NICO’S FAMOUS EDITORIAL
The Retraction We Have Not Printed
Crimson Newsmagazine April 2013
Being the Editor-in-Chief of a paper in a small-town district has already presented me with a few complications, but I never would’ve expected the last weeks of journalistic adventure involving Superintendent Kathleen McNamara, the facts surrounding her previous problems with teachers in Banning, CA, and our own teachers union, Paso Robles Public Educators (PRPE). The drama that this situation has brought forward is more than I could have ever imagined—even more than the drama that consumed my life in my pre-teen middle school years.Surprisingly, I am glad that this situation happened. It has instilled feelings of courage and fearlessness in my staff and further instilled them in me, as well.
We believe that the essence of journalism is revealing the truth and we believe that this pertinent situation is in need of exposure. This is a story worth telling.
Crimson writers began covering an obviously worsening situation between teachers and McNamara in December. Staff members attended a historic Feb. 5, 2013 board meeting where PRPE Executive Director Jim Lynett presented the PRJUSD board with a statement that 97 percent of Paso Robles teachers that had voted had no confidence in McNamara.
In our Feb. 21 issue we therefore printed a story “Trouble Brewing: Teachers upset with district’s planned paycut.” Sophomore Rachel Cole wrote that McNamara had received “her second career Vote of No Confidence.”
But the day after we distributed the paper, McNamara emailed us, firmly and formally expectin0g a written retraction, refuting our statement about a vote of no confidence in Banning: “It is a sad day indeed when we need to refute personal and hurtful rumors, gossip, innuendo… I formally request that a retraction be printed to correct the misinformation.” McNamara also included three emails and board minutes that she “is using to refute the rumors of [her] past employment history.”
As a staff, we discussed that indeed we had not fact-checked McNamara’s Banning record, having heard often that “the same thing had happened in Banning.” We decided that in order to fulfill our Crimson mission, we would print the retraction in our March issue and learn the facts as McNamara had exhorted.
As a start, we checked with the union, who had been the origin of the rumor that a Banning no-confidence vote had occurred. One contact led to another—in Paso Robles and in Banning—until we soon possessed over six documents that clearly claimed that Banning Teachers Union had given McNamara a vote of no confidence, including letters from Al Evinger, Banning Teachers Association President from 2007-2009, and David Cesario, a member of the Banning Teachers Association Executive board. Also, we obtained the document signed by leaders of the Banning Teachers Association, presented to the Banning Unified School District by the BTA, giving McNamara the vote.
We decided it would be best to talk to McNamara directly.
McNamara granted senior Kelly Munns and me an interview Mar. 5. When we asked about our sources that refuted her attachments and that insisted a Banning no-confidence vote had been held, McNamara stated: “I can get all of the board members to testify that they never received the letter of no confidence, so I have absolutely no idea what that’s all about. And I do plan on following up on this now, and I now see that I need to involve my attorney because this is now impugning my character. And it’s untrue. And I will not tolerate my character being impugned when I know for a fact that I never had a vote of no confidence. It’s very disconcerting to me that this is the kind of information that’s being reported. I never received a vote of no confidence.”
Within 24 hours of the above interview, McNamara told Principal Randy Nelson to tell us that she wanted to withdraw her request for a retraction after consulting with her lawyer. She said in an eventual email to adviser Jeff Mount, “I do not want to involve the students or create a situation which could potentially create a legal challenge for the district.”
There is the story, the evidence, the complications, and the doubts. I’ll let you interpret it however you want.
As for me, I believe that McNamara tried to silence the press about this issue and take advantage of a student newspaper. We believe that we have done our job right. We have researched further than ever before and fact checked—scratch that, double fact checked—everything we have come across, reaching teachers, Banning officials, McNamara, and journalists. McNamara, as a member of public education who genuinely cares for the students at the end of the day, asked us nicely to stay out of the issues at hand. Instead, as passionate, fact-hungry journalists, we have stayed involved and spent hours of grueling time trying to verify sources and get the story right.
It doesn’t get much better than that.