• Burying the truth
    May 10,2014

    Burying the truth

    In December 2012, I submitted a letter to the editor of this paper warning of the dangers from large advocacy organizations secretly “buying into” journalism through financial support of purported 501(c)3 nonprofits such as the VTDigger online news site. The head of the Vermont Journalism Trust behind VTDigger, William Schubart, dedicated a full page editorial on his site to excoriating me for questioning his organization’s finances, implying that I was an enemy of everything from a free press to sliced bread and canned beer. A year and a half later, I am disappointed to have been shown correct.

    On May 1, VTDigger put online a feature it refers to as Legislator Lookup. It isn’t unique, but it is a convenient way to search the donors to a particular local politician. VTDigger announced this new feature in a standalone release titled “VTDigger Launches Legislator Lookup.” In the comments section of that release I posted a comment highlighting the donations of the VTDigger/Vermont Journalism Trust board members to local politicians in violation of the trust’s own policy statement. The editor of VTDigger, Anne Galloway, responded in the comments section that the policy did not apply to board members as they do not personally write news stories.

    After several comments to that effect, I then raised the specific example of Ina Smith, a Peter Shumlin mega-donor and board member of the Vermont Journalism Trust. Ms. Smith is also on the board of the massive Johnson Family Foundation, which gave $15,000 to VTDigger in 2013 alone. Suddenly, all of the above comments were deleted from the VTDigger site. Comments on VTDigger are moderated, but this was the first time I had seen previous, already moderated comments tracked down and removed. The only possible conclusion is that they were removed because the content was disagreeable to those who fund the organization. Today, all that can be seen in the comments section of this particular release are positive comments helpful to VTDigger; any mention of the shady entanglements of its board or the looming presence of its massive donors has been scrubbed clean.

    Those at VTDigger claim the aim of their business is “open debate,” but by scrubbing comments purely on the basis of content they prefer not to talk about, they have demonstrated they mean “open debate” about anything but themselves and their backers.

    Patrick Cashman


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