By: Tom Duggan – May, 2016
The cozy relationship between The Eagle-Tribune (which is headquartered in Alabama) and town officials in Salem, NH has come to an abrupt end this month, with the Board of Selectmen banning an Eagle Tribune reporter from public meetings in town and raising serious doubts about the credibility of the former Pulitzer-Prize winning paper.
The fallout comes after the Tribune violated journalism’s number one commandment by revealing a source on a news story. The result of breaking this journalistic canon resulted in a Salem Selectman losing his post and costing Salem taxpayer’s $20,000.
Salem Selectman, Stephen Campbell, provided The Eagle-Tribune with the private personnel records of Deputy Police Chief Shawn Patten, who was under investigation at the time for double-dipping overtime. The state’s Attorney General’s office eventually cleared him, according to The Union-Leader.
But at a time when the investigation was ongoing, Selectman Campbell provided the personnel records to Eagle-Tribune Editor Joanne Mackenzie and reporter Doug Ireland. According to a complaint filed by Deputy Chief Patten’s union, Mackenzie called Patten and revealed to him that it was Selectman Campbell who had provided her the records as their source and also promised him that the Tribune would not investigate the matter.
Patten has been a longtime source for The Eagle-Tribune and is also the son of longtime Eagle-Tribune legend reporter Jim Patten.
Deputy Chief Shawn Patten retired from the force about six months ago. But, a few months later, his union filed a complaint concerning Campbell releasing Patten’s personnel records to the Eagle Tribune, which is illegal in New Hampshire. As a part of the investigation into the union’s complaint about Patten’s records, Tribune editor Mackenzie admitted that she not only revealed Campbell as her source on the story, but also promised she would not write about it.
Mackenzie has since retired.
After looking into the matter, selectmen voted to seek removal of Campbell from office and to pay Patten a total of about $45,000 – half to be paid through insurance, and the other half to be paid for by taxpayers. Selectman Campbell negotiated a deal with the board where he would resign and promise not to seek elected office in Salem for 10 years in exchange for not having to pay Patten out of his own pocket.
At an emergency meeting last week, the board of selectmen announced Campbell’s decision to resign and the settlement with Patten.
But, the board also went after The Eagle-Tribune for its complicity and active cover-up in this expensive mess.
Selectman chair Jim Keller announced an Eagle-Tribune reporter is now “banned” from covering any meetings in town, believed to be reporter Doug Ireland.
“Transparency and truth is something that we should not take for granted, and that’s the public, that’s employees, that’s anyone sitting here or any other board, and it’s also the press,” Keller said at the public meeting.
“I would hope and trust that the reporter that was involved in this particular situation remains away from Salem, remains away from covering any items or matters in Salem, and that we are allowed to rebuild the credibility of both the media and what’s occurred here.”
Selectman Michael Lyons also questioned the credibility of The Eagle-Tribune, once the paper of record in the Merrimack Valley.
“We’ve brought this matter to a close, and we have cleaned house, so I don’t know what’s going on at The Tribune but certainly that type of inner inspection, like we did, I think would serve them well,” Lyons said.
While The Eagle-Tribune covered the public meeting where these comments were made, they continued to cover its blame by not including the selectmen’s comments in its story online and in the paper the next day.
By The Tribune whitewashing their own involvement in this story, revealing their sources, and then making deals to conceal information from the public because of who was involved, The Eagle Tribune deprived the public of important information as to why thousands of taxpayer dollars were wasted by the town. It was because of them.
They have yet to make a statement about whether they agreed to the ban or will abide by it.