Publicly accusing someone of racism doesn’t violate SPJ’s Code of Conduct.
That’s what I learned yesterday from the president and president-elect of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Two weeks after an SPJ leader publicly accused me of hating Hispanics and women – after trying to kick me out of an open meeting – SPJ president Patti Newberry sent a memo.
“Going forward, we will seek to open all meetings to all members,” Newberry wrote me and SPJ secretary-treasurer Rebecca Aguilar, the woman who threatened to call security, sic her attorney on me, and demanded to know what I “have against” women and Hispanics.
SPJ apparently has nothing against Aguilar’s comments, because Newberry added, “We believe the options for resolution of disputes, as provided in the online EIJ Code of Conduct, are not appropriate in this matter.”
What are those options? Newberry admits the poorly written and overly broad code includes the words “any action we deem appropriate.” She and her board of directors have simply deemed doing nothing is appropriate.
In response, I asked Patti and her board…
Looks like I won’t get that apology I asked for, which is fine. But I don’t see how you can avoid giving me more details without your silence speaking volumes.
Here’s what little I’ve heard, and it’s hysterical.
Watching journalists squirm when they don’t want to answer questions is both amusing and revealing. Mostly, it reveals they suck at dissembling. We should really give our sources more credit for how deftly they deflect tough questions. We should also learn from them.
I emailed Newberry and asked simply, “Do you believe what Rebecca said to me – in front of witnesses – wasn’t harassment or discrimination?”
I will say that I believe you and I have worked well together over the years and I hope that will be the case going forward. I will also say I hope to likewise work collaboratively with Rebecca, in her new role as secretary-treasurer.
From there, it got weird….
Me: Just to be clear, you’re refusing to answer this question: Do you believe what Rebecca said to me – in front of witnesses – wasn’t harassment or discrimination?
Newberry: I am not answering that, Michael.
Me: May I ask why you refuse to answer the question?
Newberry: I cannot judge that. I was not there.
Me: Did you speak to the witnesses – both SPJ members – whose names I gave you?
Newberry: You likely have already drafted what you want to say on this matter. Feel free to suggest ways to revise the complaint process. That is on the table and I welcome your recommendations.
Me: I simply want to know if SPJ thinks it’s OK for one of its leaders to publicly accuse someone of racism. And you didn’t answer the question: Did you speak with the witnesses before you decided you “cannot judge this”?
Newberry never replied – maybe because she’d have to concede she never actually investigated my complaint. Obviously, she doesn’t want to publicly admit Aguilar wielded her race and gender as blunt-force objects. But she doesn’t want to publicly defend Aguilar, either.
Just to drive home the irony that SPJ wants to ignore its third-highest leader using racism as a weapon, I asked the second-highest leader a simple question – which he tried mightily not to answer.
Matt Hall is SPJ’s president-elect. This summer, he tweeted…
Hall was mad at me for writing about my unenvious sex life on this very blog. I was SPJ’s longest-serving board member at the time, and Hall publicly declared I had besmirched SPJ’s reputation.
So I asked him if what I wrote is worse than what Aguilar said. Since he “won’t tolerate harassment or discrimination,” why is he tolerating Aguilar’s comments?
I took all aspects of your complaint seriously, and I think this conflict is for you and Rebecca to resolve, not for SPJ to adjudicate.
Of course, that didn’t answer my question, so I asked it again: “Since you took all aspects of my complaint seriously, do you not believe it constitutes ‘harassment or discrimination’? Or do you believe my blog post was worse than Rebecca’s comments?”
About the complaint, I think Patti’s memo speaks for itself.
Newberry’s email said nothing about what I was asking, so I replied, “Just to be clear, you refuse to answer my question?”
Thanks for asking. No, I don’t refuse to answer your questions. My answer to your questions is that the memo explains SPJ’s position and that I hope you and Rebecca talk to one another directly to resolve this dispute yourselves.
So I tried one more time: “The memo doesn’t answer the question I asked, because the memo isn’t about the tweet you sent. Do you believe my blog post and Rebecca’s comments are both equally serious violations?”
…and like Newberry, Hall just never replied.
Since both Newberry and Hall suggested I speak directly with Aguilar, I emailed her today, “Patti and Matt say our dispute is ours to resolve. Will you discuss it? Will you acknowledge this email?”
A few hours later, Newberry emailed me…
Rebecca Aguilar has written me asking you not to contact her again related to your EIJ complaint.
The irony of journalists stonewalling and then ignoring a journalist is so thick and rich, you could drizzle it on pancakes.
Rebecca Aguilar is now free to keep bullying SPJers who bug her, because she’s paid zero consequences so far. In fact, she’s bullied people before. She just hasn’t always gotten away with it.
In 2008, Aguilar was a reporter at the Fox News affiliate in Dallas. While she was interviewing a 70-year-man who shot and killed two burglars, she demanded, “Are you a trigger-happy kind of person? Is that what you wanted to do, shoot to kill?”
Aguilar was fired, but she sued the station for wrongful termination. She quickly lost.
When Aguilar served on the board of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, she proved to be an equal-opportunity bully. She accused NAHJ members not of racism (since that wouldn’t really work) but of sexual harassment. Yet she refused to provide details. As a website called Latino Reporter wrote earlier this month…
She had been contacted by NAHJ’s team of investigators, but declined to speak with them because she felt the integrity of the investigation — which was conducted by NAHJ members who have served on the board — had been compromised.
Aguilar attacked so many NAHJ members, when I told NAHJ president Hugo Balta what she had said to me, he emailed me back…
I know Rebecca. We served on the NAHJ Board during my first term as president (2012-14). I think she offers much value on different fronts. But, I had to block her from all my social media because of some of what you experienced.
Alas, SPJ leaders knew none of this when they embraced Aguilar as their first Hispanic female officer – because they never asked. In a final irony, they’re journalists who did no reporting.
Aguilar becomes SPJ’s president in two years. Strap in, because it’s gonna be a wild ride.