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Poynter Online - War News in Final Days: How KSTP Decided to Roll Tape
Joey, I think we've been to the place they're talking about.

That's what Dean Staley told Joe Caffrey after reading last Monday's New York Times account of explosives reportedly missing from a munitions facility in U.S.-occupied Iraq. The statement began a chain of events that resulted in politically charged video being broadcast nationally less than a week before Election Day.

Staley... was a reporter for KSTP-TV in the Twin Cities when he covered last year's invasion of Iraq. He and Caffrey, a veteran KSTP photojournalist, were embedded with the Army's 101st Airborne Division when it moved north from Kuwait into Baghdad, stopping along the way near a site called Al-Qaqaa.

Poynter Online wanted to understand and share with journalists the news judgment that resulted in these decisions

Riveting read
On a kind of journalism I thought dead, smothered by Bush&Co

The decision to air the tape
[Staley and Caffrey] don't get to talk much since Staley left for his new job earlier this year. But Staley called Caffrey because the location of the facility described by the Times seemed familiar.

They agreed by phone that Caffrey would look through his field tapes from April 2003, and that Staley would look over his notes, to determine if what they thought they remembered matched up with the site in the news.

That was Tuesday night, one week before Election Day.

The KSTP find is significant because it indicates that explosives were still at the site after the war began -- and because it shows two American soldiers looking over the material and leaving it apparently unsecured.

KSTP reports Saturday that the video shows "our crew was at Al-Qaqaa. We can also report that at least one of the bunkers our crew saw there contained the high explosive HMX. That is the same type of explosive missing in Iraq, and an ingredient used to manufacture nuclear weapons.

The KSTP footage also highlights possible implications of embedding journalists with military units. Staley says he and Caffrey never would have seen the bunkers at Al-Qaqaa had they not been embedded.

As Staley reviewed his notes after calling Caffrey this past Tuesday, he says he found global positioning satellite coordinates which indicate that he and Caffrey were indeed in the area of Al-Qaqaa on April 18, 2003.

Wednesday morning, Caffrey took their findings to KSTP-TV news director Chris Berg. That night at 10, the station aired its first report using the video, and within 24 hours news organizations everywhere were chasing the station's exclusive story.

Berg, who watched the tape for the first time Wednesday afternoon, praises Staley and Caffrey for keeping "meticulous records." Staley says he had begun noting GPS coordinates with every move he and Caffrey made in Iraq -- not for reporting purposes, but to ensure that they could find their way back to their unit if they became separated.

Berg quickly got his boss involved in the decision of how to handle what he knew could be, literally and figuratively, explosive material. Rob Hubbard is not only general manager of KSTP, he's a member of the family that owns the station, and several other properties that make up Hubbard Broadcasting.

"We talked about what we had been doing to try to confirm or deny or figure out what we had," Hubbard says. "We broadened our search for possible contacts" and experts to analyze and comment on the video.

"Most people didn't want to talk to us."

That, Hubbard says, included the Pentagon, the Minnesota National Guard, independent consultants, and weapons manufacturing companies. Some potential sources at first agreed, he says, and then changed their minds because of the political ramifications.

Hubbard says the proximity of Election Day made the process harder. "If it had been three weeks before the election, we might have spent three weeks working on it," he says. "The last thing we want to do is to put something out there that is taken wrong or out of context ...

"We were very careful not to draw conclusions."

"Every word was scrutinized," says Berg.

Hubbard says he gave final approval to the script 10 to 15 minutes before KSTP's 10 p.m. newscast Wednesday. Until then, he says, "there was still a question of, 'Do we hold this until tomorrow?'

KSTP's biggest story in years led the station's late newscast without ever having been promoted on air -- a rarity in local television news. In this case, the station couldn't capitalize on the marketing opportunity, Hubbard says. "We couldn't promote it because we didn't know what, if anything, we would have. If we would have had a story confirmed earlier, we would have run a promo."

Hubbard says the question of how to handle the story was a tough call: "We just considered everything we possibly could and made a decision, not on whether it would or wouldn't have an impact, but on whether what we had was important for people to know ...

"If this would have been (next) Monday at 10 p.m., I don't know that we would have run it," Hubbard says. "There's no reasonable chance to put it in context."

Even with several days left in the campaign, he adds, "This is something that's not going to get the best of context by Election Day."

But under the circumstances, according to Hubbard, there was never any consideration of suppressing the story -- despite his family's widely-known conservative politics and record of campaign contributions to Republican politicians

Hubbard says he made the decision on his own, with the best information available to him -- and with only one stop outside the newsroom: at the office of his father, who officially has handed over the family business to the next generation, but who remains a strong presence and clear voice in the company's operations.

Originally posted to lawnorder on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 03:00 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A Pulitzer Prize here? (4.00)
    Excellent background on this piece.

    From the the moment I saw their video, I knew they had "the goods on Bush".

    Their follow-up video is even more revealing.

    Don't have the links, but maybe someone else will add to this thread.


    I am an American living in Limerick Ireland for the past 20 years.  Never voted - UNTIL THIS YEAR!  While I was at the US Embassy in Dublin, several other ex-pats were picking up absentee ballots at the same time.  One woman wispered to me "the most disgraceful president of all times".  I smiled and agreed.  We were BOTH referring to Bush.

    Oh and I'm also a former US marine with two tours of duty in Viet Nam, Have 3 daughters, 2 grandaughters, and have been in a loving relationship with my gay partner for the last 7 years.

    Kerry WILL win on Tuesday.

    "When the press is free, and all men(and women) can read, Democracy is safe"

  •  My hat's off (4.00)
    for KSTP! Shows the importance of an independent press. Although they are - what I remember - a small affiliate of ABC they made up their own minds. Let's give them our appreciation for that!
    •  Amazing (none)
      Thank you so much for pointing out this analysis.  I live in Minnesota, most of my years were in St. Paul.  I worked for many years in Mpls. in a lawoffice very familiar with the Hubbard family.  Very, very strong republicans.

      When this story first aired I posted warnings about trusting Ron Hubbard because of his very close ties to republican hierarchy.  But that both senior and junior Hubbards made the decision to air this means that even at the top rungs of republican leadership there are misgivings about Bush.  I do not believe for a second that if they really were behind Bush 100% they would have aired this story.  Good journalism or not.

      This speaks volumes of where real true republicans stand in support of bush.  They will never say anything out loud, but in the privacy of the voting booth we may be in for a wee bit of surprise.

    •  KSTP (none)
      and these reporters are heroes in my book.

      Proud member of the reality-based community.

      by Unstable Isotope on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 05:00:39 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It is startling (4.00)
    that we would consider the job the reporters and management at KSTP did with regard to this story to be outstanding when they operated in the tradition of what both broadcast journalism and reponsible stewardship of the piblic airways is supposed to be.
    The policies of both the FCC and the Congress with regard to ownership rules have proven devistating to the public interest in this election cycle. While KSTP is to be commended, I am reminded of the story that found Henry David Thoreau in jail for failure to pay taxes he felt supported slavery. Ralph Waldo Emerson came to see him in jail and asked "What are you doing in there?". And Thoreau replied, "What are you doing out there?". These broadcast conglomerates have to be broken up.
    •  Our appreciation (none)
      of KSTP doing this story equates to our appreciation of Thoreau's "What are you doing out there?"
    •  telling the truth (none)
      under this administration is rare, dangerous and most definitely to be commended.
      No disrespect intended, we also consider Thoreau to be a hero.
      As a matter of fact, truth in the face of supression and oppression is the most difficult and commendable task that faces any individual or company.

      'not every oil-burning Bush is God.'

      by denig on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 06:51:35 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The media is being cowed by both sides (4.00)
       I'm convinced  the polarization in the country is destroying  what little independence remains in the media. Here at dKos, I fear that we are unwittingly helping that destruction.  
       Sinclair Broadcasting was a great example. While it was important to stop their partisan tactics, it has come with a heavy price. We wrote the most effective playbook ever written on how to censor a broadcast. The wingers were watching and learning. The attack on the stock price and the possibility of shareholder lawsuits got EVERYBODY'S attention.
       We sent a clear signal to other companies that controversy is to be avoided at all costs. Kos mentioned this last week when he commented on the future of newspaper endorsements. No matter who you endorse, you're going to tick off people and possibly advertisers. I just finished a diary wherein the author lamented the paper's endorsement of Bush and oh, by the way, I just cancelled by subscription.
       CBS sent a clear signal of just how bad it's getting when Sumner Redstone, head of Viacom, personally ordered that the forged uranium document story be postponed till after the election. At the time he was quoted as saying that his first duty is to protect Viacom. And this was before Sinclair.
       Advertisers are caught in a no win situation. If they advertise on a show whose content some group doesn't like they're hit with an organized campaign to pull their dollars.  
       Here at dKos, I'd really like to see a in-depth  discussion about this trend and it's implications. We could do it when we start our post-morts AFTER the election.
       In the meantime GOTV and set your clocks back.  

    Moderation, the noblest gift of heaven. - Euripedes

    by recentdemocrat on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 06:33:24 AM PST

    •  this will be a facinating discussion~ (none)
      As you pointed out, Viacom was doing this crap BEFORE Sinclair. The pepugs have BEEN doing this, we have only just begun.
      And GOOD if people boycott. Perhaps media and Companies will have to base their descisions on something besides the almighty buck.


      'not every oil-burning Bush is God.'

      by denig on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 07:04:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  in the Marketplace of Ideas... (none)
      bloggers rule.

      Newspapers, television and radio have always been beholden to their advertisers.

      Consumers and citizens can march with their feet. That's all we've got.

      Gosh, I don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden

      by willyr on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 07:13:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  problems with Big Media (4.00)
      God, I love newspapers.  I love starting my day, however early, with a few cups of coffee and the local rag.  Sundays really seem like Sundays when I have a nice, thick, ad-packed Sunday paper and 4 cups of coffee.  But I just can't support, any longer, media that stays on the Team no matter how much it hurts the Common Good.  This is the big issue to me - old fashioned print and TV journalism, not to mention radio "journalism", is now designed to make money at any cost.  The only place I can find anything that criticizes the "Team" is on line.  I think what we need is a big, and serious discussion about Big Media without Big Media.  We also need media, available nationally and locally, to put the Common Good first, like they used to.  And the Common Good requires more than movie listings and store sales.
    •  I don't agree (none)
      Sinclair tried to do everything that good journalism is AGAINST:

      • A one sided view
      • No investigative work (what little there was, was worth shiite)
      • No respect for the public: Shoved down the program on their throat

      All sides should do what we did to prevent another Sinclair from doing it if not for decency's sake, then for money's sake

      You want the Truth ? You can't handle the Truth ! ~~~~ See my blog here~~~~

      by lawnorder on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 09:02:39 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Also fron the Poynter site (4.00)

        1. What do I know? What do I need to know?

        2. What is my journalistic purpose?

        3. What are my ethical concerns?

        4. What organizational policies and professional guidelines should I consider?

        5. How can I include other people, with different perspectives and diverse ideas, in the decision-making process?

        6. Who are the stakeholders -- those affected by my decision? What are their motivations? Which are legitimate?

        7. What if the roles were reversed? How would I feel if I were in the shoes of one of the stakeholders?

        8. What are the possible consequences of my actions? Short term? Long term?

        9. What are my alternatives to maximize my truth-telling responsibility and minimize harm?

        10. Can I clearly and fully justify my thinking and my decision? To my colleagues? To the stakeholders? To the public?

        Ethics Tool: Decisions on Deadline

        Great site to check out, BTW

        You want the Truth ? You can't handle the Truth ! ~~~~ See my blog here~~~~

        by lawnorder on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 09:20:32 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  An Important Idea (4.00)
      Here at dKos, I'd really like to see a in-depth  discussion about this trend and it's implications. We could do it when we start our post-morts AFTER the election.

      After the parties and the confetti and the champaign there will soon come a time when we will have to perform what we in the army call an After Action Review.  We must ask ourselves what happened, and what was supposed to happen.  What did we do right and what can we do better.
      This AAR MUST include a discussion of ethics.  We all pat ourselves on the back for our contribution to the Sinclair episode, but we should ask ourselves how effective we really were.  We need to ask ourselves: How, and under what circumstances, should we ever do this again?
      We needed to do a lot of things during this election.  We got down in the mud quite a bit.  Our opposition lives and works there, so we had to do it.
      I have been angry and righteous and a lot of other feelings I've needed to feel to keep going, but I haven't been clean in a long time.  I want to feel clean again.  I have become what I have beheld, and I am content that I have done right.  But I'm not clean.  We must do the right things not only to win, but for the right reasons.
      We, who would fight monsters, must take care that we do not become monsters ourselves.
  •  KSTP has learned a bit (none)
    KSTP used to be a pretty good broadcast in the Twin Cities market.  But they've long been overshadowed by WCCO(CBS) and KARE(NBC).  But as the news over the years has become more and more juvenile.  LIVE AT 10!  WHY EATING POTATO CHIPS MAY NOT BE GOOD FOR YOUR DIET!  And as they lost further ratings, they finally started to wake up.

    Perhaps they are on the forefront of a rejuvination of the news back to what it was before Barbara Walters destroyed it.

    Earlier this year KSTP hired back the most well known man in Twin Cities broadcast journalism, to help them change their image and attitude.

    It's not who you think...

    They brought in Lou Grant from the Mary Tyler Moore show, i.e. Ed Asner.

    It's an encouraging sign, a willingness to go against the mainstream flow of crap.  I hope it works.

    "If any question why we died, Tell them, because our fathers lied." - Rudyard Kipling, 1918

    by Steve4Clark on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 07:06:43 AM PST

  •  thank you to the parties responsible (none)
    as someone with a very conflicting future ahead, with journalism as a possibility with my budding interest and subsequent contributions to my college paper, the ethics involved in the construction of this story relieves the anger and pain i've felt toward the media these past few years.  it gives hope that maybe there are those who are doing their jobs despite all the obstacles.

    "The war that is necessary is just and hallowed are the arms where no hope exists but in them." - Levy

    by mischief managed on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 07:18:38 AM PST

  •  That does it!!!! (none)
    Only Fox reporters will be embedded in future Republican wars.

    "That transmitter on his back is SO full of crap" - Randi Rhodes

    by Doug in SF on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 07:28:22 AM PST

  •  Wow (none)
    Hubbard's process is a happy reminder that there are good eggs on both sides of the aisle.

    There's going to be one nation again.

    My God, it's going to be beautiful. :)

    Terrorists smell weakness - That's why they attacked when Bush was president

    by cskendrick on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 07:40:16 AM PST

  •  "Most people didn't want to talk to us" (none)
    That quote just about sums it up, no?
    The fact that the Pentagon, weapons manufacturers et al did not want to have anything to do with the broadcast of this story tells much about the political climate.  Eisenhower did not know how correct he was when he warned his fellow citizens about the power of the 'military industrial complex'.

    Bravo to KSTP for having the cojones to do the patriotic thing, politics/election be damned.

  •  Fantastic follow up (none)
    Thanks for the great detail for the context of what led up to this reporting.

    This demonstrates exactly why journalists have a responsibility, too infrequently practiced, to uphold their profession's code of ethics.

    It also shows that there really are people, in spite of their political persuasions, who do what's right for the knowledge of the people. And I'd like to think that it's people like us here in the Midwest who consistently do what's right -- that's why Kerry will take Minnesota in a big way  ;-)

    Chaos. It's not just a theory.

    by PBnJ on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 08:17:21 AM PST

  •  The FCC needs complete overhaul! (4.00)
    I think that the last thing we (the citizens of the US, and even the world) need is to have the FCC continue to operate is it is currently structured. Like many, there is so much that I never understood prior to following this campaign, and more specifically, the chaos created by the current administration.

    The FCC is designed to be controlled by the party in power, when it actually needs to be an non-partisan agency.


    The FCC is directed by five Commissioners appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for 5-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term. The President designates one of the Commissioners to serve as Chairperson. Only three Commissioners may be members of the same political party. None of them can have a financial interest in any Commission-related business. As the chief executive officer of the Commission, the Chairman delegates management and administrative responsibility to the Managing Director. The Commissioners supervise all FCC activities, delegating responsibilities to staff units and Bureaus."

    Perhaps a movement to re-structure/re-organize the FCC is every bit as important as overhauling the intelligence community in Washington.

    Unfortunately, that will probably be impossible until we have a more balanced House and Senate. The MEDIA and the lack of accountability are a major contributor to the potential death of our democracy.
    (Note that this is my first attempt at linking text!)

    "They deported Cat Stevens and Martha Stewart is going to jail.......but they can't find Osama Bin Laden.  I feel so much safer."  -David Letterman

    by kbadsinmisery on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 08:20:19 AM PST

  •  This makes me wonder ... (none)
    how many other reporters may have had the same story, but had it spiked by their management.

    Can you imagine CNN doing something like this? I can't.

    "Bush too evil even for me", Great Old One says

    by Jon Meltzer on Sun Oct 31, 2004 at 08:37:05 AM PST

  •  These guys... (none)
    ...are the Woodward and Bernstein of the Bush administration.
  •  Somewhere Paul Wellstone is smiling. (4.00)

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