We wrote here about a story in the Chicago Sun-Times by columnist Jennifer Hunter, reporting on a plaintiffs’ lawyers convention in Chicago. The five principal Democratic presidential candidates addressed the convention, and Hunter’s story was on the lawyers’ reaction. Her article was headlined “GOP Lawyer Sold on Dems;” it featured Jim Ronca, a well-known plaintiffs’ lawyer from Pennsylvania, who told Hunter that he was a Republican. Hunter breathlessly reported that this “staunch Republican” was so impressed by the Democratic candidates that this year, he would not only vote for a Democrat, but would actually contribute to the Democrat’s campaign.
Trouble was, it turned out that Ronca is in fact a long-time Democrat who has contributed mostly, although not quite exclusively, to Democratic candidates for a long time.
So Ronca, a smart lawyer, made a fool of Hunter, a not-so-smart reporter. One might think that this would be grounds for a correction; but not, apparently, at the Sun-Times. Instead, Jennifer Hunter wrote a defiant follow-up column attacking Republicans. No, not Ronca, the fake Republican who lied to her; real Republicans. Hunter writes:
Ever been harassed by a group of irate Republicans?
For the past few days, since a news story of mine was published on Monday, I have been bombarded with dozens of daily e-mails from Republicans calling me a liar, demanding I be fired, and insisting on a retraction.
It isn’t hard to see that in Hunter’s world, Republicans are aliens. And, while she may have gotten rude emails from Republicans, she also got mine, which read as follows:
Ms. Hunter, as you probably know, a number of people on-line have pointed out that Jim Ronca, the “staunch Republican” who headlined your article in yesterday’s paper, is a long-time Democratic contributor. Further, I assume you are aware that the “American Association for Justice,” whose convention you were covering, is the new name of the American Trial Lawyers’ Association, a group of plaintiff’s lawyers that has always been strongly associated with the Democratic Party. This is why they put on a “forum” consisting of the Democratic (but not Republican) Presidential candidates, and also invited Howard Dean to address one of their meetings. As for Jim Ronca, he is a former President of the Pennsylvania affiliate of the American Trial Lawyers’ Association, which doesn’t necessarily rule out his being a Republican, but makes it highly unlikely.
So, my question is: where did you get the idea that Ronca was a “staunch Republican?” Did you actually attend the forum where the Democratic candidates spoke? Did you understand the nature of the event, and the fact that pretty much everyone present was a Democrat? In that context, did you do any research to verify Ronca’s apparent claim that he was a Republican? What research?
I would appreciate any light you can shed on this incident. Thank you.
She didn’t respond to my email, either.
Hunter now blames her editor for the headline, and says that the portion of her article relating to Ronca was only a “small part” of the whole. In fact, though, she devoted the first four paragraphs of her column to Ronca’s reaction to the Democratic candidates.
Hunter doesn’t really have much to say about Ronca’s deception:
One of the men I interviewed, Jim Ronca, identified himself as a disgruntled Republican, fed up with the Bush White House, who was going to give his vote and money to Democrats. In my story I called him a “staunch Republican.” His wife was standing by his side, and so was a friend, a Democrat from New York, Ted Oshman, neither of whom disputed Ronca’s description of himself as a Republican.
Which means that she asked no questions and did no investigation to confirm that her characterization of Ronca as a “staunch Republican”–her words, not his–was truthful. This omission is particularly glaring, given that the gathering she was covering was, essentially, a convention of Democrats.
Hunter doesn’t try to claim that her description of Ronca was truthful, but she mounts this sort-of defense:
Industrious partisans, upset that anyone calling himself a Republican could possibly think of supporting the Democrats, decided to “investigate” Ronca, an attorney from Philadelphia. And what they found, they told me, was a long history of Ronca giving more money to Democrats than Republicans. (In fact, much of the money he donated to Democrats was after George W. Bush was elected.)
This is remarkable: in Hunter’s world, only an “industrious partisan” would actually perform a journalist’s job: that is, investigate to make sure that what she is reporting is accurate. Beyond that, Hunter’s claim that “much of the money [Ronca] donated to Democrats was after George W. Bush was elected” is simply bizarre. In fact, the record on contributions cited here went back to 1994. Between 1994 and 2001, Ronca made six contributions to Democrats, including Ted Kennedy. After 2001, he made five contributions to Democrats, including John Kerry. If Hunter seriously thinks that this means Ronca might be a “staunch Republican” after all, she is more out of touch than we had realized.
The rest of Hunter’s “rebuttal” consists of quotes from emails she got from Republicans. However, she didn’t quote, or respond to, mine.
So what we have here is a case of a lazy reporter being burned by a fellow Democrat who told her, probably as a lark, that he was a Republican–a “fact” that Hunter found so significant that she devoted the first four paragraphs of her story to it. The facts, as reported by Hunter, were obviously wrong. Yet, instead of a correction–let alone an apology–what we get from Hunter is a screed against “irate Republicans” who are “industrious partisans” and are guilty of “madness.” The madness evidently consisted of pointing out that she was wrong.
Another day, another debacle for the American newspaper industry.
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