01 October 2007


Sister Soldier: A Chronicle of Life After Iraq
Part X

The year and a half of research, interviews and material posted on this blog about some soldiers returning from Iraq with rare forms of cancer, linked to the inhalation and ingestion of Depleted Uranium while in theatre. Was researched and used by Arizona Daily Star reporter, Carla McClain for her own gains, without crediting the sources; me, my work, my sources or this blog for her feature that ran two weeks after my NY Sun feature.

She exploited the relationships I cultivated with the soldiers while I was at Walter Reed caring for my sister, a Chaplain Captain who was herself diagnosed with a rare stage IV cancer post Iraq. What this reporter did was manipulative and unforgivable, nevermind unethical.

As a freelancer I have faced a media blackout on the subject of cancer amongst soldiers post Iraq, and have posted it here. I will do all I can to protect my work, and in doing so, a few warriors in journalism aligned themselves with me to make a wrong right. They have aided me in my fight for justice. Below is the Media Watch column in which the battle of attribution appeared. ---RBS



Media Watch
'Star,' 'New York Sun' Engage in War of Attribution

A simple phrase--"as reported in The New York Sun"--might have saved weeks of headaches for the Arizona Daily Star.

Star management and the desk editor of The New York Sun engaged in a series of e-mail disagreements as a result of an investigative piece penned by Star reporter Carla McClain, "Cancer in Iraq Vets Raises Possibility of Toxic Exposure," that ran on Sunday, Aug. 26.

The point of contention: The Sun ran a story on the same theme on Aug. 6. "Veterans' Rare Cancers Raise Fears of Toxic Battlefields" [posted in its entirety below]. The reporter, freelance journalist R. B. Stuart, operates two blog Web sites (sistersoldier.blogspot.com and operationpurpleheart.blogspot.com) that have tackled the connection between depleted uranium and cancer cases among Iraq war veterans. The Stuart story included an interview with Dixie Lauderdale, a Tucson widow whose husband died of cancer, and a Florida man, Frank Valentin, an Iraq veteran with cancer. Those two interview sources were also featured in the McClain story that went to print 20 days after The Sun feature, largely tackled by the Star because of the Tucson connection.

It is important to note that McClain personally interviewed Lauderdale and Valentin. The issue at hand, and the area of contention, is not McClain's work, but the failure to attribute The New York Sun as a source in the investigative process.

The Star stands behind McClain's actions, and The Sun and Stuart remain irked at what they view as a condescending attitude on the part of the Star.

"One of my concerns was that the material would be lifted from me, and I'd never receive credit," said Stuart.

But how much credit does Stuart, or The Sun, merit? It's clear that Stuart's work was instrumental in the Star's discovery of the story, but McClain did all of the reporting herself. Is that the same as a news organization reading a story from, say, The Associated Press, or a competing newspaper, and then tracking down the information? Is it the same as what numerous electronic-media outlets do, rehashing much of what was first reported in the local papers, and perhaps eventually tracking down the subjects themselves?

But the investigative nature of McClain's story, and Stuart's assertion that she was told she would be credited during her conversation with McClain, make this an interesting case. So much so that Andy Schotz, the chairman of the ethics committee at the Society of Professional Journalists, at the very least believes there's reason for concern--and that Stuart may have a reason to feel slighted.

"I recently went through an interesting exercise as part of a seminar," said Schotz via e-mail. "We were given a hypothetical case of being beaten by our competing newspaper on breaking news their reporter witnessed, but no other media saw. The AP picked up the story, rewrote it (citing the newspaper that first reported it) and put it on the wire."

So, now what? How should the paper that was scooped attribute the story? To the AP? The competition? Or does the paper skip both and replicate the story itself, giving no other credit?

"If it were breaking news--something that you found out first, but will be common knowledge, easily learned once you report it--the competition likely would follow up the next day with its own story. That's pretty straightforward. If it goes through what I call 'The AP Filter,' and a competitor picks it up on the same news cycle, I think, out of fairness and decency, you need to credit the news organization that broke the news.

"I would put investigative work such as R. B. Stuart's in a different category. The Star's editor disputed my label of 'investigative,' arguing that there have been many stories about depleted uranium. That might be so, but I did a quick search and didn't see much written about returning soldiers whose cancer might have been connected to DU, with their stories. Even if there have been, Stuart did a good job in finding new stories, because of her sister's involvement. Maybe 'enterprise' is a better label? My point is that it wasn't a quick, easy daily story that the Star followed up on.

"By including Stuart in the research for the story--it was her work, her blog, her sources--it seems fair, and better yet, decent, to give her credit. That is not the same thing as telling a source whether he or she will be in a story.

"In this case, Stuart said she was told she would be credited. Why break that promise? Why make that promise? Or is Stuart mistaken? R.B.'s participation in the Star's research seemed to be implicitly based on getting credit."

An e-mail from Lauderdale to Stuart suggests there may be validity to that claim.

"I just talked with Carla and thanked her for the article," the e-mail from Lauderdale to Stuart said. "Sorry to tell you that when I asked her about not mentioning you by name and your interview that that was due to physical restraints, that she didn't have enough room to include all she wanted. I cannot tell you how sorry I am she didn't mention you, your research, your article. I pray that you will get the credit you deserve, hopefully another article telling the origin of the news stories."

Here is the Star's response, in full and via e-mail, from executive editor Bobbie Jo Buel:

"Carla McClain's reporting is ethical. This is the background:

"A reader who saw R. B. Stuart's story told Carla McClain about it because it included Tucsonan James Lauderdale. The issue of whether depleted uranium is causing cancer and other illnesses in Iraq war veterans has been widely reported since at least 2004. We've published wire stories and one other local story on the controversy ourselves. It was also an issue with vets of the Persian Gulf War in the 1990s.

"What was new to us in Stuart's story was Lauderdale's death. We didn't know a Tucson soldier and his family had been affected by this issue. McClain contacted the widow, Dixie Lauderdale, and set up an interview. In preparation, McClain read multiple news stories about depleted uranium, including Stuart's. She eventually interviewed Stuart and others.

"When it came time to write, McClain realized that she had too much material to write a story of reasonable length. She kept the three local sources--Mrs. Lauderdale, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva and UA Cancer Center doctor Harinder Garewal. She kept Floridian Frank Valentin because he is an Iraq vet who has cancer. She dropped Stuart because Stuart's personal connection was through her sister, a vet from New Hampshire who also has cancer. If McClain had included Stuart in her story, she certainly would have said that Stuart is both the sister of a cancer victim and a reporter who's written about depleted uranium.

"It isn't journalistic practice to tell sources what will or won't appear in a story before it's published. In hindsight, given Stuart's very personal connection to this story, we might have made an exception and let her know that we weren't going to use her interview. We appreciate the time she took to talk with us."

Shortly after the Star story ran, Stuart engaged in an e-mail campaign, hoping to get the ear of anyone who would listen. She got the support of Sun desk editor M. George Stevenson, who sent a series of e-mails to, among others, Star managing editor Teri Hayt. Hayt's responses were similar to Buel's official statement, but it was what Stevenson viewed as the condescending tone of the e-mails that caught Stevenson by surprise.

"Having spent my entire career at major New York-area dailies (New York Newsday, the N.Y. Daily News and, now, the Sun), I've encountered a person or two over the years who didn't believe a story existed until they found out about it," said Stevenson via e-mail. "But the e-mail I got from Ms. Hayt at the Star is the first time anyone has tried to convince me that a story that--denotatively--began because their reporter said they had read my reporter's article was the result of wholly independent enterprise.

"Such spinning is not only dishonest, it's insulting, both to my intelligence and R.B.'s hard work and long-term efforts to bring this story to a wider audience.

"And what is the point? All the Star's stonewalling has done is create ill will and bad publicity--it's a page from the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Handbook of Public Relations. As I said to Nicholas Wapshott, the Sun's national and international editor, in describing the situation to him, if I wasn't angry before I started dealing directly with the Star, I certainly was afterward."

Said Schotz with the SPJ, "I'm not sure it's written anywhere that you must give credit in that situation, but I'd say it's the much better choice. Think about having a unique enterprise story, and its significance, and think about the ownership you would have if you had produced that level and depth of work.

"The strangest part, to me, is how simple the solution is--mentioning R. B. Stuart, since the Star took the information about Lauderdale from her. All it would have taken is something like, 'as reported by R. B. Stuart in The New York Sun on Aug. 6.'"


Tucson Weekly Print Friendly: http://www.tucsonweekly.com/gbase/Currents/Content?oid=100292

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Anonymous Marigold said...

You write very well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008 10:06:00 AM  

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