Projo to Use Democratic Consultant for Polling
Monday, November 18, 2013
Providence Journal and WPRI-12 have confirmed they will use Democratic consultant Joe Fleming in the coming year.
Earlier this year, GoLocalProv had revealed that Fleming had earned tens of thousands working for Speaker of the House Gordon Fox's related political committees.
Fleming Active this Month for Top Democrats
Just this month, Fleming was a paid consultant to Democrat Lisa Baldelli Hunt in her race for Mayor of Woonsocket. Fleming was paid thousands by the State Representative.
When GoLocalProv first unveiled the Fleming-Fox links, a number of leading journalism experts from across the country raised concerns about WPRI-12's use of Fleming. M. Charles Bakst, the venerable retired reporter of the Providence Journal told GoLocalProv, “This is a two-part answer,” Bakst said. “As a general rule of thumb, I would think a media outlet would not want a pollster working for them who is also working for a political party. The second part is that I know Joe and have never had any reason to question his integrity.”
RI GOP Call Foul
With Fleming working for the Democratic party and democratic candidates, leaders in the GOP are raising concerns about fairness, disclosure and transparency.
"I do believe that media outlets should choose pollsters without any clients effected by a given poll. These polling results are especially critical, especially in the early stages of a campaign to provide a basis for early fundraising. To me, it diminishes the credibility of the poll knowing the pollster is employed by a candidate or organization included in the poll results," said John Loughlin, former GOP candidate for Congress and radio talk show host on WPRO.
GOP Party Spokesperson, Mike Napolitano said, "If Fleming is in fact polling for the Democratic party as a client, or speaker Fox as a client, he cannot claim he does not appear as a neutral party in any general poll. There's a conflict of interest if that's the case, which needs to indicated."
Fleming's list of Democratic clients is extensive and covers that past decade. "If he's working for the party, it definitely raises an eyebrow. Even if it looks improper, people lose faith. If I were a media outlet, I'd demand to know that he's not working on behalf of the (Democratic) party," said Napolitano.
"The Providence Journal has been delivering high quality, in-depth coverage of statewide political campaigns and elections since the 1800s," said Karen Bordeleau, senior vice president and executive editor of The Journal in a press release. "Our Campaign 2014 poll partnership with Eyewitness News will enhance that coverage and provide deeper, smarter journalism for Journal subscribers and WPRI's viewers."
The Dean of the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism echoed the criticism by outcast Democrats about the dual roles of Joe Fleming. For the past two election cycles, Fleming has served as political consultant for speaker of the House Gordon Fox and Television analyst and Pollster for WPRI-12.
The pollster goes before the public as a neutral party.
"The principle at stake is that the person as a pollster goes before the public representing as a neutral party presenting information without bias or political alignments,” said Edward Wasserman, Dean of the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. "If the pollster is aligned with a particular party or organization, that’s misleading and it’s deceptive. There is an issue of transparency, an assumption of neutrality.”
Wasserman, whose expertise includes being an authority on the ethics, evolution and ownership of the news media, has written multiple articles on conflict of interest in media and media relations.
“If there’s no hiding the fact that they are aligned with a particular party, work for the party and announce that information, then there is less of a conflict. If the analyst’s representation dovetail’s with the interests of a certain party, that is problematic - ethically problematic. “
Wasserman also spoke to the issue of the changing media and the representation of analysts and experts who have a targeted agenda.
“There is a new species, a strange hybrid of news consultants. They aren’t a source and they aren’t journalists,” Wasserman said. “You see it across media outlets.”
There was no impropriety.
Fleming, responding to allegations of impropriety and "illegal coordination" by Democrats fallen from favor with House leadership and no longer serving as representatives at the State House, told GoLocalProv.com in an interview that there was no impropriety. Fleming, a political consultant and pollster, also serves as a political analyst for WPRI-12 in Providence.
“It’s all common knowledge,” he said. "I am retained by the Speaker and under contract with the Speaker’s office. This is no secret.” “I don’t want to comment on how I choose who I work for or how I get paid. Payments from the Leadership and PACS are public knowledge. It’s no secret that I will work with candidates who support the leadership.
Statewide, I do not work for anyone higher than the office of mayor. As a consultant for WPRI I do not comment on any campaigns that I work on,” Fleming said.
As a contracted consultant for Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, Fleming was also retained to work on several area Democratic house campaigns. He was paid directly from the House leadership and House controlled political action committees (PACs).
“I was also paid by the Senate, did work for the Senate,” he said. In 2012, Fleming’s work as a political analyst had him polling, providing political analysis and commentary on key races and ballot issues, while also under contract with the Speaker of the House. Polling issues covered by WPRI and Fleming during the election included casino gambling, same-sex marriage, senior programs, and Governor Chafee’s handling of 38 studios. Consider the question of professional ethics.
“I think first you have to consider the question of professional ethics,” said Stephen B. Shepard, Founding Dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. “If you have more than one client, generally you are contracted through non-disclosure and cannot divulge information to the other client. As a pollster you are asking specific questions of the targeted sampling. You are posing questions in the most favorable light for your client. There are three questions I would ask,” Shepard said.
1. Is there a conflict of interest?
2. Is the conflict manageable?
3. When does the conflict become insurmountable?
“You can make the argument that pollsters work for whoever hires them,” said Shepard. “The question is whether the pollster is acting as an independent analyst.”
Locally, M. Charles Bakst, former political columnist for the Providence Journal, when asked if a consultant, in this case, Mr. Fleming, should be working as a pollster for a major media outlet while under contract with the Speaker offered this comment.
“This is a two-part answer,” Bakst said. “As a general rule of thumb, I would think a media outlet would not want a pollster working for them who is also working for a political party. The second part is that I know Joe and have never had any reason to question his integrity.”
Related Slideshow: Rhode Island’s Changing Media Landscape
Radio, print, television and digital - the faces in Rhode Islands's media has changed drastically over the past months... Let's take a look at some of the biggest moves:
The long-time publisher was Belo's man in Providence. Howard Sutton was the man that implemented the changes that Dallas wanted to try and make the company more efficient and more profitable.
The results were dismal. Maybe no newspaper in the country lost a higher precentage of ad revenue than the Projo over the past decade.
He was the face of the paper in the community.
Rick Daniels has joined GoLocal24 as Chief Operating Officer.
Daniels is the former President of the Boston Globe. He also served as CEO of Gatehouse Media for New England and led a consortium of investors who attempted to purchase the Boston Globe from the New York Times Company in 2013.
Daniels then went on to play a key role at Empirical Media Advisors based in New York, focused mainly on Tribune Publishing, where Emprical’s co-founder and CEO, Jack Griffin, recently took the role of CEO.
WLNE-TV has fired anchor Karen Meyers. She had been with the station since 2011.
Meyers had anchored the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news with John DeLuca. Sources say station management opted not to renew her contract and decided to go in another direction.
Before Meyers joined ABC6, she was a reporter/anchor with New England Cable News and was a reporter in Washington, DC.
According to RIPR reporter Ian Donnis, Providence Journal's Health Reporter is leaving. Felice Freyer has been the sole reporter covering Rhode Island's largest businss sector.
Freyer leaves for the Boston Globe.
Her departure follows Phil Marcelo who recently left the Projo for AP in Boston.
Editor's note: An earlier version incorrectly had RIPR reporter Scott MacKay as breaking the story.
Veteran radio reporter Flo Jonic recently was fired by RINPR after she filed complaints against the station for gender-based pay discrimination.
Jonic is a 30 year veteran of New England news radio.
In her charge filed in February, Jonic wrote, "I believe that I have been discriminated against based on my sex by my employer," and referred to the difference in her pay and that of RIPR reporter Ian Donnis.
"Currently, [reporter] Ian Donnis earns at least $75,000 a year, while I make $51,000 per year. We perform the same duties, and I have 32 more years experience than he does," wrote Jonic in her complaint.
After a seven year stint reporting for the Providence Journal's state house bureau, Phil Marcelo left the paper to take a reporting gig with the Boston office of the Associated Press.
Hailing from Long Island, New York, Marcelo came to ProJo in 2006, and covered everything from regional news, to Providence City Hall and the Statehouse. Marcelo's departure was first reported by WRNI's Ian Donnis.
Formerly a nightly news reporter for WJAR, Tremmel was fired from the "Team You Trust" after two clips, one of her performing on-air handstands, and the other offering tips on what to do during a bear attack, went viral.
The video became an internet sensation, but long-time Channel 10 newsman Jim Taricani called Tremmel’s antics “a smudge on our station's reputation.”
A long-time staple of Channel 10’s news team, Taricani announced plans to retire after over three decades with the station.
Taricani has won 5 regional Emmy awards, an Edward R. Murrow award for investigative journalism and a Prestigious Yankee Quill Award from the New England Newspaper Association.
He was convicted to six months in prison in 2004 for refusing to reveal a source, and is the youngest person ever to be inducted into the Rhode Island Hall of Fame.
Ron St. Pierre
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