Enquirer Pays $10 Million+ In Mystery Settlement p.8

By: David Noack As a major investigative report implodes, Chiquita Brands International gets cash.
Meanwhile, law enforcement authorities are investigating the Ohio newspaper's techniques.
By david noack
In what may be the worst journalistic debacle in a crowded season of such newsroom disasters, the Cincinnati Enquirer has repudiated a major investigative report about Chiquita Brands and agreed to pay that international banana company more than $10 million in an arrangement whose terms remain secret.
In an internal memo distributed to newsroom staff in a special meeting last Sunday, the newspaper said its editors had been victims of a "massive" deception by staff investigative reporter Mike Gallagher.
In its Sunday, June 28 edition, the Gannett-owned newspaper published a six-column-wide "Apology to Chiquita" which said "the facts now indicate that an Enquirer employee was involved in the theft" of the internal voice mail documents on which much of the Chiquita stories were based. The apology, signed by publisher Harry M. Whipple and editor Lawrence K. Beaupre, also said the lavishly illustrated and heavily promoted investigative stories about Chiquita contained "untrue conclusions."
Then, the Ohio newspaper printed the same front page apology with war-time sized headlines in its June 30 and July 1 editions.
The original Chiquita articles were published in an 18-page section in the print edition as well as in the online edition on May 3.

The Original Allegations
The series seemed spectacular when it was published. A year in the making, it debuted with a front-page banner headline trumpeting the Enquirer's hard-hitting investigative traditions and featuring a colorful pull-out section that included dozens of articles, photographs, graphs and charts.
Among other things, the stories alleged that:
u Chiquita secretly controls dozens of what are thought to be independent banana companies.
u Chiquita and its subsidiaries engage in pesticide practices that threaten the health of workers and nearby residents.
u Employees of Chiquita and a subsidiary were involved in a bribery scheme in Colombia.
u Chiquita fruit-transport ships have been used to smuggle cocaine into Europe.
u Security guards have used brute force to maintain their authority on plantations operated or controlled by Chiquita.
u Chiquita chairman and CEO Carl H. Lindner Jr., his family and associates have made legal but controversial contributions to political figures when the company was seeking U.S. backing in a trade dispute over banana tariffs in Europe.
Although the newspaper has totally disowned the collection of stories as a whole, it has not detailed which individual facts were inaccurate or which conclusions were erroneous.

Reporter Fired
Now, the Enquirer has fired lead investigative reporter Gallagher and totally expunged the series from its Web site. Meanwhile, newsroom staff members, editors and executives of the paper refuse to provide any but the sparsest detail about what is surely destined to become one of the era's most infamous journalistic incidents.
A source close to the Enquirer said the newspaper's employees have been instructed by company executives not to discuss the matter publicly.

Journalists Subpoenaed
Local prosecutors have launched investigations to determine if the techniques used by the newspaper to acquire thousands of Chiquita voice mail documents included criminal activities.
Gallagher is fighting a subpoena to appear before a grand jury convened to investigate the affair. A hearing on a move to dismiss that subpoena has been scheduled for July 8.
A number of other current and former Enquirer employees have been subpoenaed by county special prosecutor Perry L. Ancona.
The Hamilton County Sheriff's Department is also conducting an investigation. And the Cincinnati Post reported on Thursday that an FBI investigation has started into possible Enquirer violations of U.S. wiretap laws.
Fred Alverson, law enforcement coordinator for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio in Cincinnati, would not confirm or deny that the feds had opened an investigation.
In the same front-page apology printed on multiple days in the Enquirer, the publisher and editor wrote that, "Many of the conclusions in these articles were based upon the contents of voice mail messages of employees of Chiquita. At the time, the Enquirer believed that the series' accusations against Chiquita were based upon what was thought to be factual information obtained in an ethical and lawful manner. Specifically, the Enquirer asserted that the voice mails were provided by 'a high ranking Chiquita executive with authority over the Chiquita voice mail system.'
"Despite (our lead reporter's) assurances to his editors prior to publication that he obtained his information in an ethical and lawful manner, we can no longer trust his word and have taken disciplinary action against him for violations of Enquirer standards."

Gannett Response
Mimi Feller, senior vice president for corporate affairs at Gannett, released a statement backing the paper's actions.
"The Enquirer has issued an apology to Chiquita Brands International for unauthorized steps taken by a reporter in the gathering of information for stories on Chiquita. Specifically, it now appears that the experienced and trusted lead reporter on the stories obtained voice mail messages of company officials in an unethical and unlawful manner. . . . Gannett does not support such reporting techniques. We agree with the Enquirer's decision to dismiss the reporter. We further agree with the Enquirer's statement that 'the newspaper wants to send a strong message that deception and unlawful conduct has no place in legitimate news gathering of the Enquirer.''
A source close to the Enquirer has provided E&P with the three page memo that was distributed to the Enquirer newsroom staff on June 28. Signed by Whipple, the memo says the paper has agreed to pay "in excess of $10 million in exchange for settlement of claims against it by Chiquita." Using a Q-and-A format, the memo asks, "Where were the editors? How could this happen?" Then it answers with, "We took normal and even extraordinary measures to scrutinize these stories. Plain and simple, the reporter lied to us. He lied to us repeatedly over a period of nearly a year. His deception was massive."
Another of the memo's questions was: "Why are you renouncing the articles if the issue is the reporter's technique?" It then answers with: "The end product has been tainted by the unethical and illegal means employed. . . . We are unable to stand behind information gathered in violation of our own basic principles."
In a brief interview with E&P Wednesday, Whipple declined to comment beyond the apology published on the front page. The Enquirer source described the mood throughout the newspaper as "devastated" and said, "The general feeling is that this is not the full explanation."

Steve Geimann, chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee, said that based on the available information, the Enquirer responded properly.
"Based on the facts disclosed Sunday by the newspaper, management had few other alternatives. While all the facts are not known, the newspaper said the reporter lied about how he obtained supporting details for stories questioning the business practices of Chiquita Brands International," said Geimann."It's not clear to me and I don't think it's clear to a lot of journalists whether the stories were wrong or the way the story was reported was wrong," said Geimann.
But Michael Abrams, a journalism professor at Florida A&M University, said he's troubled by the newspaper's eagerness to settle the issue. "I don't know enough to blame the newspaper," said Abrams. "All I am saying is that in the grand scheme of things, most newspapers keep a pretty close watch on investigative articles they print. Some of the editors at that newspaper must have thought it was a pretty good story."

?(Cincinnati Enquirer's 18-page Sunday section detailing one-year probe of Chiquita, right, and Page One apology, above, which ran three days in a row in $10 million mea culpa.)[Caption & Photo]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http: www.mediainfo. com) [caption]
?(Editor & Publisher, July 4, 1998) [Caption]


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