WBRZ reporter Chris Nakamoto, St. George and journalistic ethics

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WBRZ Channel 2 Reporter, Chris Nakamoto

Last night, WBRZ reporter Chris Nakamoto ran another in a long line of inaccurate stories on St. George. That makes it time that WBRZ dealt with an issue they should have addressed a long time ago — a matter of basic journalistic ethics.

It was Chris Nakamoto, you will recall, who last year broke the “EBR schools cheating scandal,” with the screaming lead, “CHEATING SCANDAL ROCKS EBR SCHOOLS.”

That was the one that turned out to have nothing at all to do with cheating.

Following WBRZ’s lead, headlines went around the world and back for a few days about the “EBR cheating scandal.” The Advocate finally did a reality-check piece, pointing out that there never even were allegations of cheating, much less evidence of it; that the story dealt with more mundane matters of graduation credits and standards for records keeping. The cheating lead, though, already had its legs.

Nakamoto, for his part, stuck to his guns. Even after the State, and everyone, had confirmed that the story had nothing to do with cheating, Nakamoto ran a whole series of stories with the “cheating scandal” headline and graphic.

And here’s where things get interesting …

You’ll recall that Rep. Pat Smith and others, fed up with what they felt was a smear job on the school district, held a press conference to share a conviction that got ridiculed at the time — that the cheating story had been cooked up by St. George supporters, with media complicity, to discredit the school system and aid the breakaway campaign.

Those allegations got roundly panned at the time. The St. George campaign cooked up the story, with media complicity? How RIDICULOUS.

There was lots of commentary like this post:

Comment

Nakamoto covered the Pat Smith press conference and framed her allegations as, well, simply “mystifying.” The key interview for this Nakamoto story (as with many Nakamoto stories) went to one Mssr. Lionel Rainey, who duly hit his St. George talking points. “Crazy officials, always blaming other people. One more reason to support St. George.”

Throughout all these reports, and many others on St. George, Nakamoto never bothered to disclose one rather significant fact — that he, himself, had signed the St. George petition several months earlier.

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Nakamoto had made himself an active part of the campaign he was claiming to cover, giving unfailingly favorable treatment to the side on which he had declared himself.

(As a side note, Nakamoto didn’t wait long to get on the St. George train. He signed the petition on October 27th, 2013, only about a month after the petition drive got started. His signature is on page 66 of a petition that would eventually have 1797 pages.)

So to review …

Chris Nakamoto, in his capacity as a reporter covering St. George and related issues, turned again and again to St. George spokespeople for his leads, framing and key interviews. Months prior to covering these stories, he had become a petitioner in favor of the campaign he was covering. And despite all that, at no point did he disclose his involvement to his viewers, or even say to himself, or to his bosses, “Maybe I’m not the best guy to cover this story.”

His reporting was routinely favorable to St. George and unfavorable to its opponents and the school district. He even went so far as to cover a story that was, essentially, about himself, presenting Pat Smith (and others’) allegation that the “cheating scandal” smear, which he himself had broken, was ginned up by St. George and its media supporters as, well, just “mystifying.”

After the petition became a matter of public record, Nakamoto backed away from the St. George beat, for reasons that are presumably clear. All it would take for someone to find out the role he was playing was to do a public records request, find his name at the petition and start paying attention to his reporting.

But until that point, Nakamoto’s reporting was a poster child for what it means to breach the journalistic Code of Ethics.

And yes, there actually is such a code. It was created by the Society of Professional Journalists to articulate “the foundation of ethical journalism”. Here are a few of its mandates. Any of them sound relevant?

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We don’t know much about the role of the leadership of WBRZ in this affair, whether they knew about Nakamoto’s conflict, or if they did, when they found out and what, if anything, they did about it.

Whatever their role, there are two more mandates from the Journalists’ Code of Ethics, to which WBRZ ought to give some serious consideration in the coming days:

Code of ethics (3)

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A tribute to the citizens who beat back the breakaway

And a pretty good history of Better Together (with a little help from the Beatles)  …

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St. George lawsuit

St. George has filed their lawsuit. You can download it by clicking here.

The suit is an attempt by St. George to have the court twist the law to its advantage, and then, having done so, to let St. George have its cake and eat it, too.

Here’s why.

St. George is claiming that signatories to the petition who were NOT registered to vote in the proposed area when the petition was filed on October 20th should still be eligible to sign, if those signatories registered to vote in the proposed area subsequent to that date.

Here’s the relevant law, LA RS 33:2(A)(3):

“The required percentage shall be determined on the basis of the number of electors on the rolls of the registrar of voters AT THE TIME THE PETITION WAS FILED with a registrar of voters.”

St. George is claiming that, while the number of signatures *required* should be determined as of the date the petition is filed, eligibility to sign should not be determined by the date. Eligibility should remain open to people who registered in the area after that day.

It is, shall we say, a very novel interpretation of the law. The notion that the body of people eligible would be determined on an entirely different basis from the number of signatures required is weird and unlikely to be accepted by any court.

But St. George’s problems go even deeper.

Even if they manage somehow to convince the court that this novel interpretation of the law is the right one, the shift in the criteria for acceptance and rejection of signatures would cut both for and against them.

Under this new criteria, signatories who moved INTO the area after October 20th (whom the registrar rejected) would now count as valid. But if this new criteria were in place, signatories who moved OUT of the area or died AFTER October 20th (whom the registrar ACCEPTED) would now be rejected.

The net result of the new, St. George-proposed criteria, once you reject the signatories that were accepted by the registrar, would mean that the petition STILL fails.

If you’re going to argue for this new and unusual criteria for acceptance and rejection of signatures, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. You have to accept how that helps and hurts you.

And once you do, the verdict remains: the St. George petition did not have enough signatures.

Here’s the text of the “Writ of Mandamus:
https://bettertogetherbr.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/writ-of-mandamus_6-25-15.pdf

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Phone a Friend Campaign — Deadline for withdrawals is Sunday evening

To join the Phone a Friend campaign:
#1) Download the list of St. George petition signers below.
#2) Look for people you know who you think may want to withdraw.
#3) Call them up, and if they want to withdraw their name, make sure they get the withdrawal form to us by Sunday, 8pm.

This is not about trying to convince someone who supports St. George that it’s a bad idea. If someone supports St. George and wants their name on the petition, they should keep it there.

This is about making sure all those people who DO NOT want their name on the petition have the opportunity to take it off.

You can use the links below to download the entire list of signers or lists of specific zip codes, ordered either by last name or by street name. The format is excel.

This list has all signers, including names turned in on May 28th.

We need to collect all withdrawal forms by Sunday evening.

Download a withdrawal form by clicking here.

To arrange drop off of a withdrawal form, call (225)266-6575. (It’s probably too late to mail them.)

DOWNLOAD THE PETITION LISTS

Click one of the options below to download the ENTIRE LIST:

WHOLE LIST:   Download in order by last name         Download by street name

Click one of the lists below to download the LIST FOR SPECIFIC ZIP CODES:

70809:   Download by last name          Download by street name

70810:   Download by last name           Download by street name

70816:   Download by last name           Download by street name

70817:   Download by last name           Download by street name

70819:   Download by last name          Download by street name

70820:   Download by last name         Download by street name

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Analysis finds “significant flaws” in Registrar’s vetting process of St. George petition

Download the full analysis here.

239 signatures are being called into question

“Definitive evidence” of mistakes on 88 validated signatures

A new study has found significant flaws in the signature vetting process of the East Baton Rouge Parish of signatures on the St. George petition, calling into question 239 signatures accepted as valid by the Registrar in its “notice of determination” on March 30th, 2015.

“This analysis shows that there are some major problems in the registrar’s validation process,” said M. E. Cormier with the Better Together Campaign. “These are concrete, objective examples showing several different kinds of mistakes made by the registrar’s office in vetting the St. George petition.”

Of the 239 questionable signatures, the analysis determined that 88 signatures had documentation from voter records that establish definitively that the Registrar was in error in accepting the signature as “valid.”

For an additional 151 signatures, the study found insufficient documentation to determine definitively whether an error has been made, but said that there is substantial question about the validity of the signatures because the signatories were not listed on the voter list the Registrar’s office provided as the “registered voter role” in the proposed area on October 20th, 2014.

“Our entire community, on both sides of this issue, is depending on the Registrar’s office getting this right. Fixing these problems in the vetting process and getting an accurate signature count might be the most important thing that office ever does.”

Description of findings

The questionable signatures fall into four categories, each of which is a reason voters would not have been eligible to have signed the St. George petition:

Category I: Signatories who registered to vote after October 20th, 2014 and therefore were ineligible to have signed the St. George petition (since eligibility is determined as of the date on which the petition was submitted). There are 32 signatures in this category.

Category II: Signatories who do not currently reside in the proposed area according to the Registrar’s own determination and for whom there is documentation from voter records that they also did not reside in the proposed area as of October 20th, 2014. There are 56 signatures in this category.

Category III: Signatories who do not appear to be registered to vote at all at the zip code listed on the Registrar’s March 30th notice of determination and who also do not appear on the list of registered voters provided by the Registrar as “voters in the proposed St. George area as of October 20th, 2014”. There are 106 signatories in this category.

Category IV: Signatories who are registered to vote, but they are registered outside the area proposed for incorporation and who also were not on the list of “St. George registered voters on 10/20/2014” provided by the Registrar. There are 45 signatories in this category.

The report concludes:

“The scale and consistency of the errors identified in our analysis suggests that the problem appears to be larger and more systematic than an occasional mistake by Registrar staff. There appears to be some significant flaw in the registrar’s validation process, which is leading the office to validate signatures that should be rejected on a fairly consistent basis.

Public trust in the validity of the Registrar’s final determination is of paramount importance. To maintain that public trust, we would recommend that the Registrar’s office conduct a thorough review of its validation process, to accomplish three goals:
1) To correct the mistaken determinations that already have been made.
2) To amend the number of outstanding signatures required issued in the “notice of determination” of March 30th, 2015.
3) To address the underlying cause of the mistaken determinations so that similar mistakes are not repeated with the current batch of 4,630 signatures being vetted, and
4) To seek proactively and aggressively to identify other mistakes that may have been made or process flaws that may exist that have not been identified the current analysis.

Download the full analysis here.

Media contact: M. E. Cormier (225)266-6575

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Just the facts …

Download key studies on St. George:

Faulk & Winkler Study    TBR Study    Richardson Study

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Sign on to the Statement on St. George

Statement of Business Leaders and Concerned Citizens on the Proposed City of St. George

We, the undersigned business owners and concerned citizens, support the effort to keep Baton Rouge together. We are committed to improving public education in Baton Rouge. But we are opposed to the incorporation of the City of St. George, for three primary reasons.

1) According to an analysis by CPA firm Faulk & Winkler, the proposed St. George City and School District would result in property tax increases of at least 20.5 mils in the proposed St. George area, costing homeowners with a $300,000 home about $720 more per year in taxes.

We do not support a proposal that will lead to substantially higher taxes, merely to duplicate existing government services.

2) The proposed boundaries of the St. George School District would cut off thousands of children from the schools they currently attend. This would result in the displacement of more than 8,000 children from their schools, 91 percent of whom live in the proposed St. George area. Some schools would lose more than 90 percent of their student body. Schools such as Baton Rouge Magnet High would no longer be an option for families living in the unincorporated area of East Baton Rouge Parish and would lose nearly half its student population.

We do not support a proposal that would displace thousands of children from their schools and so dramatically reduce educational options for families. 

3) The proposed St. George school district would face a public school capacity shortage of more than 7,000 seats, requiring the immediate construction of between 10 and 12 new schools. The expense and logistics of such a massive school construction effort would be unprecedented for our community and would likely leave many students with no school to attend. Other than rhetorical assurances, the St. George proponents have offered no proposal for how they plan to address this looming school capacity crisis.

We do not support a proposal that fails to account for such a basic need as where our children will attend school.

We believe, in summary, that St. George would increase our taxes, decrease our educational options and harm thousands of our children.

We stand, therefore, opposed to the proposal to incorporate the City of St. George.

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