Ar­ti­cle missed im­por­tant facts

Sunday Star - - OPINION -

A front page ar­ti­cle in the Dec. 19, 2018, print edi­tion of

The Star Demo­crat (“Tal­bot coun­cil as­signs mem­bers”) did not in­clude two im­por­tant facts that helps re­fute re­cent con­cerns by some that “bloc vot­ing” will be the norm on the Tal­bot County Coun­cil.

This ar­ti­cle failed to re­port that Coun­cil­man Pete Lesher pub­licly stated his agree­ment with Coun­cil­man Frank Divilio’s sug­ges­tion that dis­cus­sion on ap­pli­cants for ap­point­ments to boards and com­mit­tees should be done in ex­ec­u­tive (pri­vate) ses­sion. The ar­ti­cle also failed to re­port that such dis­cus­sions have al­ways been done in ex­ec­u­tive (pri­vate) ses­sions. Whether these omis­sions were in­ten­tional or due to a re­porter at the meet­ing not pay­ing at­ten­tion to the coun­cil pro­ceed­ings and not know­ing his­tor­i­cal prece­dent, one has to won­der about the com­mit­ment of The Star

Demo­crat to ac­cu­racy in their re­port­ing.

One also has to won­der whether or not omit­ting im­por­tant facts is an ex­am­ple of a de­lib­er­ate ef­fort to present in­for­ma­tion that un­fairly por­trays cer­tain coun­cil mem­bers in a neg­a­tive light while in­clud­ing grand­stand­ing com­ments by an­other coun­cil mem­ber on the need for “trans­parency.” While The Star Demo­crat did post a re­vised and more ac­cu­rate ar­ti­cle on their on­line ver­sion, I have yet to see a cor­rec­tion in­cluded in any print edi­tions. Ac­cord­ingly, all those who only read the print ver­sion of the ar­ti­cle are likely un­aware that the orig­i­nal ar­ti­cle was in­com­plete and mis­lead­ing.

Go­ing for­ward, Tal­bot Count (sic) cit­i­zens need to be very cau­tious on mak­ing as­sump­tions or draw­ing con­clu­sions based on any in­for­ma­tion in­cluded in the print and/ or dig­i­tal edi­tions of The Star Demo­crat. DAVID REEL

Easton Ed­i­tor’s note: The ar­ti­cle Mr. Reel cites (which ac­tu­ally ap­peared in the Dec. 20 print edi­tion, not Dec. 19) did not list Coun­cil­man Pete Lesher as join­ing Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Corey Pack, Vice Pres­i­dent Chuck Cal­la­han and Coun­cil­man Frank Divilio in sup­port of dis­cussing com­mit­tee as­sign­ments for county coun­cil mem­bers and ap­pli­cants for boards and com­mit­tees in closed ses­sion.

When that omis­sion was brought to our at­ten­tion, the on­line ver­sion of the story was up­dated, and a clar­i­fi­ca­tion was pub­lished in the Dec. 23 print edi­tion. That’s what any good news­pa­per does.

Mr. Reel couches the lan­guage of his let­ter by writ­ing that he has yet to see a cor­rec­tion in print — leav­ing open the pos­si­bil­ity he had missed it — but the let­ter’s over­all tone and lan­guage, his pro­posed head­line (which we did not use) and his de­ci­sion to sub­mit the let­ter to a lo­cal on­line news out­let sug­gest the real point was to ma­lign this news­pa­per.

To the best of my knowl­edge, Mr. Reel made no at­tempt — at any time be­tween Dec. 20, when the ar­ti­cle was pub­lished, and Jan. 2, when he sub­mit­ted his let­ter to us and

else­where — to con­tact us con­cern­ing the omis­sion of Mr. Lesher in the ini­tial print ver­sion of the story or to ask if we had printed a clar­i­fi­ca­tion or cor­rec­tion.

If his con­cern truly is about al­lay­ing “re­cent con­cerns by some that ‘bloc vot­ing’ will be the norm on the Tal­bot County Coun­cil,” why not con­tact us soon af­ter the ar­ti­cle was pub­lished to make us aware of the omis­sion or to ask us to cor­rect or clar­ify the story?

In­stead, Mr. Reel, a vet­eran of pub­lic re­la­tions and po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, slyly sug­gests — with­out directly stat­ing — that The Star Demo­crat was de­lib­er­ately slant­ing its news cov­er­age of the Tal­bot County Coun­cil.

Let’s be clear: There is not now and — to the best of my knowl­edge in nearly 25 years at this pa­per — never has been a “de­lib­er­ate ef­fort” to “un­fairly por­tray” any­one in any man­ner in the news cov­er­age of The Star Demo­crat.

One could won­der whether or not Mr. Reel’s let­ter is an ex­am­ple of a de­lib­er­ate ef­fort to un­fairly por­tray this news­pa­per in a neg­a­tive light.

One could won­der whether that ef­fort to un­fairly por­tray this news­pa­per in a neg­a­tive light stems from the re­cent cam­paign for Tal­bot County Coun­cil, in which Mr. Reel was in­volved with the Com­mon Sense Tal­bot PAC, which sup­ported the elec­tion of Jen­nifer Wil­liams, Corey Pack, Chuck Cal­la­han and Frank Divilio.

One also could won­der whether that ef­fort to un­fairly por­tray this news­pa­per in a neg­a­tive light is part of a longterm strat­egy by Mr. Reel and some of his col­leagues on the Re­pub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of Tal­bot County, as well as his as­so­ci­ates at Com­mon Sense Tal­bot, who have at­tacked The Star Demo­crat on so­cial me­dia at var­i­ous times in re­cent months.

What is par­tic­u­larly trou­bling to us con­cern­ing Mr. Reel’s base­less at­tack is an ap­par­ent false claim in a pre­vi­ous let­ter from him. That let­ter con­cerned a guest com­ment sub­mit­ted un­der the name of Nick Panuzio, chair­man of the Re­pub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of Tal­bot County.

The Star Demo­crat did not pub­lish that piece. It was sent from a dif­fer­ent email ad­dress than the one typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with Mr. Panuzio, and we were un­able to reach him for con­fir­ma­tion that he ei­ther had sub­mit­ted it or had au­tho­rized its sub­mis­sion by some­one else.

We have had a long­stand­ing re­la­tion­ship with Mr. Panuzio in his role as the cen­tral com­mit­tee chair­man, have pub­lished nu­mer­ous guest com­ments sub­mit­ted by him and are well aware of his usual prac­tices when sub­mit­ting a let­ter or guest com­ment to us for pub­li­ca­tion, none of which oc­curred in the case of this par­tic­u­lar sub­mis­sion.

That let­ter was pub­lished on­line else­where. A sub­se­quent guest com­ment by Chris­tine Dolan in The Star Demo­crat con­cern­ing that “Panuzio” let­ter asked why Mr. Reel would write a let­ter un­der Mr. Panuzio’s sig­na­ture with­out Mr. Panuzio even read­ing it.

In a re­ply, Mr. Reel wrote: “I wrote it for Nick Panuzio as he was in­dis­posed with a stay in the hos­pi­tal and is also griev­ing over the re­cent death of his sis­ter.

“The facts are Nick was aware of my writ­ing the let­ter, he read it, signed off on it and agreed to at­tach his name to it by virtue of his po­si­tion as chair­man of the Re­pub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee.”

Be­fore pub­li­ca­tion of her guest com­ment, Ms. Dolan had told this news­pa­per that Mr. Panuzio ac­knowl­edged he did not write that let­ter and said he had never read it.

Af­ter pub­li­ca­tion of Mr. Reel’s let­ter, we were able to reach Mr. Panuzio, who per­son­ally told this ed­i­tor that while there had been dis­cus­sion of a let­ter of some type, he did not read or sign off on the let­ter writ­ten by David Reel and sent to this pa­per as hav­ing come from him. At the time of that con­ver­sa­tion with Mr. Panuzio, Mr. Panuzio said he still had not read the let­ter sup­pos­edly writ­ten by him.

Mr. Reel, as men­tioned, also has been af­fil­i­ated with Com­mon Sense Tal­bot, as was Re­pub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee mem­ber-elect Matt Al­bers. Al­bers, for those who don’t re­call, falsely por­trayed him­self as Sears Wheeler in a let­ter to the ed­i­tor that was pub­lished by The Star Demo­crat. Wheeler/Al­bers also wrote a se­cond let­ter to The Star

Demo­crat that was not pub­lished be­cause we be­came sus­pi­cious of whether he ac­tu­ally ex­isted. Be­fore sub­mit­ting that se­cond let­ter to the news­pa­per, Al­bers ap­pears to have sent a ver­sion of it to sev­eral of those in­volved with Com­mon Sense Tal­bot, ac­cord­ing to an email we have re­viewed.

Among those to whom it was sent Oct. 12, 2018, were Wil­liams, Reel, Connie Sheer, Alan Sil­ver­stein, Allen Bryan and Susie Hay­ward. The email also was copied to Keri-Ann Thomas and Julie Steven­son, the two part­ners in JaKa Me­dia, an ad­ver­tis­ing/so­cial me­dia/web­site de­sign com­pany hired by Com­mon Sense Tal­bot.

In that email, Al­bers noted he had at­tached two ver­sions of a piece con­cern­ing Res­o­lu­tion 262, the pro­posed amend­ment to Tal­bot’s proper ty tax cap (sub­se­quently re­jected by county vot­ers in the Novem­ber elec­tion).

“One strictly fact based for Keri-Ann and Julie and the other with a bit of opin­ion that I would like to sub­mit as a Let­ter to the Ed­i­tor at both the Spy and Star Demo­crat.”

Wil­liams replied: “I like them both, es­pe­cially the se­cond one that re­ally takes her (Laura Price) to task. Are you com­fort­able send­ing it over your name or do we need a sur­ro­gate?”

That email ex­change was in mid-Oc­to­ber.

The ini­tial let­ter from Wheeler/Al­bers to The Star Demo­crat was pub­lished on Oct. 21. Two days later, Wheeler/ Al­bers sub­mit­ted his se­cond let­ter to us, sub­se­quently trig­ger­ing our sus­pi­cions about whether Wheeler re­ally ex­isted. We be­lieve that let­ter was the one men­tioned in the Oct. 12 email and to which Wil­liams asked “do we need a sur­ro­gate?”

We may never know for sure who knew what and when about Sears Wheeler/Matt Al­bers.

But we know that Sears Wheeler was born on Face­book in mid-Septem­ber. And he sub­mit­ted his first let­ter — to the Tal­bot Spy — about that same time.

We know that Jen­nifer Wil­liams (who had served on the Tal­bot Re­pub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee), Connie Sheer (a mem­ber of the GOP cen­tral com­mit­tee), David Reel and Allen Bryan Jr. all were both Face­book friends with Sears Wheeler and in­cluded in an email ex­change in which Wil­liams asked whether Al­bers needed a “sur­ro­gate” for his pro­posed let­ter to the ed­i­tor.

We know that Wheeler claimed to live on a prop­erty owned by Jean­nie Bryan, the aunt of Allen Bryan Jr. We know that Jean­nie Bryan told this news­pa­per that Sears Wheeler was a real per­son. And we know that was not true.

We also know that one per­son who ap­par­ently had no di­rect in­volve­ment with Com­mon Sense Tal­bot and was a Face­book friend of Sears Wheeler knew that Wheeler was not a real per­son. That Face­book friend ac­tu­ally was told who was be­hind the Sears Wheeler per­sona be­fore ac­cept­ing the Face­book friend re­quest from Wheeler.

It bog­gles the mind to be­lieve that one or more of those in­ti­mately in­volved with Com­mon Sense Tal­bot, which bills it­self on its Face­book page as “THE VOICE OF TRUTH” — and es­pe­cially those who also had con­nec­tions to the GOP

cen­tral com­mit­tee — had no knowl­edge that Matt Al­bers — who was con­nected to both en­ti­ties — had cre­ated the Sears Wheeler per­sona and was us­ing it to at­tack Laura Price dur­ing the 2018 elec­tion.

We be­lieve our ex­po­sure of the Sears Wheeler sham and Jen­nifer Wil­liams’ sub­se­quent loss in the Novem­ber elec­tion is a con­tribut­ing fac­tor be­hind these at­tacks on The Star Demo­crat.

But we will not be bul­lied and we will not sit qui­etly by while be­ing at­tacked. Mean­while, we will con­tinue to do our jobs — re­port­ing and pub­lish­ing fact-based ar­ti­cles on lo­cal gov­ern­ments, com­mu­nity and busi­ness news, and sports.

And we’re hu­man, so we oc­ca­sion­ally will make mis­takes, as all hu­mans do. When we do, please let us know so we can cor­rect the mis­take. You may email [email protected]­, or call or text 443-239-0156. Let­ters to the ed­i­tor are wel­come at let­[email protected]­

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