Warning: this post is the equivalent of pouring gas on yourself and then welding. There are some institutions in Dayton Ohio and vicinity that can do no wrong. I’ve already challenged some of the other sacred cows- like Sinclair Community College by asking why they were expanding to Warren County- while we pay two different property tax levies- and they pay none, and taking my pea shooter up in a gun fight against the FBI and the DOJ for the Whaley tapes that were played to the grand jury in the “Culture of Corruption” investigation.
These are stories that you don’t ever read about in the Dayton Daily News. There’s a reason of course, the DDN has a policy of not covering my stories, me, or giving journalistic credit for breaking stories. Like the time I exposed a darling of the Dayton Development Coalition, Qbase, for illegally pouring money into Steve Austria’s campaign, and they didn’t write a story until 18 months later and pretended they broke the news.
Since the Cox breakup- where the TV and Radio stations remained in the old NCR building on S. Main and the DDN moved to E. Third street, they’ve had an even thinner news room, with a lot of young reporters and constant reorganization of management.
As a son of a journalist, there is no replacing the institutional knowledge of seasoned editors, reporters and most of all copy editors who check facts and find connections to fill in the blanks. The secret of reporting is having sources, fitting pieces of a puzzle together, insatiable curiosity, a quest for the truth and a commitment to inform the public. Good journalism takes time, work and an aversion to getting sued. The one saving grace for news is that the truth is supposed to be the ultimate legal defense.
With all that said, this isn’t a post about the Dayton Daily News. It’s about the WYSO news reporting, and this is where I’ll piss a lot of people off, because WYSO is about as close to a sacred cow in this community as they come. Recently, they’ve been the recipients of a lot of love and goodwill from Yellow Springs’ favorite son- Dave Chappelle, who has heaped money in their direction and is currently restoring the old school house into their new Global HQ.
While Dave Chappelle can piss off entire religions of people, I cannot. Even my quoting Chappelle in a post about the new laissez faire approach to swearing, made me into a racist according to some. I am held to a different standard, and in the time I’ve been publishing this blog (since 2005), I’ve only been threatened with a lawsuit twice- which isn’t bad. And while some say “no one reads it”- others thank me, in private messages, in person, anonymously, and a very few, actually donate on a regular basis (thank you!) to support my actions.
Last week, I got a surprise message via Linkedin:
David, I recently was doing some research on past contracts and controversy regarding the city of Dayton. You have some really insightful articles in the past years and I just want to say thank you for having the balls to publish the truth. You’re helping younger people like myself get a fair look at history and some of the hurdles that may be in our way in the future. Is there any way I can support you and your cause?
This is not the norm. And what follows, is me venting. Because, while I don’t expect much from the Dayton Daily news, I do expect more from National Public Radio, of which WYSO is an affiliate. NPR is one of the most respected, professional, national news organizations in the country. They take their responsibility to do quality journalism very seriously. So seriously, that they have lots of content on their website about their standards. An entire Ethics Handbook, including “These are the standards of our journalism.”
I didn’t need to go find these for validation for myself, because NPR as a whole, exudes integrity. And, while for a national story about an event, interviewing a journalist who has covered the beat for years is acceptable, especially when they work for a news organization of the caliber of NPR, PBS, NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, to cover a local political race, and asking a reporter like Josh Sweigart about a candidate that his news organization black balls, is like asking the disgraced Urban Meyer about coaching performance at Ohio State- and pretending there is no bias.
Because, that’s what happened in my race for US Congress. WYSO Reporter Jerry Kenney, instead of doing original, “fact based journalism in service to democracy” which is their mantra- literally phoned it in with his story, the Friday before election day: “U.S. House 10th District race full of history, boundary changes.”
He didn’t chose to interview me, or Turner. He didn’t choose to present the most basic of facts- like “Esrati, a local small business owner, veteran and activist” instead allowing character assassination wholesale by Swiegert:
Esrati has been a name for himself as an activist and a blogger and filing lots of lawsuits…Esrati is an outsider in every conceivable way. He’s not endorsed by the local Democratic Party, has not been successful with any political run, and he’s made many political runs over the years….Esrati has been an outsider for decades…. Esrati has been an activist and a blogger over the years. One of the things that he does a lot is file lawsuits. He’s sued the Dayton Metro Library for a civil rights case. He sued the city of Dayton years ago for a case. And so, he’s been an activist, an outspoken critic of City Hall and lots of people over the decades. He’s been involved in veterans groups as well, and largely just sort of an advocate for positions that he feels strongly about…. Esrati on the other hand, has raised far less money, and in the last campaign filing that I saw, I think he had $57 in his campaign account.”
VS Swiegart’s reporting on Turner:
a well-established politician… From the two of them first tried to enter political office with a run for mayor back in 1993 against incumbent Clay Dixon… Turner ended up winning that race and became mayor of Dayton and went on to become congressman after that…. Turner has had a long run at Congress…. Mike Turner was the mayor of Dayton at that time…. Turner’s a very established politician and mayor of Dayton, a congressman, for quite some time… Mike Turner is well known for of the work that he’s done to maintain and bring funding to (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base). He talks about the work is done for the VA and bringing funding to that, economic development, a lot of the funding that he has been involved in and in claims to have brought money into lots of our local jurisdictions for economic development purposes…. Mike Turner has a ton of money. I mean, the last campaign filing deadline that I saw, he had over $750,000 on hand. He’s brought in money from I mean, incumbents get a lot of money. He started off with a big cash balance because he’s been at this for a while….
So, over and over, Turner is an established politician, with a ton of money, who has brought money to WPAFB and he’s been at it a while.
To a listener who knows zero history, the first major bit of information left out was that Turner was the one who had me arrested in a City Commission Meeting– and I won after the city lost in 5 courts- and agreed to settle for $100K. Or that I won in the lawsuit against the Library as well (although getting stuck with my lawyers fees by Judge Gerald Parker was a miscarriage of justice- and one I corrected when filing and settling a federal civil rights case for $40K on my own). Both of these wins would classify me as a civil rights activist and free speech hero- by most journalism outlets, except the DDn and WYSO.
I am a WYSO member (for now). I listen daily to morning edition, but, on that Friday, I first heard about the story when a good friend texted me:
What a bullshit piece on your race on WYSO. I expected better from them. ???
I didn’t get to hear it, until after they posted it on their site a day later. By that time, I’d already been in contact with General Manager Luke Dennis leaving a Voice Mail for him at the station. He called me back, we discussed the firewall between management and news- even though he hired the news director, Samantha Sommer, a mere 11 months ago from the Dayton Daily. While I’ve already recapped a lot of my email to him after our conversation above- the end of it included this:
No mention of the 27 billionaires backing Mike Turner- or the PAC money. No mention of how much I’ve raised- $40K and I’ve spent it on producing a ton of video, and targeted emails. I spend the money as it comes in- on advertising. Turner’s spent over $70K on “food and entertainment”
And as to the non-endorsement. Do your listeners support election deniers? That’s what the local MCDP and the ODP are. There was an election, I beat 3 other candidates in the primary. Is the story about their dismissal of a legitimate election, or the candidate who is fighting without their support?
I expect better from WYSO than interviewing a third party.
From your own mission/vision page:
- Equity. WYSO has a role to play in undoing centuries of inequality in all its forms. Our news, music and storytelling further conversations about inequality and highlight solutions emerging to tackle it.
- Independence. WYSO is independent and belongs to this community. Independent also describes the ways we approach journalism and the music we share. Our staff, boards and hosts / producers will not be unduly influenced by corporate interests or wealthy individuals.
- Trustworthy journalism that is fact-based, researched, transparent, intellectually curious, pushes beyond the obvious answers, local, fair, and, when it’s called for, embraces the search for solutions. We believe an educated citizenry is essential to the functioning of our democracy.
Tell me how you consider that interview to have met ANY of those three goals?
If I told you how I had to lead Josh to real questions- after he asked his 3 simpleton ones- to move to real issues- it’s sad that this is their best “investigative reporter.”
He’s paid to do this. I do it as a hobby.
I grew up the son of a journalist. I know the difference between reporting and phoning it in.
You allowed your stations reputation to be besmirched by phoning it in from someone who phoned it in.
esrati email to Luke Dennis- Sun, Nov 6, 2022 at 7:50 AM
You owe your listeners better.
You are not supposed to be a parrot for the establishment.
Thanks for this thoughtful email. I’ve shared it with our news director Samantha Sommer. You’ve given us a lot to think about.
Luke Dennis response 11/7/22, 1:59 PM
Samantha Sommer, news director responds:
Thanks for reaching out. I don’t really have anything to add to what Luke said. Interviews with reporters from other news organizations are a standard across public radio stations.
Samantha Sommer wrote on 11/22/22 9:52 AM
I’m sorry you feel that way.
I looked up the NPR handbook. https://www.npr.org/about-npr/688139552/accuracy#usinginformationfromnonnprsources
You may want to read it- and take another crack at a response.
I’m trying to be as kind as possible- because the WYSO listening audience and stakeholders deserve better.
Esrati reply to Sommer, copied to Dennis- 11/22/22, 1:17 PM
I had asked for a proper story before the election. Or at least an apology for doing second hand news. I even took the time to write it for them, because, unfortunately, Sommer, educated in the same sloppy news room that has given us Swiegart, has no clue what a WYSO/NPR story would look like.
Hi this is Luke Dennis (or Samantha Sommer) of WYSO. On Friday, we aired a piece about the candidates for congress in our home district. We would like to apologize to our listeners for the way we covered this important race, and accept responsibility for not delivering the quality of journalism that we aspire to. Instead of interviewing the candidates, we interviewed a reporter for the Dayton Daily News. While we have an alliance with the Dayton Daily news, in this case, it was inappropriate as they view one of the candidates as competition. David Esrati, who is the democratic nominee for Congress is a citizen journalist that has broken stories that the Dayton Daily news refuses to acknowledge as his work. From the second pepper spraying of an inmate in restraints at the Montgomery County Jail, to exposing that Dayton City Commissioner Joey D. Williams was an FBI Confidential human source, already caught for committing a felony in office, who was allowed to stand for re-election with an agreement to resign if he won.
These are the kinds of stories, that often go untold by mainstream media, that we applaud and aspire to at WYSO.
Sources have confirmed to us, that writing about Esrati is not welcome in that newspaper, so interviewing their reporter was irresponsible when we could have interviewed him ourselves.
For the record, Esrati is a local ad agency owner who has won many awards for creative excellence. As a citizen journalist, which is his hobby, he’s filed and won lawsuits accusing government entities of breaking laws concerning the Sunshine laws and first Amendment rights. For decades, he’s fought city hall and both political parties for open transparent government.
The fact that the incumbent, Mike Turner has out fundraised him is part of his campaign. He’s identified 27 Billionaires who’ve donated to Turner. He tells people he doesn’t even know a billionaire. The fact that the local Dem Party is denying that he won a 4-way primary is a point of pride for him. He ran partly because the idea of election deniers being re-elected appalls him. Turner has spent almost twice what Esrati raised on food and beverages alone, according to campaign finance reports.
Esrati has been helping other candidates including Eric Price, Addison Caruso and two write-ins, Nancy Kiehl and Megan Overman, doing what he believes the party should be doing- trying to win every race. They have a joint website with a commercial Esrati produced for all at electionsnotauctions.com
Mr Esrati is a member of the WYSO community, and made a choice to put his life out for scrutiny by the public. It is our responsibility to provide fair and honest coverage. We did not do that. Our mission to further conversations about inequality, to provide an independent voice, and to provide fact-based trustworthy journalism was sidestepped by using a secondary source. We know every election is important, and that an educated citizenry is essential to the functioning of our democracy. We broke Mr. Esrati’s trust, and our duty to you to meet our own standards. We will strive in the future to do better. We hope you can forgive us.
Esrati draft response submitted to WYSO 11/7/22, 1:59 PM
If you read this far, it’s because you are either a friend, or a WYSO person who cares about their mission in our community. Or, possibly a journalism student, interested in how not to do a news story. The election is long over. The results said that Mike Turner should be our congressman for another 2 years- and that I’ve lost another election.
The fact that nearly 100,000 people voted for me, despite the public flogging given to me by the media and even the Republican party with their “Un-endorsed mailing” that was referenced in this WYSO piece- “a Republican Party (sic) mailing criticizing him because he didn’t have the money to actually put a flier in the field” should make examining the way this story was produced something to question, think about, and address going forward.
Because, journalism matters.
If you want to tell WYSO that you expect better, send an email to GM Luke Dennis, copy Samantha Sommer, and me too- [email protected]