Beatrice Hall (often attributed to Voltaire), even if “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

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Beating the system?

What’s the opposite of a restraining order? And can I get one against Tom Owens?

Owens is the county commission candidate in rural Georgia who got a restraining order against a freelance journalist. That was two weeks ago. Last week, justice prevailed and the restraining order was lifted.

There are certainly bigger crimes against journalism than the one Owens perpetrated against a writer named George Chidi. But few are as curious and even fewer are as devious.

I had one lengthy phone call with Owens on Oct. 9, during which he professed more than once, “I love the media! And the media loves me!” He said I could contact him anytime, and if he wasn’t campaigning or dead, he’d call me back right away.

Since then, he’s lost not one but two court hearings in as many days. After repeated calls and emails, he finally got back to me once over the weekend. Despite more emails and voice mails, he never replied.

What a shame. I really wanted to talk to him because I’ve learned he’s a crazy genius who stumbled upon the perfect crime.

Owens told me he “feared for his life” because George Chidi “acted like he had mad cow disease” whenever they met. 

So Owens sought what’s officially called a temporary protection order. A judge granted it – as well she should have, Chidi admits.

“She did what she was supposed to do, and that’s the problem,” Chidi says. “All the biases in the law are toward granting a TPO, as it should be. Because if you don’t, you end up with women getting beaten and killed.”

No one anticipated a candidate would seek a restraining order to get a reporter off his back. Owens did, and because a judge is supposed to err on the side of the accuser, he had a week free of Chidi’s searing questions about his past.

“Problem is, there’s no punishment on the back end for people misusing the law, especially when the purpose is violating the First Amendment,” Chidi says. “And there’s no mechanism in the law to prevent this from happening again.”

In 90 minutes, everything Owens accomplished for a week was undone.

First came a magistrate’s hearing on Tuesday. Owens and his team defended their restraining order by seeking a stalking charge against Chidi. Their evidence was this anti-climactic video, which Owens told me all about but refused to show me because he wanted the magistrate to see it first…

“The magistrate saw the video, and then his demeanor changed fundamentally,” Chidi says. “The magistrate said, ‘What is this? Did you really think this supports a stalking charge?” And [Owens] kept saying, ‘He made me feel afraid, he’s devious.’ The hearing was over in 30 minutes.”

The next day, a judge wanted to know why the restraining order should stay in place since the stalking charge was denied. An hour later, it was unofficially lifted.

“I’m totally off the hook,” Chidi says, “but we’re still waiting on the formal ruling – which I’m sure will be Get the fuck out of here in Latin.”

So did Owens get away with one? Chidi thinks more than just journalists are irked about his abuse of the legal system.

“I don’t think he’s fully understood the damage he’s done to himself,” Chidi says. “He may not have the competence necessary to understand how incompetent he is.”

SPJ Georgia president Sharon Dunten was at the second hearing and was equally stunned.

“It was one of the most bizarre hearings I have ever witnessed,” she told me. “Owens didn’t have counsel. He attempted to represent himself. The judge basically had to do everything for him, including questioning his witnesses. I think she wanted to make sure everything was neat and tidy so the possibility of an appeal would be out of the question.”

Dunten added: “When I arrived outside the courtroom, an odd man was speaking to someone about how George was gay, the N word, and a Muslim lover. He later was one of Owens’ witnesses.”

That afternoon, Dunten’s board of directors heard her report and issued this statement…

SPJ Georgia is pleased that Georgia journalist George Chidi is free to work as a journalist again. Minutes after leaving the courtroom, Chidi settled into a corner booth of a local Decatur pub and opened up his laptop to start writing professionally again.

Thanks goes to the legal team of attorney Tom Clyde, board member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, and Executive Director Hollie Manheimer for fighting the final step of releasing this outrageous restraining order against Chidi. Clyde is an attorney for Kilpatrick Stockton LLC of Georgia.

Thank you also goes to SPJ national for their prompt response for a journalist who was clearly facing a violation of the First Amendment.

So what happens now? Chidi is finishing his book on civic engagement in Georgia, which is why he was pursuing interviews with Owens in the first place.

“I think this will be its own chapter,” Chidi says.

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What Owens knows

Tom Owens and I agreed on one thing he told me last night. After that, not much else.

“I’m not against a free press,” he said during our 15-minute call. “But a free press should be respectful of people, not screaming and hollering.”

“Certainly,” I replied. “And if you got evidence that George Chidi screamed at you, I’ll change my strong opinion on this issue.”

The issue is a restraining order Owens convinced a judge to sign on Monday. It bans Chidi, a freelance journalist, from communicating with Owens or getting within 100 yards of him. Yesterday, I offered to lead a restraining order extravaganza.

A few hours after that post, Owens and I spoke. I asked him for details on what Chidi did. The candidate for DeKalb County commission said the two men were at a candidates’ forum when “George acted like he had mad cow disease and was screaming and making everyone uncomfortable.”

Of course, Chidi denies he did anything more than his job.

He notes that Owens released a video from a subsequent encounter at another candidates forum – which purports to show Chidi being threatening but really just shows a reporter being slightly annoying because the candidate keeps ducking his questions.

I was genuinely appreciative of Owens for speaking with me when he obviously knew I didn’t agree with him. I asked if he had more damning evidence than just his word and the words of his campaign pals.

“We have a lot more video that was taken,” he said. The video is from that first forum and shows Chidi’s “obnoxious behavior.”

“Can I see it?” I asked.

“I don’t want to put it out in the public domain yet till we get to court,” Owens said. “We gonna have us a probable cause hearing.”

Owens also says Chidi threatened him another time, but “there are no witnesses to it, when he got up in my face and quietly said, ‘I’m gonna kill you.'”

Owens says he “fears for his life” but is also angry: “When you approach me and tell me you’re gonna destroy me, I don’t have to take that, sir.”

Owens says the big hearing in front of a judge is 9 a.m. Tuesday. That’s when he shows the video. If it proves him right, I’ll be the first to report it – I hate when any profession circles the wagons and doesn’t admit when one of its own behaves badly.

But if this as-yet-unseen video shows nothing more revealing than the public video does, Owens needs to drop his restraining order or have a judge do it for him. If it stands, so will Georgia’s journalism community.

SPJ’s Georgia chapter will cover the hearing.

SPJ Georgia president Sharon Dunten issued this statement from her board…

It has been a turbulent couple of months for journalists in the Atlanta metro area as a Dekalb County Commissioner, Elaine Boyer, admitted to stealing more than $90,000 from taxpayers during the past two years. As new candidates announce their intention to replace Boyer’s position on the county commission, Atlanta and Georgia journalists are closely vetting the new candidates, including Georgia journalist George Chidi.

SPJ Georgia supports Chidi for vetting Tom Owens, who is running for the empty commissioner position. As part of the vetting process, Chidi approached and asked Owens questions at two public forums, sent emails and left messages on voicemails.

In return, Owens found a judge to grant a temporary stalking protection order against Chidi, who was just doing his job. In addition, days later when Chidi did publish a blog about Owens online, he was served a notice of civil contempt for violating the TPO.

Since when does a county temporary protection order require a journalist not to publish an article online or in print?

SPJ Georgia will be closely following any developments until this controversy is resolved.

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This Vietnam veteran is afraid. Of a reporter. Next week, we’re really gonna scare the crap out of him.

Tom Owens is running for an empty commission seat in DeKalb County, which is next door to Atlanta. On Monday, Owens filed a restraining order against a freelance reporter who kept asking him annoying questions.

Such as…

• Did you really threaten to kill the imam of a mosque that opened behind your house? Did you really offer to leave him alone if he bought your house, appraised at $100,000, for a cool half-million?

• What’s your take on a police report that says a city councilman in the small town of Doraville accused you of “showing up on his doorstep to berate him for offering condolences to the victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting”?

• After you pled no contest to stalking in nearby Forsyth County, you were ordered into mental health counseling and assigned 30 days of community service. Did you complete both?

Somehow, Owens found a judge crazier than he is to issue the restraining order.

Pity George Chidi. He’s a reporter with a restraining order.

Chidi freelances for various publications and is writing a big book on civic engagement in Georgia. Owens had successfully ducked Chidi until last Sunday, when Chidi showed up at a public candidate forum where Owens was speaking.

Owens had a friend record this “evidence” of Chidi’s intimidating behavior…

…but on his YouTube page, Owens claims this is tame in comparison to their first encounter, which happened in a church: “He was unidentified and stated he wanted to ‘destroy’ me in his introductory statement.”

Sadly, there’s no evidence of that, and Chidi denies it.

“I never said it,” Chidi told me this afternoon. “I looked him in the eye and said, ‘You’re not going to like this story,’ but that’s as far as it ever got.”

Chidi says the same guy who shot the video above also recorded him at that first encounter. “But he hasn’t released that,” Chidi says, adding with just a hint of sarcasm, “I wonder why.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, Owens filed his restraining order the same day Chidi posted an unflattering column about the candidate. Yesterday, Chidi says, “the sheriff’s office dropped off a notice of civil contempt” because he had violated the restraining order by “contacting third parties via social media.” Whatever the hell that means.

Chidi had to get a lawyer so he won’t end up in jail. He has a hearing on Oct. 22. Chidi’s laywer is from the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and is representing him for free. But Chidi is losing time and money dealing with this, so he’s crowdsourcing on his own.

I emailed Owens earlier today, but he hasn’t replied yet. Maybe he’s afraid of me. Maybe he’s asking for yet another restraining order. You want one, too?

We’re looking for journalists who can’t show restraint.

To highlight the ridiculousness of a candidate for public office successfully getting a restraining order against a reporter with zero evidence of threatening behavior, I’m looking for a few Georgians who’d love a restraining order from Tom Owens.

All you gotta do is approach Owens at any of his next several campaign events and pose the three questions above.

I’ll provide you the intel on those appearances, and I’ll pay for any legal expenses you may incur. If you indeed get slapped with a restraining order, I’ll even pay for you to get it framed for your home or office.

If several journalists pepper Owens with the same questions Chidi did, and if he doesn’t file restraining orders against all of them, it’s sure to convince a judge − even one in DeKalb County − that Owens fears not for his personal safety, but his political future.

Email me journoterrorist@gmail.com.

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White guys: all is Wells

Want to nominate someone for SPJ’s “highest honor”? Better buy stamps.

The Wells Memorial Key recognizes “a member who is judged to have served the Society in the most outstanding fashion during the preceding year or over a period of years.”

You can nominate anyone you want, but they don’t really encourage it. The website says…

Submit all nomination materials unbound on 8 1/2 x 11 paper.

That’s right. Dead trees, not digital. They don’t make it easy for you. I think they like it that way.

Old white men, mostly.

Over the past 10 years (2004 to 2014) only one woman has won a Wells Key. In the previous 10 years (1993 to 2003) seven women won.

The last African-American to win was back in 1992. Last Sunday, another white man won a Wells Key. He’s the fifth in a row.

The Wells Key is perhaps the only awards program getting less diverse with each passing year.

If an award’s winners lack diversity, it’s a good bet the judges do, too.

The Wells Key is bestowed by SPJ’s “executive officers,” led by the president. Since 2000, only two women have served as president. A third started her one-year term just last weekend.

It probably won’t shock you to learn: The five consecutive white-guy winners were all former presidents.

One Wells Key winner suggested the ex-presidents win because they’re the ones who are “willing to do the work.” But it’s also true we tend to more easily recognize effort when it’s being done by people who look like us.

As an SPJ board member, I want to diversity the Wells Key winners by adding more judges. Last weekend, I made a motion to have SPJ’s entire 23-member board bestow the honor.

That’s not an ideal solution, since our board has only one Hispanic, one Native American, and no African-Americans. But at least we have 10 women and a mix of old and young. It’s a start.

It’s also a fight.

After I made my motion, old white men immediately (and condescendingly) undermined the idea…

• You’ll wilt under the workload – Past president Dave Cuillier said culling through all the nominees “is time-consuming” and “a lot of hard work.” (Apparently, lots of people mail in sheets of paper.) He doesn’t want to burden us.

• You can’t keep a secret – Wells Key winner Robert Leger, who’s president of SPJ’s foundation, said the award’s signature feature is its surprise – the winner isn’t announced beforehand. Leger said the board would let the winner slip and ruin everything.

• You got better things to do – Cuillier also suggested my motion was “ticky tack.” He suggested we stick to “bigger issues.”

I’d quote you exactly what both men said, as well as some other men, but for some reason, SPJ’s recording of that part of the board meeting cuts off. It’s the only board meeting video on the SPJ website that does that.

Regardless, these arguments offended me and at least a few others….

• The board already works hard. In fact, we could easily delegate more mundane governance so we’d have more time to look at “bigger issues.” I wouldn’t be the first SPJ board member to wonder if presidents load up their agendas with minor items so the board doesn’t have time to delve deeply into protected traditions.

• This is a big deal. How can deciding “SPJ’s highest honor” not be considered a “bigger issue”? How is diversity not a “bigger issue”?

• We’re not gossips. The SPJ board is loaded with journalists who have protected juicier sources than a Wells Key winner.

After much debate and urging, I amended my motion. It now simply instructs SPJ’s senior leaders to devise their own plan for expanding the Wells Key judging. They have until April.

When I asked if that would make the deadline for next year’s winner, the answer was a very squishy “maybe.”

My fear…

The old white men will simply delay, wear down, and outlast the reformers. That’s so common, it’s almost a cliche.

The fact is, there are nearly as many Wells Key winners in leadership positions as there are non-winners. SPJ’s foundation, called Sigma Delta Chi, has four officers – and three are Well’s Key winners, as are 10 of its 29 members. That’s a lot of status quo firepower.

Thing is, I haven’t even gotten to the most controversial part. First, I wanted to get my original motion through before I proposed this…

SPJ should mimic the NFL.

Since 2003, the National Football League has operated under something called the Rooney Rule. It requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for high-level coaching positions.

The Rooney Rule doesn’t set quotas. It simply forces you to consider people who don’t look like you. And it’s worked. NFL teams have hired more minority coaches since the rule passed.

I want a Rooney Rule for SPJ.

There are many Wells Key winners I deeply respect (even though they might not respect me after this post). David Carlson, Steve Geimann, Irwin Gratz, Bill McCloskey, Mac McKerral, just to name a few.

SPJ wouldn’t be where it is today without those old white guys. But it needs more than old white guys if it’s going to survive tomorrow.

If you doubt that, here’s what one Wells Key winner told me – and the entire foundation board – when I mocked the paper-only application process…

It’s hardly burdensome to ask for hard copies.

Yup, that’s how you endear yourself to the next generation of journalists.

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One unethical weekend

Is SPJ even ethical?

That’s not a click-bait question. Over the weekend, SPJ approved a new Code of Ethics. SPJ leaders decided its vaunted  code – last updated in 1996 – needed an update because technology has changed the essence of journalism.

I’ve written about this crazy process before (and before and before and before), but this isn’t a rerun. This is all strange new shit.

Here are five ridiculous moves SPJ leaders made in just one weekend…

1. Selective tech

The code may have needed a tech update, but on Saturday, SPJ leaders clung to a century-old system that featured less than 125 insiders making the decision for all its 7,500 members.

Why? Because SPJ clings to an arcane “delegate” system that’s akin to the Electoral College. Except for one weird thing.

Delegates come only from SPJ’s 60 pro and 160 student chapters and vote only in person at SPJ’s annual convention. So even if you were a delegate but couldn’t afford to come to Nashville, you couldn’t vote.

Even worse, 43 percent of SPJ’s members aren’t in chapters. They’re just regular ol’ members who either do their own thing or (in most cases) don’t live near a chapter. They get no vote and no representation – even if they show up at the convention. They aren’t allowed to even speak in front of the delegates who do vote.

Of course, the technology exists to allow everyone to vote online. SPJ uses it for electing the board of directors. I’m a national board member, and I was elected through online voting last year.

At the delegates’ meeting Saturday afternoon, I urged the “old white men” who run the show (that’s what they jokingly called themselves) to let all members vote on big decisions. They hemmed and hawed and said that was too hard.

2. Shut up and vote

As delegates filtered into the exhibit hall, they were handed a brand-new draft of the code. It had two dozen changes from the one they were emailed in the days before the convention – which was intended to give them time to review it.

The old white men quickly and sometimes confusingly reviewed those changes on a projector. Some delegates proposed more changes. But at one point, the president said, “We only have 15 more minutes.”

The delegates in front of me said they didn’t know there was a time limit. I said I didn’t, either.

The wife of one of the old white guys made a motion to end all debate. It was seconded by a woman who sat on the code revision panel that was hand-picked by the president – without board approval.

The president, Dave Cuillier, let another woman speak after that – she’s a member of SPJ’s foundation board – but tried to cut me off by saying the question had been called two speakers ago, and that “the people” had spoken. I had to stand firm and raise my voice before I was allowed to say…

If delegates comprising 2 percent of SPJ’s membership and not representing 43 percent of SPJ’s membership vote for a new Code of Ethics without putting it back to the members, I believe that is unethical.

You said you wanted to change this Code of Ethics because you said technology has changed so much, it has materially affected the way we do our jobs. In 1996, when I was a member of this society, the delegate system WAS the only way to pass anything. The technology did not exist to let more people speak. This system, at the time, was high tech. If we’re going to say this is the system we have, that’s the excuse of anyone who tries to deny representation.

…and then Cuillier cut off debate. Several new delegates – I’d guess half of all the delegates are new each year, with no clue what the hell is going on – told me later they wanted to speak in support. But it was too late.

 3. Your opinion is stupid

The day before, Cuillier and his panel hosted a “town hall” so delegates could “ask questions, comment, and make suggestions.” Except when they tried, Cuillier was so dismissive that one woman chastised him from the back of the room: “You’re being disrespectful.”

Cuillier, to his credit, later issued a public apology for, and I quote, “being a douchebag.”

Kevin Smith, the ethics chair, wasn’t so contrite. He shot down each suggestion with, “We worked really hard on this! We spent hours on it!” He interrupted delegates so often that one woman got a laugh from her neighbors when she muttered, “This is a real testosterone-fest.”

4. Rank and revisions

Fearing he had lost the room and his shot at glory (more on that later), Smith agreed afterward to make some changes. But that wasn’t publicized, so few delegates knew about it.

Those delegates also didn’t know – because no SPJ leader told them via email, social media, or the convention app – that the Northern California chapter also wanted changes. It got ’em because one chapter member is an SPJ foundation board member and chatted up Smith in the lobby.

Smith and some of his group met with leaders from that chapter and made more changes (which the board of directors also didn’t know and wasn’t told about). Other chapters who didn’t have insiders as members didn’t get the same opportunity.

That’s why the delegates got a new draft as the filed into the meeting room, with only minutes to peruse it. Executive director Joe Skeel joked it was literally hot off the press – and it was. What he handed me was still warm from the copy machine.

5. We’re awesome

After the vote, the insiders let out a whoop and high-fived. Some delegates also applauded. But others just looked confused. This long, out-of-context meeting was finally over, and the social functions were soon starting.

Three hours later, Smith was bestowed with SPJ’s highest honor, called a Wells Memorial Key. From the podium, Cuillier cited one reason for the award: getting the new ethics code passed. Of course, the Wells Key was decided months ago – and of course, not by the board of directors but a small group of SPJ insiders.

Some SPJers wondered if the fix was in.

Cuiller and Smith were lame ducks last weekend. Their terms ended hours after the code passed. Was all of this strong-arming and bum-rushing because Smith needed to get his Key before he stepped down?

(It may seem overwrought to some, but Wells Key winners often weep from the podium when they deliver their acceptance speeches at a banquet. I once thought that was odd, but many of the winners are dedicated journalists. While I don’t quite understand the emotions myself, some of these winners are awesome guys – and sadly, most are guys – who I truly admire. So if this is what floats their boat, I’m glad for the rising tide.)

The question on the lips of some was: Will Cuillier get his Wells Key next? He was president when the code passed, and he was one of the small group who bestowed the honor on Smith.

So overall, SPJ leaders are quite pleased with themselves, even as some rank and file are confused and/or concerned and/or bored. But from bad things, sometimes good things come. Already, work is underway on an alternate SPJ Code of Ethics. Learn more in this space, coming soon.

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Wearing your emotions

Wanna change SPJ’s name? Get a change of clothes.

This cotton T-shirt is available FREE in small, medium, large, and extra-large, while supplies last. Hat and cigar not included.

Terms and conditions…

You must attend the Excellence in Journalism convention in Nashville, specifically the session called Should SPJ Change Its Name — and Mission? It’s Saturday, Sept. 6, at 1 p.m. in Ryman Studios H.

 I’d love for you to wear it that same afternoon, although once it leaves my grubby hands and gets into yours, I have no way to enforce that.

• Delegates will receive shirts before the mewling masses do – as long as they promise to wear their new shirts to the closing business session. Can’t enforce that, either, though.

You can get a shirt even if you hate the idea of changing SPJ’s name. As long as you don it that Saturday, you can wear it ironically.

Got no idea what I’m talking about? Here’s some bathroom reading…

More than a name change
Old excuses for new name
Fly in the newsprint

If you want to reserve your shirt, email me at journoterrorist@gmail.com. Include your desired size, then pick it up at the session in Nashville. If you’re a delegate, mention that. Questions? Holler. But don’t ask me why I’m doing this. Because I dunno.

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5 hard questions

questionWho you gonna vote for in next month’s SPJ elections?

If you don’t know the candidates personally, it’s hard to tell them apart.

Read their campaign statements, and you’ll learn they all want to “celebrate journalism” and “help grow SPJ’s membership” and “maintain its dedication and commitment.”

In other words, crime is bad and jobs are good. And specifics are rare.

As a three-term SPJ board member, I know how hard it is to articulate a clear vision in a single statement. And let’s face it, no one is hosting SPJ debates, because no one would tune in.

So welcome to the Real Quick Real Controversial Candidate Q&A.

I recently posed five questions to the candidates. I isolated the biggest controversies currently rending our fine organization. Of course, I’m biased: I started all these controversies. So if you don’t give a crap about them, can’t say I blame you.

Still, their answers tell you something about how they’ll handle trouble – especially those who didn’t respond at all. At the very end are my conclusions.

No editing was done, and answers appear in order received…


Patti Gallagher Newberry (Region 4) – I support the name change.

Rebecca Baker (Region 1) – Yes.

Ellen Eldridge (college student) – I like the idea that SPJ is an organization for defining journalism and not journalists. I joined SPJ to be part of an organization for my industry. I have much to learn still and hope my involvement with SPJ will continue helping me understand and improve in my field as a journalist.

Mike Reilley (campus adviser) – We need to revisit this and strongly consider expanding SPJ’s horizons to recruit new members, including young members and retaining campus members as they graduate.

Lynn Walsh (treasurer) – I am in full support of SPJ becoming more of an advocacy group and less of a trade organization as you describe it in this question. That said, I do not know that it needs to change the name of the organization to do so. I think it needs to make a commitment and investment into advocating more for what we as journalists do every day and why it is important for communities around the world. Some of these include First Amendment rights, FOIA and government access and transparency issues and the importance of freedom of the press. In order to do this we need to not just include journalists in our organization, but need to reach out and openly welcome lawyers, activists and other leaders in these areas.

Matt Hall (Region 11) – No. I don’t believe rebranding makes sense at this time, and this conversation should be put behind us. The board should focus on actual ways to improve membership, training and journalism instead of debating a name change I humbly suggest is unnecessary despite the arguments you’ve shared and the time you’ve spent on it.

Ernest Owens (Region 1) – No, because there needs to be an organization that is helping to protect and inform journalists. There are already enough programs focused on journalism advocacy and yet the professionals themselves can hardly get one. SPJ needs to remain the same in that regard.

Paul Fletcher (president-elect) – I personally favor the new name. I don’t know that it is the will of the members or the Board to make the change. There also will be a straw vote on this question on the EIJ14 ballot, and I look forward to hearing what the membership thinks. I think advocacy is an essential part of SPJ’s mission.

Jimmy McCollum (campus adviser) – I like the new name, as it is more inclusive of students.

Gideon Grudo (at large) – Yes and yes. If SPJ doesn’t adapt to a new universe where the word “journalist” has barely retained any of its classic definitions, it will suffer the consequences of a new universe where an old-fashioned organization barely retains its members (hey!).

Tony Hernandez (at large) – Personally, yes. An SPJ task force has polled our membership, and more feel the name should remain instead of changing it. So, I support the consensus that the name should remain the same.

Daniel Axelrod (student) – I believe that SPJ’s name should not be changed. This debate is a distraction and a red herring. Changing SPJ’s name to the “Society for Professional Journalism” wouldn’t alter the organization’s mission. The Society’s advocacy efforts are already (and long have been) strong and explicit in SPJ’s support of a shield law and the Society’s constant fight to promote freedom of information and free speech. Now, if SPJ’s members and its leadership want the organization to devote even more time toward those and other advocacy initiatives, the Society can do just that without changing a name that has become a strong, reputable brand over its many decades of use.

Jordan Gass-Poore’ (student) – No. The people in the trade are the trade; without journalists there’s no journalism. The emphasis needs to be on educating people on how to uphold the principles of professional journalism and how to advocate on its behalf, regardless of medium and title. 


Patti Gallagher Newberry (Region 4) – All members.

Rebecca Baker (Region 1) – 7,500 members.

Ellen Eldridge (college student) – I think all 7,500 members should be allowed to vote, but I believe many will not make use of their right to vote.

Mike Reilley (campus adviser) – Yes. One member, one vote.

Lynn Walsh (treasurer) – I am OK with just the delegates voting on the updated Code of Ethics. But, that does not mean I would be opposed to having all of the members vote on it. I have been involved with the process of updating the Code and feel as if some of the transparency issue your brought up in the beginning have been addressed.

For me, SPJ’s Code of Ethics started out as a broad look at how journalists should act professionally and I think it should stay this way. My only hesitation is that by allowing everyone to vote, nothing will ever be updated and that to me, is the worse-case scenario because it needs to be updated and has needed to be updated for awhile now.

Why do I think it will not be updated or pass if everyone votes on it versus just the delegates? I think there is a great possibility people will get caught up on one phrase or one word and vote against it for that reason. And that is not what the code is for, in my opinion. The code, to me is meant to be a guide, and we as individual journalists have to decide what we will agree with or not — we create our own individual codes and I hope look to others for advice with this.

Matt Hall (Region 11) – The process is what the update process is, and if the board wants to discuss changing the process, that conversation should be held — and be resolved. But I will say this: Delegates of any group are elected to represent membership, study alternatives and make decisions that could drag on if a much greater number of people were voting on anything. We are where we are in the process, and I can’t imagine this will be a simple up or down vote in September; it’s more complex — and potentially more acrimonious, to use someone else’s word — than that, as it should be.

Additionally, all chapters know this issue is coming up in September and should be discussing their positions on it with every representative they are sending to Nashville. Beyond that, each chapter has also had multiple chances to weigh in during the review. The San Diego Pro Chapter, for one, posted the code on our Facebook page on March 27 and again on July 7, seeking input and trying to foster debate.

Ernest Owens (Region 1) – SPJ’S 7500 members should because the Code of Ethics affects us all and if we are to elect members, we should also elect new revisions collectively as well.

Paul Fletcher (president-elect) – As you know, I favor adopting one member, one vote for SPJ decision-making, and I will be working on that in the coming year if elected. But OMOV requires a bylaws change. Even if it is adopted by the delegates at EIJ15, it wouldn’t be in effect until EIJ16. I don’t think we want to wait that long for a revision to the Code of Ethics.

We have system in place for EIJ14 that provides for input from both groups. There will be a straw vote on the revised Code of Ethics draft on the ballot sent to all members. The delegates will have the benefit of that input before the discussion and vote on the Code in the final business session of the convention.

Jimmy McCollum (campus adviser) – 150 delegates.

Gideon Grudo (at large) – We’re an OMOV group now, so I favor the latter. If it’s too late to practically bring this into effect for this round of the revision, a new round should open up for EIJ15 (or EIJ16 if the red tape is real nice and thick) and solidly involve every single member of SPJ.

Tony Hernandez (at large) – I think the more eyes on the new Code of Ethics the better. In a perfect world, all 7,500 members should review and cast a vote on the Code of Ethics, however given that online voting is just a few years old, a small percentage of our 7,500 members have actually voted. I think our leaders need to encourage more of our membership to vote before we start solely relying on One Man One Vote for crucial decisions. I think our delegate system has been established to carefully vet chapter representatives to consider important SPJ issues, like the new Code of Ethics.

The short answer to your question: let both bodies vote.

Daniel Axelrod (student) – If there is a hue and cry from the regular members, and a great many of them want to vote on a new ethics code, then the Society should consider changing its voting process. But, for now, why fix a system that doesn’t seem to be broken? The delegates closely follow SPJ’s news, deal with the Society’s dilemmas, and thoughtfully consider SPJ’s initiatives. The delegates are among the most dedicated and passionate media professionals, journalism teachers, and communication students in the country. And they represent — and act in the best interests of — the rest of the Society’s 7,500 members.

Jordan Gass-Poore’ (student) – Yes. All of the SPJ Code of Ethics revisions should be made available to its membership in a timely fashion with the dates those revisions were made and the names of those who helped make the revisions. The revision should reflect the current state of journalism, and the only way for that to happen is to have input from as many journalists, members, as possible – crowdsourcing is the most efficient and transparent way to do this.

Patti Gallagher Newberry (Region 4) – Abstain.

Rebecca Baker (Region 1) – Staying out of this.

Ellen Eldridge (college student) – I don’t know, but I don’t see anything I know to be factually inaccurate. I can see where your blogs would rattle Cuillier, but as far as I understand libel nothing on the blog was libelous. I appreciate that you are unafraid to stand up for your beliefs, and I appreciate the chance to read your perspective. I’m trying to stay informed, but I’m new to SPJ and have much to read and learn.

Mike Reilley (campus adviser) – I haven’t read the blog so I don’t have an answer on this one.

Lynn Walsh (treasurer) –I do not think you were libelous while discussing SPJ Code of Ethics on your blog, BUT I also do not think that the process has been unethical.

As someone who has spent long hours to help make the process more transparent, all of which as you know is voluntary, I think the process has changed and become more transparent. Could it be better? Yes, I think everything we do, you will find there is a way for it to be better. But, I also have noticed when you or others have raised complaints or issues about something, I see and saw changes.

I think sometimes what we all have to keep in mind is that all of the people involved in this process and other changes and issues in SPJ are volunteers, as you are. I truly believe everyone tries their best and is doing everything they can. I think it is OK to criticize and I love seeing processes and things improve, but the approach of how this happens is important, in my opinion. I always welcome criticism and suggestions for improvement and hope that sort of thing continues, and continues respectfully.

Matt Hall (Region 11) – I’m not sure what was said in the discussions between you and David because I wasn’t there. I respect both your rights to speak your mind and appreciate both your efforts to make the board more transparent. I see that you and David worked together to foster positive changes in the industry before this disagreement. All part of the back and forth on a board, I guess.

Ernest Owens (Region 1) – No, you are entitled to your own opinion and you openly had legitimate concerns that supported your argument. You statements had merit based on your visible findings and personally the term “libel” was inappropriately used in this case.

Paul Fletcher (president-elect) – You are asking for a legal conclusion in this question, so I decline to answer.

Jimmy McCollum (campus adviser) – No.

Gideon Grudo (at large) – You mean, “when I criticized the Code of Ethics revision process.” And: No and no.

Tony Hernandez (at large) – Not touching this one with a 10-foot pole.

Daniel Axelrod (student) – I take no stance on this question. If elected to the SPJ board of directors, this is exactly the sort of non-issue that I will strenuously avoid. The American journalism industry has been through the most tumultuous 10-year period in its history. Newspapers alone lost one in three of their newsroom employees between 2000 and 2010, according to an estimate by Rick Edmonds, Poynter’s media economist. Meanwhile, SPJ’s membership has dwindled from well in excess of 8,000 to 7,500. These are the challenges, and the backdrop for action, that the Society as it continues to both support journalism and journalists for years to come.

Jordan Gass-Poore’ (student) – No. Your blog posts weren’t damaging to SPJ’s reputation, but served as a checks and balances for the organization’s leadership, especially those who were elected based on the idea that they would help the organization continue to be an “advocate for the First Amendment and work on becoming increasingly relevant in the age of technology and innovation.” 


Patti Gallagher Newberry (Region 4) – Yes.

Rebecca Baker (Region 1) – I think the 2 at large directors have done and would continue to do a good job choosing the chapters but I wouldn’t oppose a change.

Ellen Eldridge (college student) – I believe the more people who can weigh in on an important vote the better so, yes. I’m a bit surprised to learn only two directors decide. I would have assumed the entire board voted.

Mike Reilley (campus adviser) – Yes, the entire board should vote on these. It’s an important honor and it needs broader input. We also need more clearly defined criteria for the chapter awards, particularly for the campus ones. And I say that as adviser to a student chapter that has won National Outstanding Campus Chapter of the Year twice.

Lynn Walsh (treasurer) – I would support this completely and think it is a great idea. It allows more people who may have less of a bias to make a decision on who should be awarded.

Matt Hall (Region 11) – I don’t know enough about this issue. I can see why you might want more than two people choosing victors among the various regions, but there is likely a legitimate reason it was set up this way: Maybe keeping the regional directors on the sidelines at that stage avoids conflicts of interest. Perhaps this is something to discuss among the board.

Ernest Owens (Region 1) – Yes, the entire board should because the importance of the honor should have a more diverse and larger input in the decision.

Paul Fletcher (president-elect) – You presented a well-reasoned request that we try a board-wide vote for chapters of the year for 2014. We are proceeding with that experiment. I think that was and is a good idea.

Jimmy McCollum (campus adviser) – Yes.

Gideon Grudo (at large) – I’m running to be one of these at-large directors. So on one hand I should recuse myself from this answer, but on the other hand: Yeah, two people voting on something like this is messed up, to say the least. Two people can handle the tasking task of coming up with finalists. The board can vote on the winners.

Tony Hernandez (at large) – The more eyes the better, but I don’t think the board should have to review all 12 recommendations submitted by Regional Directors for pro and student chapters, or 48 chapters in total. I think the two, at-large directors should continue to vet the RD recommendations and provide the top 3, 5, 8 or whatever recommendations for the board. If that were also the case, I think the RDs who have chapters nominated abstain from voting.

Daniel Axelrod (student) – This question represents yet another non-issue. If the present system of picking “Chapter of the Year” nominees has worked relatively well (and without many complaints), then it should be left alone. There are far more important issues for the Society to focus on. News organizations are still eviscerating their staffs. Newly minted reporters can’t get jobs. And when media companies aren’t being sold for pennies on the dollar, they’re going bankrupt. Veteran reporters need more training to adapt and thrive in the new media ecosystem. And, in the struggle between the market and the mission, all journalists also need support against corporate owners, who increasingly make questionable decisions that place profits above public service. Young reporters need more opportunities to get their feet in the door of news organizations. And news consumers need media companies to stanch the flow of reporters because the watchdogs are disappearing and democracy is threatened.

Jordan Gass-Poore’ (student) – Yes. I also support allowing all SPJ members to vote for a new set of rules prior to a revision of the organization’s code of ethics. Once a new set of rules are in place then all members should have the opportunity to vote for a new code of ethics. All interim board positions and award changes should also be voted on by the organization’s membership. 


Patti Gallagher Newberry (Region 4) – Yes.

Rebecca Baker (Region 1) – I don’t object to the presidential appointments but I wouldn’t oppose a change.

Ellen Eldridge (college student) – Yes, as long as the board members have a chance to make informed decisions and aren’t just playing eenie meanie miney mo.

Mike Reilley (campus adviser) – Yes, the board should vote on the committee chairs. There was an issue with this a few years ago with the Digital Media Committee. A board vote would help deter such issues.

Lynn Walsh (treasurer) – I would also support this. As with the suggestion in your previous question, it opens the decision up to more people who may not be as close to the person being appointed, making the decision less bias in the end.

Matt Hall (Region 11) – Not at this point. Many organizations allow presidents to appoint committee chairs, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable. I’d be happy to listen to arguments on either side if there is a debate on this, but it seems to me that the bylaws give the president that authority, and members get a chance to elect a president they believe will follow the spirit and letter of those bylaws to the best of his or her abilities.

Ernest Owens (Region 1) – The board should appoint these members because they will all have to work with these individuals, not just the president, and that is important. Plus, American history has taught us about the ills of the ‘spoils’ system and how former president Andrew Jackson used to abuse his presidential privilege when appointed his friends to cabinet. This should not be happening at SPJ!

Paul Fletcher (president-elect) – Ever since Andy Schotz asked me this question early last month, I have said I have no problem with some form of confirmation process for board chairs. While there is no requirement (and imposing one would mean a bylaws amendment), incoming President Dana Neuts will be submitting her chair choices voluntarily to the board in September for their consideration.

Jimmy McCollum (campus adviser) – Yes.

Gideon Grudo (at large) – Yes, but this is low on my totem pole, and its implementation could get kinda dicey. I just hope that committee members don’t quit if a chair ain’t pulling his or her weight, but instead take action to remedy the issue.

Tony Hernandez (at large) – I think President-elect Dana Neuts is planning to submit her committee chair appointments for board review, and she doesn’t have to do that. She asked me last month what I thought about the issue. Here’s a portion of my response:

“I’m in agreement with you about having the board ratify a president’s selection of chairs and vice chairs. However I would hope you (and future presidents) provide enough information to justify the selection of the chairs/vice chairs. I don’t need a life’s story or full professional breakdown. Maybe SPJ can create a boilerplate form/application for all chair/vice chair candidates to fill out and send to the board.

I’m also in agreement the board doesn’t need to waste time selecting 100-plus committee members, but that doesn’t mean the board shouldn’t be informed of who our boots-on-the-ground committee volunteers are. It took me a few minutes, but I eventually found the committees page on SPJ.org. Some committees have bios on all members, other just have emails and job title. … My suggestion would be, once the board ratifies committee chairs (if that’s the route we choose to go) those committee leaders would have a one-month deadline to compile information on their members for the board and the public.”

Daniel Axelrod (student) – Once again, this question misses the mark by a mile. Any board member who views this as an “issue,” let alone a pressing concern, is lost in the minutiae of trivial procedural matters. What can SPJ do to best serve journalists, and the journalism industry, in the digital age? That’s the operative question. If SPJ doesn’t focus on that question, there will be no chapters, committees and bylaws (or very weak ones). In the meantime, I see nothing wrong with SPJ’s president nominating the leaders of the organization’s committees. If the President of the United States can pick his cabinet secretaries, why can’t SPJ’s president appoint good, competent folks to serve the organization?

Jordan Gass-Poore’ (student) – Yes. I believe this helps provide more people with more opportunities to have a voice in SPJ.


• I don’t care if these candidates agree with me. (I don’t always agree with myself.) I only care if they took a stand or weaseled out of one. I know I’m not always right, and the best way for a loudmouth like me to realize I’m wrong is to engage in rigorous, dispassionate debate – you know, sorta like how journalists are supposed to do their jobs. Then, win or lose, we should go drink and laugh. Also like journalists are supposed to do.

• Journalists make lousy politicians. When we cover elections, we try like hell to force candidates to reveal what they really think. Yet when journalists run for SPJ office, they try like hell to be vapid and vague. I appreciate the candidates above who gave short, sharp answers.

• Controversy is good for SPJ. Want to boost both SPJ’s membership and its competitive races for the board? Embrace the hot topics and hard choices. We’re journalists, not podiatrists.


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Libeling SPJ

This blog post might be libelous. My last couple were, according to SPJ’s president.

I’ve been writing about the secretive way SPJ’s leaders are revising the organization’s Code of Ethics. After my last post, SPJ president Dave Cuillier called me and said I was “libeling SPJ.”

Before I recount that strange conversation, let me commit more crimes…

SPJ continues to unethically update its Code of Ethics.

On Saturday, the Ethics Code “working group” met in Ohio to keep discussing their revisions. After I blasted SPJ’s top leaders for not telling the board of directors (or anyone) it was spending up to $11,000 on this gathering, Cuillier promised it would be open and live-streamed.

It was. But SPJ waited till less than 24 hours before the meeting to tell anyone how to tune in. And it never told its membership anything: Wednesday afternoon, in its weekly newsletter to its 7,500 members, SPJ didn’t mention the meeting at all.

Thursday night, I emailed my fellow SPJ national board members and asked if the meeting was still on for Saturday – because no one had told us anything for weeks.

The answer from Cuillier was yes. After I complained it hadn’t been publicized at all, the meeting was announced on an interior page of SPJ’s website late Friday morning. A single tweet went out Friday afternoon.

(Privately, Cuillier emailed me, “The meeting has been advertised for some time – months – through various modes.” When I asked for links to those “modes,” he sent me this. Scroll down to the third-to-last entry.)

The meeting itself lived down to its promotion.

So much for “transparency.”

First, the meeting agenda didn’t include any names, and the live stream camera wasn’t placed to include everyone. So you couldn’t tell who was talking, and you didn’t know who they were.

They never introduced themselves at the beginning of the meeting, so I availed myself of this: “You are invited to participate in the process before, during and after the meeting in the comments section below.”

After the first 10 minutes, I posted…

Who’s talking right now? Who’s in the room? Any chance you’re going to introduce yourselves so the viewers who learned about this live stream yesterday can figure out what’s going on?

After 20 more minutes, I posted again…

Is anyone reading your comments? Can you please introduce yourselves? Who’s talking?

I tried again after 90 minutes. No reply. Instead, they watched a slideshow that couldn’t be read from the camera view, and they read handouts that weren’t shared online.

As this group of an unknown number started rewriting the Code on a computer hooked up to a projector, a commenter asked, “Is it possible to reposition the camera to focus on what’s being written? At this point, the language is more important than seeing the people at the table.”

After 2 1/2 hours, the camera finally moved in front of the screen. After 5 1/2 hours, they introduced themselves. Telling you this will probably earn me another weird phone call from SPJ’s president.

“You’re libeling SPJ, Michael.”

On June 24, SPJ president Dave Cuillier called me, and we spoke for an hour and 15 minutes. He was mad about the blog post I wrote the day before, and the one I wrote the week before that. Both accused SPJ of revising its Code of Ethics in less-than-transparent ways.

When Cuillier uttered the accusation above, I asked him for specifics.

“Well, Michael, you wrote: SPJ is revising its Code of Ethics in a most unethical way. That’s libel, in my opinion.”

I was stunned.

“Really, Dave? Are you threatening me or something?”

He sighed.

“You know, Michael, you can twist this any way you want, which I know you’re gonna do.”

“How do I twist You’re libeling SPJ, Dave? Do I need to get a lawyer here?”

Another audible sigh.

“I didn’t say that at all. But you just keep writing all this wrong stuff…”

His voice trailed off. I told him I wouldn’t write more “stuff” if nothing else stupid happened.

“I get it, Michael. We all get what you’re saying. I’ve told you that next month’s meeting will be very, very open. You just need to stop now.”

“OK, Dave. I’m done. If everything goes well from here on out, I’ll shut up for a while.”

That didn’t last long. Anyone know a good lawyer?

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