CABs, me and The NY Times

By Joel Thurtell

If you get a mention in The New York Times, be grateful.

Even if it’s baloney.

Remember what P.T. Barnum said about not caring what the papers said about him as long as they spelled his name right.

Guess I’m no P.T.

Gotta come out with it.

Floyd Norris spelled my name correctly in his August 17, 2012 Times article about Capital Appreciation Bonds in California. And he even gave me credit, in a backhanded way, for breaking the story. But he had so many ways of taking it back that I can’t help feeling slapped.

As I point out to students at Joel’s J School, the Times reporter didn’t call me to get my views, even though he mentioned my name and status. Nor is there any attribution for the shreds of information contained in this paragraph:

In San Diego, the bond issue first gained attention on The Voice of San Diego, a Web-based publication, which published an article this month headlined “Where Borrowing $105 Million Will Cost $1 Billion: Poway Schools.” As the Voice noted, others, including Joel Thurtell, a Michigan blogger, had written outraged articles about the bond issue. But it was the Voice article that attracted national attention, including a report on CNBC.

1. According to The Times, I wrote about Poway on May 12, 2012. This is incorrect. My May 12 column was my third essay about Poway. I broke the Poway story on May 1 and wrote subsequent columns about Poway on May 10 and May 12.

2. My website, joelontheroad.com, is available worldwide, including in San Diego. Journalists other than those at The Voice of San Diego were aware of the Poway story from my columns before The Voice published. Therefore, The Times’ assertion that “in San Diego, the bond issue first gained attention on The Voice of San Diego,” is false. I reported Poway three months before The Voice’s August 6 story appeared.

3. Since when is getting the attention of CNBC a substitute for being first to publish a story?

4. Since when does the tone of a story — “outrage” have anything to do with having or not having a scoop?

5. The Voice of San Diego is, according to The Times, “a Web-based publication.” Joel Thurtell is “a Michigan Blogger.” But wait — isn’t my blog a Web-based publication? Why designate me a “blogger” and The Voice “a Web-based publication”? Is it because “blog” has a pejorative, or less respectable, sound to it, while “Web-based publication” sounds more Establishment?

6. What difference does it make that I’m a blogger living in Michigan? Does the Timester think that my location in Michigan disqualifies me from having a scoop about California?

Actually, this Michigan question is a good one. If the Timester had called me, I would have explained what he would have known if he’d been reading my blog for the past four months: I discovered the plague of CABs in Michigan in 1992 and after several months of research, the Detroit Free Press on April 5, 1993 published a set of my stories and charts demonstrating how Michigan schools were mortgaging their future by issuing high-interest municipal bonds known as CABs. In 1994, we won the Michigan Education Association’s School Bell Award for the stories. More importantly, in July 1994, the Michigan Legislature enacted new legislation banning CABs and clamping down on the buddy-system that had allowed attorneys to represent school boards and bond underwriters at the same time.

A phone call from The Times would have corrected all these misconceptions.

Giving credit to the journalist who REALLY broke the Poway story would have better served Times readers. Instead of pussy-footing and equivocating about “web-based publications” vs. Michigan bloggers, Mr. Norris could have shown that the CAB abuse has been around for a long time and Californians would do well to look at their long history of profiteering, all of which was exposed by a writer working in Michigan.

 

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