Columnist Dropped p. 10

By: M.L. STEIN A CALIFORNIA EDITOR dropped a prominent freelance columnist for allegedly lying about her participation in a pyramid scheme that has created a community scandal.
Then, Vikki Porter, executive editor of the Desert Sun in posh Palm Springs, told readers about her decision in her own column.
"When a freelance writer works in the name of the Desert Sun, they are held to a high standard," wrote Porter.
"When the person fails to meet those standards, it's time to part company."
Porter said the social scene columnist, Gloria Greer, admitted investing in and soliciting money for the pyramid, after denying it several times.
In the Ponzi-like pyramid, which has flared up across the country, Porter noted, "Prominent community leaders, elected and appointed officials and social arbiters use their influence and position to charm, coerce, and otherwise pressure friends, relatives, associates, employees, clients and even strangers to invest $500, $2,000 or more in a scheme that promises quick riches."
The Palm Springs-area pyramid, which reputedly violates California law, has brought an investigation by the Riverside County District Attorney's office.
Raids by law enforcement officers have targeted the homes of leading citizens, including the president of the local community college and two members of Desert Sands Unified School District. Three college offices also were searched.
Quoting D.A. investigators, the Sun reported recently that the promise of fantastic gains lured hundreds of local residents into paying money into the pyramid.
Some Sun staffers were among those solicited, but they said they did not get involved, according to Porter, who added: "I believe them."
The editor told E&P she decided to go public with Greer's dismissal because the perception of the paper's "ethical behavior" was at stake and because of the columnist's "high profile" in the community.
Greer, who hosts an entertainment program on the Palm Springs television station and publishes a magazine, is well known in the city's social circles.
In an interview with E&P, she said Porter's column contained "discrepancies, which will be addressed at the proper time and in the proper manner."
Porter, who joined the Gannett daily Feb. 12, said in her column: "As editor of the Desert Sun, I hold a place of public trust. If I engage in illegal activity, I expect to be held accountable for it. That's what a newspaper does: it holds each of us who live here accountable for our actions, both good and bad.
"It is a place where
we will debate over what the community stands for and how it can be better than it is. As long as I am editor, it will not be a place where we hide from the embarrassments of our mistakes or the consequences of those mistakes . . . . I need to trust the people who write for you."
Porter told E&P: "This was an issue of credibility and trust."
Greer, a retired reporter for the Riverside Press-Enterprise and before that a Daily Variety writer, said in the interview that she had taken part in the pyramid, asked one friend to join, and invested $1,000 of her own money, which was returned at her request.
"I was assured it was not illegal," Greer said. "I have never done anything illegal in my life."
Porter contended that Greer's involvement in the pyramid while associated with the newspaper showed "poor judgment."
Besides, the editor added, she has not been honest about it.
Porter said "fan mail" has been running 95% in favor of her eliminating Greer's column and that support from her staff "has made me humble. They know where I'm coming from."
A spokeswoman for KMIR, an NBC affiliate TV station, which airs Greer's "Stars on the Desert" program, said: "We don't take issue with what Gloria Greer does on her own time."
Greer was quoted in a Desert Sun story as saying she knew many residents involved in the pyramid, but that most believed it was harmless.
"I think many people got into it very innocently, and certainly not as a scam," she said.


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