Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cincy | 'Chiquita' reporter's record expunged

The Cincinnati Enquirer fired Michael Gallgaher in 1998 after he admitted hacking into Chiquita's voice mail system to research a damning series the paper published about the fruit giant.

Gallagher was eventually convicted for his actions. Gannett paid a reported $14 million to Chiquita, published a front-page apology for three consecutive days, and renounced the entire series to avoid a lawsuit.

Thursday, a Hamilton County court judge expunged his record. "That's the same as saying Gallagher's thefts, his conviction and sentence never happened," the paper says in a story today.



    "The biggest media brouhaha this town has ever seen came in 1998, courtesy of a feud between Chiquita Banana Co. and the Enquirer. Chiquita, owned by Cincinnati’s wealthiest man, Carl Lindner, was the target of an Enquirer investigative series that badly misfired. By year’s end the reporter on the series, Mike Gallagher, had been fired by his newspaper and sentenced as a felon for illegally tapping into Chiquita’s corporate voice-mail system as he dug for facts. The editor of the paper, Larry Beaupre, had been canned as well. And an embarrassed publisher, Harry Whipple, had publicly renounced the series in three prominent front-page apologies, not to mention paying Lindner (who, ironically, used to own the daily himself) $14 million in a hastily arranged legal settlement. The impact on Cincinnati journalism was felt for years. First, the Enquirer inherited a series of new editors. Then there was the fallout on newsroom morale and ensuing staff exodus. “Welcome to the Enquirer,” read an unsigned Jim Borgman cartoon posted on office bulletin boards soon after the news of the public apology broke. It showed dazed reporters standing amid apocalyptic rubble. And dazed they were.
    The banana scandal—it spawned a million groaner headlines: “Final A-peel.” “Bitter Fruit.” “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, NPR, ABC, CNN, Reuters, Newsday, the AP, and Agence France-Presse all came to town to cover the story, which made the front pages of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal on the same day. Call it our very own media banana-gate, one that, to this day, won’t go away."

  2. Anyone have any idea what Gallagher is up to today?

  3. We journalists who read the Chiquita series online were aghast at how poorly written and edited it was. (Sort of like Bob Woodward's "Wired" on John Belushi. It's what happens when a good reporter can't find a good editor.)

    Then we were aghast at how the truth of the story was lost in the scandal. (Sort of like Dan Rather's report on George W's National Guard service. Again, the truth was lost in the scandal.)

  4. I think he's pounding watermelons with a sledgehammer, 11:421PM!

  5. Yeah, the report's findings were damning -- the way some of that info came out made it tainted, however. And made it easier for Chiquita to paper over the whole mess. The Enquirer has never recovered.

  6. True enough on sloppy editing and packaging. But in fairness, the Chiquita series was never seen by the copy desk or art director until 48 hours before publication. Larry Beaupre, the editor, has already been "burned" by getting beaten on the Fernald nuclear plant series (somebody else got wind of the Enquirer series about to hit print, and blew the whistle first!). He always felt the Enquirer got cheated out of its Pulitzer with Fernald leaks (from within the newsroom), so he set a course to let as few people see Chiquita as possible before deadline. This meant the art director scrambled, worked all night, to cobble together a coherent package before press time. This meant copy editors only got to check for misplaced commas and semicolons hours before the press run. You can bet 99.9 percent of the Enquirer staff knew nothing about details of series until they picked up their Sunday paper. In total, six people including the publisher got to see the series in total before it hit print. Two of those people were the reporters, Mike Gallagher and Cam McWhirter. A textbook example of secrecy gone wild ... with the downside being, there were very few people in the food chain to share the blame when the feds came calling about violations of wiretapping laws (intercepting voicemail is considered wiretapping). This wasn't fear of a libel suit by Chiquita; that company never filed so much as a single piece of legal paper. The threat was, this had entered the arena of criminal law, not First Amendment Law, and somebody could wind up in Leavenworth.

  7. Editor & Publisher Magazine had the final word, in this blunt editorial from 2003 about the Enquirer destroying its own records and reporters' notes.


    On or around Sunday, June 29, The Cincinnati Enquirer will destroy all the notes two of its reporters compiled during a year-long investigation that became the infamous 18-page report published May 13, 1998 about the business practices of Chiquita Brand International Inc., the local banana company then owned by Cincinnati tycoon Carl Lindner.

    The destruction of journalists' notes after five years is the final obligation the Enquirer undertook in its craven 1998 settlement to avoid further legal problems from Chiquita. ...

    ... here's always the shredder, of course. But Enquirer executives may want to avoid the image of corporate suits in a panic, wheeling all those carts of printouts through the halls of Enron, into a room with the constant churn.

    Perhaps the Enquirer could take a page from the Nixon White House. Executives could deep-six the so-called "Series Material" in the Ohio River, and watch as the Portage Professional Reporter's Notebooks float for a while, then slowly sink like mad Ophelia in "Hamlet."

    But the Enquirer has shown such a blindness to the bigger journalistic issues at stake in the Chiquita affair that we think only a "Fahrenheit 451" end will suffice. The notes should burn -- and the Enquirer should be forced to live with the consequent stench.

  8. Responding to 11:42

    Sheesh!!! You guys call yourselves reporters? In response to “Where Is Mike Gallagher” these days, the newspaper story even sez he lives in Saugatuck, Michigan. Just a quick Google of the keywords Saugatuck and Gallagher produces this:

    Contact Observer Newspapers/Editorial
    Mike Gallagher, Editor 
Tel: (269) 455-5147

    Other key figures in the saga, a “Where Are They Now” courtesy of AJR, others:

    Lawrence K. Beaupre, the Enquirer editor: He is now managing editor of The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa., and executive editor of Times-Shamrock Communications. http://alumni.illinimedia.com/famers/view/17

    Harry Whipple, the publisher: Last heard from here, “Harry Whipple out as head of Denver Newspaper Agency” http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2009/03/harry_whipple_out_as_head_of_d.php
    Whipple ran the Denver Newspaper Agency from 2006 to 2009; he had previously run a JOA in Salt Lake City. From 1992 to 2003, Whipple was publisher of the Cincy Enquirer, before that, head of the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson and The Tucson Citizen.

    Cameron McWhirter, co-reporter on the Chiquita series: McWhirter is a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal and author of Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America. www.online.wsj.com

    David Wells, Enquirer city editor and Chiquita project editor: David Wells spent 35 years as a reporter, editor and editorial page editor on a metropolitan newspaper. Through David Wells Communications LLC, he now puts that expertise to use helping businesses plan and implement effective communications. http://davidwellscommunications.com/contact.php

    Peter Bronson, editorial page editor: Bronson is now at Cincy Magazine. “Right Wing Ex-Enquirer Columnist Peter Bronson: Has New Gig At Cincy Magazine.” http://thebellwetherdaily.blogspot.com/2010/01/right-wing-ex-enquirer-columnist-peter.html

    George Ventura, the key source in the Chiquita series: Mr. Ventura is an attorney at Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough Greater Salt Lake City Area Law Practice, and former Attorney Chiquita Brands International Inc. July 1993 – January 1996 (2 years 7 months) Managed all legal, labor and government matters for Chiquita’s Honduras Division, which encompassed 10,000 employees and over 45,000 acres of land. http://www.linkedin.com/in/georgeventura

  9. 'Course, people new to journalism probably are thinking what's the big deal, so the Enquirer ran a correction.

    You have to SEE this front page, with its 72-point headline "Apology to Chiquita" and text running across the top half of the fold, to get a sense of the enormity of this "correction." And know that it ran the same way, THREE DAYS RUNNING, on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, per the Chiquita lawyers agreement. Astounding.

    See http://www.google.com/search?q=enquirer+chiquita+apology&hl=en&gbv=2&tbm=isch&oq=enquirer+chiquita+apology&gs_l=img.3...14202.16808.0.17022.

  10. 1:11 I think you may want to add the long list of Gannett lawyers and honchos who vetted the series to the list of those who saw it before print. When all was said and done, the newsroom was left in a shambles, with morale - never stellar - plummeting.

    It IS a shame that the gist of the series was lost in the fracas and that a good editor - an editor with high ethical standards - was hung out to dry. He never should have believed that corporate would have his back.

  11. "(Sort of like Dan Rather's report on George W's National Guard service. Again, the truth was lost in the scandal.)"

    There certainly was not a scintilla of truth in anything Rather reported. If there was a "truth" that got lost in the shuffle, it had to do with what a ludicrous hack Rather is and always has been.

  12. Enough of the myth about how well-reported it was. Numerous errors never got aired or corrected because Chiquita focused on the big picture and not on amateurish bungles like misspelled names (e.g. Suzan Brester spelled Susan). Beaupre and Gallagher were arrogant hustlers who didn't think they needed editors. Their delusions of grandeur included imagining that sloppy, slanted and badly written series to be Pulitzer material on any level.

  13. A couple of points:
    Kimball Perry's report this week says the Enquirer "retracted" the Chiquita story. It did not. It renounced it. There's a big difference, and that was a very important distinction at the time.
    Also: A commenter above says the desk was able to check for misplaced commas, etc. hours before publication. That series NEVER went through the desk. Even the news editor was not allowed to see it. Larry Beaupre was too afraid that someone might ask hard questions and/or call his baby ugly. And he trusted Gallagher more than he trusted his desk.
    The desk could not have known what Gallagher had done, of course (though copy editors likely would have asked tough questions about sourcing). But that series also had serious gaps and omissions, and some major flaws -- not to mention the sloppy typos and such.
    It's all the more maddening, because Larry Beaupre was actually a fine editor. He had good judgment and he wanted his paper to be a strong, hard-hitting newspaper. That's rare these days (at least in Cincinnati).
    Larry's intentions were good.
    He was simply blinded by hubris -- and blindsided by a reporter he had coddled.

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. I've been reminded that even though the notes and records are destroyed, all the journalists involved in Chiquita are still held to their signing of that non-disclosure agreement that was critical part of settlement. This helpful update from E&P:


    Full details of Gannett, Chiquita deal - at last
    Posted: 5/4/2011 | By: Todd Shields
    Court documents obtained by 'E&P' show news group agreed to extensive demands in out-of-court settlement.

    Critics questioned why the Enquirer and its parent Gannett Co. Inc. would retreat so quickly and completely. Now, documents obtained by E&P show Gannett gave up far more than had generally been known. It struck a confidential agreement with Chiquita to muzzle some of its journalists and to report to Chiquita on investigations of Enquirer staff.

    ... the confidential agreement "shows the very high price the Enquirer paid -- financially and reputationally -- to extricate itself" from the Chiquita morass. The agreement was among papers filed in District of Columbia Superior Court in a lawsuit brought by Lawrence K. Beaupre, who was the Enquirer's editor in 1998.

    According to the agreement, dated June 29, 1998, Gannett and the Enquirer agreed that:
    Chiquita would not sue Enquirer workers "with the exception of Michael Gallagher," who later received probation after pleading guilty in a series-related legal action.
    Gannett would investigate the newspaper's employees, as well as any third party, to determine the identities of anyone who was privy to the voice-mail messages. Gannett had to provide Chiquita with the names of those persons.
    Gannett would give Chiquita "unlimited access to all recordings, transcripts, or other copies or transcriptions of voice-mail messages" that Gannett possessed. The Enquirer would then place all materials relevant to the report "in secure storage" and "[N]o person ... shall be permitted access to the Series Materials without the express written permission of Chiquita."

  16. @4:02 p.m. 7/25, thanks for the link to the retraction newspaper. Aaahhh, memories are so fun to rehash, eh, Enquirer?

  17. Usa Today suffered much embarrasment with its Leslie Cauley expose over telecoms turning over domestic phone records. Despite a convulted explainer, Paulson and Hillkirk never got thrown under the bus.

  18. Loved the "E&P" link. Thanks for the post, Anon 11:42!


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