Are Ficticious Journos Covering the Central Basin Municipal Water District?

Weird story in today’s LA Times regarding the Central Basin Municipal Water District–which provides water to two million residents of Southeast LA County–and the way they handle their public relations. The district recently paid out $200,000 in taxpayer money to launch a PR campaign–under the guarantee that stories about the district would be indexed under Google News. The District hired public relations consultant Ed Coghlan to handle the campaign, who promised that he would find experienced journalists to handle the job. Enter Mike Adams, a journalist who has been penning stories on the district for the site News Hawks Review. Only problem: Adams doesn’t seem to exist.

From The Times:

A biography on News Hawks described him as a former magazine writer and TV veteran who had a degree in construction sciences from Westminster College in Salt Lake City. But his background in journalism could not be verified, and Westminster’s registrar, Mindy Wennergren, said the school has never offered a degree in construction sciences.

News Hawks also presented a picture of Adams, showing a stoic man with a gray beard and a black cowboy hat. A reader notified The Times that the photo was a stock image used to demonstrate editing techniques on websites such as deviantart.com.

From there, the picture was traced to photographer Leroy Skalstad, who said he took the shot at a Milwaukee food bank last year and posted it to several photo-sharing websites. He said the subject of the picture is a man nicknamed “Cobra.”

Three people written about in Adams’ stories say they never actually met him, but they recalled being interviewed by Coghlan, the public relations consultant working for Central Basin.

Coghlan refused to comment for The Times story. News Hawks publisher Tony Marino did, however, launch this Palin-esque defense of his operation: “We did stories that were totally original…. We published about subjects that the L.A. Times and other ‘old media’ would never even think about.” Google News has since pulled those stories from its index after discovering Coghlan’s relationship to the Central Basic Water District.

Previously on FishbowlLA:
Public Agency Crows About LA Times Corrections