Sidebar: Two Refusals

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday June 04, 2009 - 07:10:00 AM

Both Jim Sinkinson and Dan Spitzer declined to be interviewed for this article. 

When a reporter reached Sinkinson at his office on May 7 and asked for an interview, the media relations adviser said, “Possibly. About what?” 

“About your campaign against the Daily Planet,” the reporter said. 

“That seems like a dangerous thing to do,” Sinkinson replied. 

“How come?” 

“I don’t trust your newspaper. I think from a journalism standpoint, I can’t trust you. Becky lies. Becky changed a letter I wrote and then lied about it.” 

After the call ended, the reporter asked Justin DeFreitas, the paper’s managing editor, to search for all submissions Sinkinson had sent the paper. Only one was located, and the only change made had been to spell out the abbreviation “E.U.” as “European Union, consistent with the paper’s style. 

Told of the results of the search in a second call later that afternoon, Sinkinson voiced another complaint. The URL for Gertz’ dpwatchdog.com had clearly been deleted from a commentary by Mary Lou Van Deventer , whose submission was supportive of the paper and sharply critical of Sinkinson’s effort to convince her company, UrbanOre, to withdraw its advertising. The piece “had been edited so badly that it was obvious” that the paper had omitted the web address, Sinkinson said. DeFreitas confirmed that the name of the site had been removed on deadline, as Executive Editor Becky O’Malley was not eager to give Gertz more publicity.  

Sinkinson said that while he had looked at some of the reporter’s stories, “which seem to be respectable,” he was still inclined not to give an interview, but to call the following day, Friday, May 8. 

During a follow-up call the next day, Sinkinson said, “I frankly don’t trust the Daily Planet to do a good article on this subject. I would be happy to write a commentary piece about anti-Semitism in the Daily Planet, but I don’t really feel that submitting to an interview would accomplish my objectives. I don’t feel it would contribute to an understanding.” 

“Don’t you think you might be prejudging the result?” the reporter asked. 

“It doesn’t have to do with you as a journalist, but with the people you work with,” Sinkinson said. 

He also e-mailed a letter he said had been sent to the paper about Van Deventer’s commentary, but the letter didn’t appear in the paper’s e-mail folders, DeFreitas said. According to DeFreitas, nothing in the letter would have precluded its publication. 

Though the paper has a fairly open policy regarding the letters to the editor, Executive Editor Becky O’Malley stopped running Gertz’s submissions after he threatened to sue the paper over letters that criticized his attacks on the paper and its readers. The paper has stopped running Spitzer’s letters too, due to his proclivity for scurrilous ad hominem attacks on individuals.  

In explaining his own reasons for declining an interview, Spitzer was more succinct than Sinkinson. 

When a reporter e-mailed an interview request May 7, Spitzer replied, “Given the dubious journalistic practices of the Daily Planet, I cannot imagine that its owner/editor would publish verbatim the truthful responses I would make to your questions. Thus I will decline. 

“I do have a question for you. Although I realize these are hard times in the newspaper business, how can you justify continuing to report for a newspaper so given to such manifest biases and falsehoods. Once the paper folds—and it surely will—editors elsewhere who are conversant with the Planet might be less than enthusiastic to hire anyone who toiled for it. 

“PS: In leaving the Planet, Judith Scheer [sic] demonstrated the sort of integrity ethical editors elsewhere understand.” (Scherr is a former Daily Planet reporter who announced her departure in a widely circulated e-mail.) 

A follow-up e-mail to Spitzer, offering to post a full recording of the proposed interview on the newspaper’s website, was also rebuffed.  

Spitzer’s enthusiasm for Scherr contradicts his previous opinion about the value of her journalism. In a Nov.17, 2006 e-mail to the Daily Planet, Spitzer wrote: ‘[I]n the guise of a traditional newspaper, O’Malley is providing our community with little more than a sounding board for her own ill-informed biases. You can see this in every bit of allegedly unbiased reportage by old lefty Judith Scherr or the rantings of Conn Hallinan, former editor of the Communist Party’s Peoples Daily World.” 

John Gertz has also referred to Scherr’s departure from the paper, listing her as a heroine on his website.  

Scherr now reports for KPFA, the station identified by both men as belonging to Berkeley’s pantheon of media infamy. 

Spitzer’s most recent letter about the Daily Planet was published in the May 20 edition of the East Bay Express. The letter identifies the Daily Planet and KFPA as “twin ministries of hate” and lauds John Gertz for his “meticulous research” in compiling his anti-Planet website—with no mention of the fact that Spitzer is one of Gertz’s primary sources of information.