Friday, September 25, 2009

Doing the News

As an occasion for developing skill in the craft of extracting solid information from news media prose, the following piece of reportage (Daily Mail, 9/23/09) can be instructive. Here is the full text, followed by an inventory of peculiarities and faults. -----Court hands ballot spot to Voice party ----NY Supreme Court dismisses lawsuit ---- brought by Greene County Democrats
By Melanie Lekocevic Hudson-Catskill Newspapers ---After months of battling it out in the courts, the Have a Voice Party will now officially be on the ballot, as the New York State Supreme Court has dismissed the case filed by Greene County Democrats that sought to block the party from inclusion on the ballot. ---Have a Voice was created in the wake of an earlier court decision which deemed Linda H. Overbaugh's nominating petitions invalid because of a filing error — her petitions used the wrong middle initial — and removed her from the Republican ballot. ---Other candidates on that ballot, which remain on the GOP ticket, include Greene County Legislature Majority Leader Keith Valentine, Legislator Karen Deyo and candidate Joseph Izzo. Those three candidates remain on both the GOP and Conservative Party lines, and also join Overbaugh on the Have a Voice Party ticket. ---When the alternate party was created, Democrats again filed suit, claiming the witnesses were “induced” to say they had witnessed petition signatures, and that in fact they had not. That is the charge that was dismissed this week by the state courts. ---“We were always confident in this outcome as we knew the accusations against us and the young voters who took the time to witness our petitions were false and without merit,” Valentine said. ---“The accusations were comprised of typical political rhetoric that is being used by [Legislator] Forest Cotten and Robin DePuy in an attempt to sway public opinion but they could not stand up in a court of law, where only the facts count,” he continued. ---“The facts are that the signatures on our petitions were valid and witnessed properly and far exceeded the required amount under election law.” Overbaugh said now that the legal battle was over — for the moment, at least — she is looking ahead to address the problems that face Catskill voters. ---“I am happy to finally have the opportunity to address the issues of concern to the Town of Catskill voters, rather than spending all my energy defending frivolous law suits,” Overbaugh said. ---“I have sought to enter the race for Greene County Legislator from the Town of Catskill because I feel I have garnered a vast amount of experience in economic development, the needs and interests of local business, and have been successful in interacting with government entities on all levels,” she added. ---Overbaugh is executive director of the Heart of Catskill Association. ---Incumbent Legislator Karen Deyo said the court victory was gratifying, but she expressed anger at the claims made by their opponents. ---“The only voice I'd like to hear at this time is an apology from the Democratic chairman, Thomas Poelker, for his unfounded accusations,” Deyo said. ---Fellow candidate Joseph Izzo was even less forgiving. ---“Thanks to our court system, which saw through the foolishness and stupidity of the Democratic Party, the challenge to our petitions was denied,” Izzo said. “The public can be assured that they, and only they, will decide who represents them on the Greene County Legislature.”
-----Exemplified in those paragraphs are several varieties of bad journalism. ----*Bad English. “Other candidates on the ballot, which remain…” “Those three candidates remain on both…lines, and also join Overbaugh on the Have a Voice Party ticket.” (Paragraph 3). -----*Gross omission. The heart of the story, as signaled in the headline (“Court hands ballot spot…”), is a judicial decision, which apparently was in the form of a dismissal. Readers are not told directly, however, what judge or judges (vs. “the Supreme Court”) ruled and what were the terms of his/her/their decision. This information must have been available; otherwise the Have A Voice defendants would not have been in position to talk. -----*Partiality (or lop-sided incompleteness; vs. impartiality). In addition to relying on an interested party’s colored version of the key facts (as in the latter half of Paragraph 6), the author of this story reports comments, and she only reports comments from one side of a controversy. She quotes biting remarks made by three of the apparently victorious defendants against local Democrats in general and against three named individuals: Forest Cotten, Tom Poelker and Robin DePuy. (Note: one of the principals, Ms Overbaugh, abstained from the recriminations). Professional journalists’ ethical codes prescribe that targets of reported verbal attacks be given, as soon as possible, a chance to reply. If no response is provided, the report mentions that the target chose not to reply or could not be reached. In the absence of that kind of stipulation, the reporter comes close to endorsing, as well as recording, the criticisms. She eschews fair and balanced journalism. -----*Insidious half-truth. The sub-headline “NY Supreme Court dismisses lawsuit brought by Greene County Democrats” invites readers to infer that (a) a collective of judges acted, and (b) the dismissed lawsuit was brought by THE Greene County Democrats (even though the the is left out). The latter suggestion is deepened by the quotation whereby Mr Izzo ascribes the failed lawsuit to “the foolishness and stupidity of the Democratic Party.” Readers are prompted to believe that “the Democratic Party” was the plaintiff in, or the main instigator of, this lawsuit. -----*Inaccuracies. The foregoing journalistic misdeeds are directly evident. Others that infest this story depend for their detection on special knowledge of the subject. In this case, previous news stories about the impending election and relevant court records show that: ----->>The plaintiff in the dismissed lawsuit was not the Democratic Party or a group of Democrats but one person: C. Robin Depuy, who is a Catskill candidate for election to the county legislature on a Common Sense Party line. Ms Depuy is, to be sure, an active Democrat, and her suit was supported by some leading GreeneLand Democrats. It also was shunned by other Democrats (including Forest Cotten). ------>>The Have A Voice Party’s origin goes back to early August, not “months.” ------>>The nominating petitions involving Linda Overbaugh (Paragraph 2) were not “her” petitions but rather were those of four would-be Republican and Conservative candidates for the four Catskill seats in the county legislature. ----->>The “filing error” in those petitions involved not just “the wrong middle initial” but also the wrong home address, namely, that of an actual Linda L. Overbaugh (who disavowed any intention to stand for office). The compound error was committed by Republicans. A challenge to the validity of those petitions was filed by some local Democrats. It yielded a ruling by Supreme Court Judge Joseph Teresi that Linda H. Overbaugh of Cauterskill Road, the avowed candidate, could not appear on the November ballot in place of the petition-backed Linda L. Overbaugh of Willis Avenue. At the same time Judge Teresi rejected the challengers’ call to rule that the error in the petitions renders void the candidacies of all four nominees (Karen Deyo, Joseph Izzo and Keith Valentine as well as Ms Overbaugh). ------>>The decision imputed in our news story to “the New York State Supreme Court” came in fact from Judge Teresi. It consisted of dismissing Ms Depuy’s challenge to the validity of the petitions aimed at putting the Have A Voice slate on the November ballot. The challenge was based on contending that avowed witnesses to signatures on those petitions did not really see the signings. In support of that claim, the plaintiff submitted four affidavits from persons who had signed the Have A Voice petitions but said they were unacquainted with the ostensible witnesses to their signatures. In response, the defendants called attention to the large volume of unchallenged signatures. They also presented affidavits from the nominal witnesses, saying that they had indeed been present at the signing. And they submitted affidavits from three of the four cited signatories, effectively repudiating their previous affidavits. Judge Teresi ruled that no plausible evidence of fraud, no plausible basis for challenging the authenticity of the Have A Voice petitions, had been established. Case dismissed. EDITORIAL NOTE. The foregoing analysis of a politically charged news story could be seen as a political trick. The poor journalism it exposes happens to be slanted in favor of local Republicans. The act of exposure can be viewed then as a pro-Democratic punch. With regard to that problem, I venture to respond as follows. First, in my judgment the lawsuit filed by Ms Depuy, with backing from prominent GreeneLand Democrats, should never have been filed; its dismissal was richly deserved. Second, as a Catskill voter in the November elections, I intend to vote for Ms Overbaugh and for Mr Cotten.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Greene Prospects

TRANSFORMATION of the current Haines Falls Free Library, located on the 1500-square-foot former Marian religious center, into the Mountain Top Library & Learning Center, an 8000-square-foot facility, with meeting rooms and continuing education programs as well as reading matter, just across the street from Hunter-Tannersville High School. But only $1.3 million of the needed $2.25 million has been raised so far. Latest grants have come from the New York State Arts Council (for design work by architect Scott Wallant) and from the Catskill Watershed Corporation ($250,000 for various operations).

CONSTRUCTION on a prime 15-acre site in Coxsackie, with facilities for young (starting with the county’s first licensed day-care facility) and old, for girls and boys and grown-ups, of a GreeneLand YMCA. It will eventuate by 2011 iff community financial support eventuates on a sufficient scale. At information sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, in Coxsackie and in Catskill, Chairman Hugh Quigley launched the “viral giving” drive to generate donations in relatively small amounts from lots of GreeneLanders. Such donations are important not only for what they contribute to the goal ($5 million) but also for what they demonstrate to prospective big-ticket donors (corporate, governmental and individual). Already in hand, thanks to big start-up contributions, is a $1.7million kitty. Our own United States Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, will aim for a $500,000 earmarked Federal contribution.. To get on the bandwagon, go to Please.

BEAUTIFICATION, by way of vines and paintings, of the footbridge connecting Water Street on the east side of Catskill Creek, with the west side leading to Catskill's Middle and High schools. It’s an idea offered by Jessie Able and by Open Studio artist Dina Burtstyn to the Village Board, and received sympathetically. RESTORATION of the noble old Athens Opera House so as to accommodate a micro-brewery, restaurant and music hall. Promoter Ken Landin hopes to do this, on the strength of a small outlay by him of capital, personally executed restoration work, a $240,000 Quantum Fund loan (with subsidized rate of interest), State grant, and (we fear) magic.

ELEVATION to partner (the youngest ever, at age 33) in the Albany office of the global 800-lawyer firm of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, of GreeneLander Alexander Louis Betke II, who is better known locally as Alex Betke, Town Supervisor of Coxsackie, Village attorney of Catskill and Saugerties, Democratic Party wheelhorse, father of four, Little League coach….. (This information did not come first from Mr Betke).

"MOONLIGHT RIDGE," a housing development for seniors, of 33 units on 18 acres at 49 Vedder Road, town of Catskill. If, among other things, the Planning Board approves.

LAWSUITS against the Lafarge company, focusing on its Ravena cement plant. Although no suit has been filed yet, and no direct claims of injury from toxic emissions have been voiced, the New York personal injury law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg organized a big informal event in the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School auditorium, with Erin Brockovich herself as the draw.

PROSECUTIONS of suspected GreeneLand miscreants. Felony fraud charges, having to do with forged medical prescriptions and false business records, have been laid in Cairo Town Court against Christopher and April Hamilton, 27 and 29, of Catskill. Drug-peddling charges and a grand jury indictment have emanated from State and local police investigation of Gerard McCarthy, 51, whose suspected place of business was the Catskill Inn. Summer L. Smith, 27, of Cairo, has been arrested for allegedly making multiple phony 911 calls to Columbia County’s emergency center, even after being told to desist.

READING TO ROVER sessions for Catskill school kids. The goal of this after-school program, says Superintendent Kathleen Farrell, is to improve “reading skills (particularly oral fluency) in young children…. There is a body of research…that indicates that reading to a dog improves concentration and oral fluency—-the dogs love the attention and kids love having an ‘audience’ that is focused entirely on them, and is uncritically responsive to their voice.” Last Sunday (9/13) at the Parents, Partners and Pancakes gathering at the high school, the local director of the Good Dog Foundation ( ) distributed literature on the program and. Uh, interviewed prospective canine auditors. Successful trainees receive certificates affirming their fitness for work in hospitals and hospices as well as schools. Still to be determined is how the dogs will be graded on comprehension tests.

MORE MAULINGS of the English language by Daily Mail scribes ("They also lived next to Michael's family who had been in the horse barn and paddock"; 8/21), and by Cairo clerks ("Any interesedt party for the following surplus items may be viewed at the Highway garage").

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Predicates First

>>RECOGNIZED as producer of Outstanding Regional Literature, by the Barnes & Noble book store company: GreeneLand's Black Dome Press, run by Deborah Allen in Hensonville ( It's the first award (to be conferred at the Kingston B & N on September 19th) of its kind. And it is peculiarly timely. It coincides with Black Dome's imminent distribution of A Kayaker's Guide to Lake Champlain. Exploring the New York, Vermont and Quebec Shores, whose appeal is much broader than the title indicates. Authors Catherine Frank and Margaret Holden, like the authors of Black Dome's recently distributed Adirondack Trails With Tales, combine practical guidance for regional outdoor activities--in this case, paddling--with zesty recollections. Readers get nuggets of information about once-native persons who once were called Indians, as well as about formative naval battles, smugglers, shipwrecks, the French & Indian wars, the Revolution, the war of 1812, environmental issues, and the fossil-rich geology of an area that once was oceanic. (Not explained, we regret, are how Fort Blunder, Cole Bay and Cole Island got their names). The writing, though marred by an invitation (p. 231) "to image," is solid. >>SELECTED by heads of the aforementioned Barnes & Noble chain, for special promotional effort during September-October, in stores flanking the Hudson River: River of Dreams , by GreeneLand author and illustrator Hudson Talbott. Big posters of the cover will be displayed next to extra stacks of the book. (Hot tip to managers of the 12 selected stores: put plentiful copies of United Tweets of America and other Talbott titles near the Dreams display). >>DUMPED by fellow Democrats in Jewett, at their party caucus last week: long-serving Town Supervisor Michael Flaherty. By a vote of 30 to 18, the co-partisans endorsed Georgette Kraus, former Town justice and sole assessor. Mr Flaherty has been a Town Board member for 13 years and Supervisor for 11 years, in addition to being local chairman of the Democratic Party. According to Daily Mail reporter Michael Ryan, the repudiation was triggered by recent clashes between Mr Flaherty and Highway Superintendent Robert Mallory. >>CHALLENGED in State Supreme Court, by Catskill Democrats, in connection with the November election contest over Catskill's four seats in the county legislature: validity of petitions filed on behalf of candidates seeking to appear on the ballot as nominees of the embryonic Have A Voice Party. The applicants are Karen Deyo and Keith Valentine (incumbents) along with Joseph Izzo and Linda H. (!) Overbaugh. Their drive to establish another party line on the ballot arose from the earlier, partly successful, Democratic challenge to the validity of their petitions to stand as Republicans. That challenge was based on a GOP blunder whereby avowed candidate Linda H. (!) Overbaugh, the well known Heart of Catskill manager, was mis-identified on the petitions as Linda L. (!) Overbaugh , who is an actual Catskillian with a different address and no interest in holding public office. Judge Richard Platkin ruled that the 'correct' Linda Overbaugh's name could not appear on the ballot,but the names of the other three candidates could be presented to the voters. In an attempt to salvage the Overbaugh candidacy,local Republicans mounted a petition campaign on behalf of a Have A Voice slate including Ms Overbaugh. The new Democratic challenge is based on the claim that the persons who claimed to have witnessed the signatures that appear on the Have A Voice petitions did not in fact see those signings. The defendants will argue that the witnesses were in fact present and the signatures, in any event, are authentic. The court hearing, before Acting Supreme Court Judge Jonathan O. Nichols of Columbia County, is slated for next Friday (9/11).

>>APPOINTED by GreeneLand's legislators to succeed the late Frank DeBenedictus as Republican representative on the county Board of Elections, amid questions about propriety, effective August 19th: Brent Bogardus. Mr Bogardus is chairman of the county's Republican Party. The combination of party chairman with Elections Commissioner is not unusual; the government job is part-time ($15,841 per year plus benefits) and is meant to be partisan. But Mr Bogardus also is Senior Special Advisor to Dean Skelos, who leads the Republicans in the State Senate. Some county legislators (Democrats all), while not voting Nay, and while acknowledging that the choice of Commissioner is the prerogative of the local party organization, voiced concern about the compatibility of Mr Bogardus's ultra-partisan, full-time ($90,000 per year) job in Albany with Election Board duties here (amid an accursed transition to electronic voting units).

>>CLEARED to stand for election to Durham’s seat in the county legislature, as standard-bearer of the Grassroots Of Durham Party: elk farmer Les Armstrong. This candidacy came about after Mr Armstrong submitted petitions aimed at enabling him to appear on the Republican primary election ballot in September, pitted against the endorsed GOP candidate, Elsie Allen. Republican chief Bogardus challenged the validity of Mr Armstrong’s petitions, and won the case. The revival of Mr Armstrong’s candidacy under the Grassroots banner enhances the re-election prospects of the Democratic candidate, Sean Frey.

>>WITHDRAWN by County Legislator Ken Dudley: application for an $80,000 Quantum Fund loan in support of improvements for his Tip Top Furniture store in Freehold. His application required approval by the legislature, since its below-market interest rate amounts to a subsidy for what qualifies as a local economic development-fostering program that reaches down from the Federal government through the States to local government allocators. Mr Dudley's application evoked criticism from some legislators on account of his dual role as applicant and authorizer. The case may come up again after Mr Dudley (R, Greenville) retires from office in December. >>GOUGED by elusive price manipulators: GreeneLand motorists. Prices of gasoline here still are higher than the national average (of $2.61 per gallon of regular recently--and that figure incoludes the radically expensive West Coast, at $2.96). Prices here also are higher than in neighboring counties. Moreover, prices at inland and upland stations here have been lower this week than prices in traffic centers. On Wednesday, regular in Palenville cost $2.70 per gallon while in Catskill, at the Hess and Cumberland Farms stations on West Bridge Street, the price was $2.78. The latter figure was higher than for Athens, Greenville, Hunter and Windham as well as for Hudson and Saugerties. >>ELECTED to presidency of the New York State Podiatric Medical Association: GreeneLand's Dr Mark Schilansky. >>ELECTED to presidency of the Cairo-Durham Board of Education, after a series of evenly split votes: Susan Kusminsky. >>PILFERED from the Blackthorne Resort, during August 22-23 festivities: the fiberglass pirate and cannon (called a "canon" in Please Return advertisements). 634-2541. >>DUBBED a "Preserve America Community" by Michelle Obama, as honorary chair of the Preserve America Initative: the Town of Hunter. >>CLOSED, after 31 years of operation between Leeds and South Cairo, on Route 23B, as restaurant and convenience store, in the wake of the loss of Frank and Joan Ann Gifford: The Place. >>CLOSED, after just six months of unpublicized, barely visible, operation in the former Aubuchon Hardware building on Boulevard Avenue (who devised that name?) in Catskill: Furniture For Less. >>ACKNOWLEDGED by the staff of Seeing Greene: dependence, for most of the foregoing items, on The Daily Mail.