Normally, we don’t go out of our way to criticize the reporting of other media outlets. However, an article in this morning’s NH Sunday news written by Ted Siefer contains serious factual errors that cannot be left uncorrected.
We’ve taken to referring to Siefer as “Tabloid Ted” to underscore what we believe is his biased choice of stories and his selective presentation of facts to benefit the public persona of Alderman at Large Joe Kelly Levasseur. In the story to which we’re referring today, he has, once again, taken a story line publicly and privately advanced by Levasseur with a disregard for “the rest of the story,” which, if told, would radically change perceptions.
The story in question centers around whether or not aldermen were banned from West High School and whether or not School Superintendent Debra Livingston is acting appropriately in light of the recent incident at West High involving the school’s lock down after a student reported the presence of an armed former student on its campus. A massive police response ensued and Livingston cited provisions of New Hampshire’s Right to Know Law, RSA 91-A, to defend her decision to debrief the Board of School Committee in Non-Public Session.
In his story, Siefer quotes emails sent to and from the entire Board of Mayor and Aldermen by various aldermen and city officials. Girard at Large filed an official request for these emails with City Clerk Matthew Normand, but has yet to receive them while the city determines if they exist and whether or not they constitute public record under RSA 91-A. We suspect that the emails used by Siefer either came from Levasseur or Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann. That’s relevant to this story because last week, Levasseur demanded to know who forwarded emails he’d sent to the entire board, which makes them public records, to Girard at Large after we went public with them. It is likely he’s done the very same thing he’s criticized other aldermen for doing, that being disseminating public information outside the city’s Right to Know policy; a policy he insisted be passed.
The facts that Siefer gets wrong are alarmingly basic. Quoting an email sent by city Security Manager Red Robidas and “obtained by the New Hampshire Union Leader,” Siefer writes “Robidas was contacted by Livingston.” In fact, Robidas’ email reads as follows:
“Good morning folks,
I received a response from Chris Motika and the School District regarding a visit to West High. The Superintendent believes it would not be the appropriate time for Alderman to walk through West High School. If anyone has any questions regarding the incident, the school, etc. her office would entertain those questions.
How he gets that Robidas and Livingston spoke from that is anybody’s guess.
While investigating the allegations that aldermen had been barred from the school last week, we interviewed Robidas who said he’d been in contact with West High Principal Chris Motika about Hirschmann’s desire to tour the school with other aldermen. In fact, in response to our question he sated that he’d not spoken with Livingston as school board policy and protocol, with which he is intimately familiar, leave building access up to the principals.
In a separate interview with Girard at Large, Livingston said she’d only heard about the tour request from Motika.
Siefer’s article makes hay with complaints made by Levasseur and Hirschmann against Alderman at-Large Dan O’Neil, Chairman of the Board of Aldermen. Siefer writes Hirschmann ” directed some of his anger at Alderman Dan O’Neil, board chairman, who also had expressed reservations about an alderman going outside the authority of the school administration.” (emphasis in the original.)
Levasseur and Hirschmann have privately and publicly blamed O’Neil for interfering with Hirschmann’s attempt to tour the school. On his television show, Levasseur said had it been O’Neil who wanted to tour the school, Robidas would have done it without worrying whether or not the district’s administration had been notified or granted approval.
In fact, O’Neil, in response to Hirschmann’s original email on the topic to Robidas and Human Resources Director Jane Gile, which was copied to the entire Board of Mayor and Aldermen, City Clerk Normand, and Police Chief David J. Mara, (making it a public record Normand has violated state law over by refusing to release it upon request,) wrote the following:
“Has Dr. Livingston or Asst. Supt Ryan/Burkush approved? I don’t see them on the e-mail list. It is important that they are in the loop and that they approve.”
Four minutes later, Robidas wrote this back to all those in the email chain:
I spoke with Chris Motika yesterday regarding the same issue. He is handling that aspect I’m waiting for a verbal or written response.
Based on the facts evident in the emails that had been sent by all parties and allegedly “obtained” by Siefer, one has to wonder why he would let stand, unchallenged, the accusations leveled by Levasseur and Hirschmann when clearly, he’d already been in contact with Motika prior to O’Neil’s email.
What’s clear to those who are familiar with the facts of the story is this: Once again, Siefer has apparently presented Levasseur’s talking points on an issue. Whether he had all the information and simply presented the part of the story Levasseur wanted told or whether he failed to speak with those involved to verify what he was being told, something he seems remarkably adverse to doing when “given a story” by Levasseur, it only reinforces why we’ve taken to calling him “Tabloid Ted.”
While we’ve certainly had our issues with Livingston and O’Neil, they stand wrongly accused in Tabloid Ted’s story and deserve to have the record cleared. The truth is that Livingston and O’Neil were the only ones acting in a rational, reasoned manner in wake of an emotionally charged incident at West High School; an incident that Levasseur and Hirschmann have needlessly politicized, damaging “officialdom’s” ability to assess and inform the elected officials who will, no doubt, be called on to make decisions regarding school safety.
There is more to this story, and we’ll get to it on tomorrow morning’s show. These, however, are the immediately relevant and pertinent facts that should cause all to wonder whether or not what they’re reading under a certain reporter’s byline is what actually happened.
Richard H. Girard