This showed up in our inbox yesterday, from a dedicated reader. It is from the Seattle Schools Community Forum, a gathering place for people working to make Seattle Public Schools the best they can be.
KIRO Gets Spanked Over Leschi Custodian Story
(As you may recall) KIRO-tv did a story about a Leschi custodian, Chester Harris, who, it was claimed, was "bullying" students. As it turns out, it was one family and their issues at the school (they were told to only drop off and pick up their child because of their continuing complaints against many staff members).
The custodian's union, Local 609, had asked KIRO to retract their reports and they wouldn't.
The union took this to the Washington News Council, a media oversight group, and last Saturday there was a "mock trial" over the work of the reporter Chris Halsne at KIRO. From the Stranger Slog write-up of the three-hour event:
After a three-hour-long proceeding, supervised by retired appeals court judge Karen Seinfeld, eight members of the News Council's panel voted unanimously that Halsne and his employer, KIRO TV, had inaccurately described Harris as "manhandling" and "bullying" students at Leschi, and unfairly damaged Harris's reputation.
Seven of the panelists voted that KIRO is now obliged, "under generally accepted media-ethics codes," to retract its stories on Harris, remove them from its web site, air a follow-up story setting the record straight, and "apologize to all those whose reputations were damaged."
KIRO did not send Mr. Halsne or any rep to the event.
The WNC doesn't have any power to punish KIRO but I would think the public shame might make them rethink how this reporter creates his stories. They have said they stand by their stories.
The district weighed in:
In a letter to KIRO sent after the story aired, Seattle School District spokeswoman Holly Ferguson pointed out that Halsne's own hidden camera footage appears to show Harris did nothing wrong. "From your video, it appears Mr. Harris and another adult acted appropriately to intervene with an upset student," Ferguson wrote. "Mr. Harris is very well respected in the school community and our staff and families are very upset by your coverage."
"We believe it is inappropriate for you to have included under-cover camera footage of our students that clearly identifies their faces. While you did blur one student's face, the others were clearly recognizable. The families of these children are very upset and our principal reports that one of the students was in tears today as a result of your having him on television last night. We request that you take down the video immediately to protect the identity of these students."
She added that KIRO had, in advance of Halsne's initial story, been provided with school district documentation showing that the school district—and the Seattle Police—had investigated the past allegations against Harris and found "no information to suggest any wrongdoing."
Here's what parent Laura McMahon, a former journalist herself and parent at Leschi said of Mr. Harris:
“He is a very strong African-American example to a lot of the male students at our school—and also to the female students, like my daughter, who went up to him and gave him a hug," McMahon said. “I thought the character assassination on KIRO TV was just unwarranted… This is a good man.”
Good for the union for sticking up for its member, good for the district for speaking up for their employee and good for the Leschi for supporting a trusted member of their community.
Not good, KIRO-TV.