Is There Any Common Ground With the Common Denominator?

The Washington Times’ Amy Doolittle and The Common Denominator’s Kathryn M. Sinzinger have exchanged some emails regarding, what Doolittle sees as, the Common Denominator’s misrepresentation of Linda Cropp’s abrupt ending of the D.C. Council’s breakfast recently.

    Ms. Sinzinger,

    The July 14 edition of the Common Denominator referred to a story I wrote about the D.C. Council’s breakfast suddenly being ended by council chairman and mayoral candidate Linda Cropp. The meeting was called to an end after she questioned my right to record the proceedings. The next morning The Washington Times ran a front-page report of the incident.

    In your report, you quote Mark Johnson, a flack for Mrs. Cropp, as
    saying “she never asked Amy to leave – she never asked her to stop
    recording. She just ended the meeting.” You also write that the council was discussing a “personnel matter when the tape recorder’s
    presence was questioned” and say a provision under most open meeting
    laws allows such matters to be discussed “behind closed doors.”

More of the cat fight after the jump…


    However, as my report pointed out, only one reporter was present at
    the meeting — and it was not a reporter for the Common Denominator.
    In addition, Mr. Johnson was not at the meeting.

    My recording of the meeting captured Mrs. Cropp telling me to “stop.”
    It is the very last word on the tape. After I pressed stop on my
    recorder, I defended my right to tape during an “open” meeting, at
    which point Mrs. Cropp abruptly called the breakfast to an end.

    Also, the “personnel matter” in question was Chief Ramsey’s
    retirement package – a bill that has been discussed in public
    hearings and was to be voted on during the course of that day. Since
    it was a bill on the legislative schedule, it is not an exempted
    “personnel matter.”

    Your report provides only one side of the incident — the
    government’s. You did not contact me or ask to hear my recording.
    Apparently, you did not contact any of the other people in the room
    that morning, who could confirm that Mrs. Cropp said “stop.” I could
    suggest a few people, including council members, if you’re still
    interested.

    Please print a correction containing the above information in your
    next edition. Thanks.

    Amy Doolittle
    The Washington Times

Sinziner’s response:

    Hi, Amy–
    Thanks for your note. Actually, the “Taking Note” item that we published online was prompted by a discussion with a council member who was present at the breakfast meeting — other than Cropp or Evans — rather than any attempt by Cropp or her spokesman to respond to your story.
    In other jurisdictions where I have worked as a journalist, and which have good open meetings laws, a council discussion of Chief Ramsey’s retirement package would have been permitted in an executive session behind closed doors. The fact that it was on a meeting agenda would not have made a difference. That’s one of the problems with sweeping “personnel matters” exemptions in open meetings laws. And that would mean that asking you to stop taping and to leave an open meeting would be permitted under those laws.
    Unfortunately, there is nothing in the actual D.C. Code right now that requires that the council even allow a reporter or any other member of the public into its breakfast meetings. That’s why I’ve been working as part of the regional press association’s task force to change the District’s open meetings law.
    Our item was not intended as a personal attack against you, and I apologize if you interpretted it that way. But from your account of the exchange you engaged in with the council chairman, as a journalist who has had similar encounters with government officials in the past, I would suggest that in the future you refrain from hitting the “stop” button on your recorder until you have finished arguing your point.
    –Kathy Sinzinger

    Kathryn M. Sinzinger
    Editor & Publisher
    The Common Denominator