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November 24, 2017

The Truth Is Out There (Gwen Moritz Editor’s Note)


(A correction has been made to this column. See end for details.)

Last week, the Washington Post published, in an impressively interactive online version, a story about a 2007 deposition of Donald Trump in which the future Republican presidential nominee was forced to admit under oath that lots of things he had said publicly weren’t true.

His net worth, his ownership stake in various enterprises, how much he was paid in speaking fees, even things he claimed other people did or said — all just hooey, and he acknowledged it and didn’t seem to care. Trump’s relationship with the truth is sort of like my relationship with the periodic table: I have a general idea of what it is and I know it’s very important, but it’s not really something I consider in my day-to-day decision-making.

Now, I can’t imagine a worse choice to perform the duties of president of the United States than Donald Trump. But if he’s still on the ballot come November, he’s going to win Arkansas’ electoral votes in a cakewalk, so my opinion on his fitness for office is beside the point.

But that Washington Post story was a reminder of just how much fascinating, important and/or newsworthy information is sitting out there in the millions and millions of court files all over this country. Especially in the civil files, which tend to get less media attention than criminal charges.

Arkansas Business routinely mines court documents for stories. That’s how Mark Friedman, the senior editor who covers law and health care, got his award-winning scoops on the Mountain Home doctor, Stacey Johnson, who defrauded Medicare of nearly $15 million before he died and on the curious strategy used by John Goodson and friends to get a self-serving class-action settlement approved in Polk County Circuit Court. Civil court records (and 30 years of source development) have allowed Senior Editor George Waldon to report on the curious auction of Dunklin family property in southeast Arkansas and on the series of frauds that creditors and investors have alleged against John Rogers of North Little Rock.

Sometimes I even get in on the act. Depositions in a North Carolina civil suit were the basis of my 2015 story exploring the international fraud that ensnared the former president of a small Little Rock credit union, Joyce Judy.

But finding that stuff, assessing its news value and then distilling it into a readable, informative news story is labor-intensive craftsmanship. There were never enough skilled craftsmen to ferret out all these worthwhile stories, and now there aren’t nearly as many as there used to be. (The declining number of hard news reporters was the subject of a tragicomic episode of John Oliver’s HBO series “Last Week Tonight” on Aug. 7.)

Of course, court files aren’t the only places where news is lying around unharvested. Without a tipster, Friedman wouldn’t have known to request emails that state Auditor Andrea Lea instructed her staff to send to her private email account. (We’ll never know what was contained in the emails Hillary Clinton deleted, or on the hard drives destroyed by Mike Huckabee when he left the governor’s office.)

A tipster prompted the internal audit that uncovered the deeply disappointing, and possibly illegal, behavior that led Tim Hudson to resign as chancellor of Arkansas State University’s flagship campus at Jonesboro. Otherwise, he might have continued manipulating job openings for his wife’s benefit and using his position to try to get tuition discounts for his daughter. (If someone with household income of roughly $400,000 a year, plus a provided house and vehicle, can’t afford to send his kid to college, what hope do the other 99.5 percent of Arkansans have?)

This keeps me awake at night: The knowledge that there are important stories of value and interest to my readers, or of importance to our community or our country, that aren’t being reported because news organizations don’t know about them and there might not be enough warm bodies to do the work even if we did.

In John Oliver’s segment, he included a clip of David Simon, the former journalist who went on to create HBO’s “The Wire” series, worrying about the same thing.

“The next 10 or 15 years in this country are going to be a halcyon era for state and local political corruption,” Simon said. “It’s going to be one of the great times to be a corrupt politician. I really envy them. I really do.”

Keep those tips coming anyway, folks.

(Correction, Aug. 15, 2016: Dr. Stacey Johnson practiced in Mountain Home. His hometown was incorrect in the original version.)


Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.

(A correction has been made to this column. See end for details.)

Last week, the Washington Post published, in an impressively interactive online version, a story about a 2007 deposition of Donald Trump in which the future Republican presidential nominee was forced to admit under oath that lots of things he had said publicly weren’t true.

His net worth, his ownership stake in various enterprises, how much he was paid in speaking fees, even things he claimed other people did or said — all just hooey, and he acknowledged it and didn’t seem to care. Trump’s relationship with the truth is sort of like my relationship with the periodic table: I have a general idea of what it is and I know it’s very important, but it’s not really something I consider in my day-to-day decision-making.

Now, I can’t imagine a worse choice to perform the duties of president of the United States than Donald Trump. But if he’s still on the ballot come November, he’s going to win Arkansas’ electoral votes in a cakewalk, so my opinion on his fitness for office is beside the point.

But that Washington Post story was a reminder of just how much fascinating, important and/or newsworthy information is sitting out there in the millions and millions of court files all over this country. Especially in the civil files, which tend to get less media attention than criminal charges.

Arkansas Business routinely mines court documents for stories. That’s how Mark Friedman, the senior editor who covers law and health care, got his award-winning scoops on the Mountain Home doctor, Stacey Johnson, who defrauded Medicare of nearly $15 million before he died and on the curious strategy used by John Goodson and friends to get a self-serving class-action settlement approved in Polk County Circuit Court. Civil court records (and 30 years of source development) have allowed Senior Editor George Waldon to report on the curious auction of Dunklin family property in southeast Arkansas and on the series of frauds that creditors and investors have alleged against John Rogers of North Little Rock.

Sometimes I even get in on the act. Depositions in a North Carolina civil suit were the basis of my 2015 story exploring the international fraud that ensnared the former president of a small Little Rock credit union, Joyce Judy.

But finding that stuff, assessing its news value and then distilling it into a readable, informative news story is labor-intensive craftsmanship. There were never enough skilled craftsmen to ferret out all these worthwhile stories, and now there aren’t nearly as many as there used to be. (The declining number of hard news reporters was the subject of a tragicomic episode of John Oliver’s HBO series “Last Week Tonight” on Aug. 7.)

Of course, court files aren’t the only places where news is lying around unharvested. Without a tipster, Friedman wouldn’t have known to request emails that state Auditor Andrea Lea instructed her staff to send to her private email account. (We’ll never know what was contained in the emails Hillary Clinton deleted, or on the hard drives destroyed by Mike Huckabee when he left the governor’s office.)

A tipster prompted the internal audit that uncovered the deeply disappointing, and possibly illegal, behavior that led Tim Hudson to resign as chancellor of Arkansas State University’s flagship campus at Jonesboro. Otherwise, he might have continued manipulating job openings for his wife’s benefit and using his position to try to get tuition discounts for his daughter. (If someone with household income of roughly $400,000 a year, plus a provided house and vehicle, can’t afford to send his kid to college, what hope do the other 99.5 percent of Arkansans have?)

This keeps me awake at night: The knowledge that there are important stories of value and interest to my readers, or of importance to our community or our country, that aren’t being reported because news organizations don’t know about them and there might not be enough warm bodies to do the work even if we did.

In John Oliver’s segment, he included a clip of David Simon, the former journalist who went on to create HBO’s “The Wire” series, worrying about the same thing.

“The next 10 or 15 years in this country are going to be a halcyon era for state and local political corruption,” Simon said. “It’s going to be one of the great times to be a corrupt politician. I really envy them. I really do.”

Keep those tips coming anyway, folks.

(Correction, Aug. 15, 2016: Dr. Stacey Johnson practiced in Mountain Home. His hometown was incorrect in the original version.)


Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.

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