[Go to update.]
Who’s Monica Spain? you ask.
Two weeks ago, someone sent me a link to a KPLU story Monica Spain had written about Nickelsville’s Skyway “neighborhood.” See that piece here:
As you can quickly see, this is a classic puff piece. It has a pregnant 19-year-old girl (very helpful for getting sympathy and money) and gives virtually no context to the story.
♠ There’s nothing in there about who really runs Nickelsville. (Scott Morrow, Peggy Hotes, and the Merry Band of Miscreants known as SHARE.)
♠ There’s nothing about the circumstances under which Nickelsville was evicted from their previous squat in Highland Park, after trashing the place.
♠ There’s nothing about how Nickelsville moved in without a permit or without telling the neighbors, as required by law.
♠ There’s nothing about whether Nickelsville is a safe or appropriate place for this confused and pregnant teenager, or said teenager’s recent trouble with the law.
♠ In short, there’s nothing in there. It’s just a story about a pregnant girl living at Nickelsville. Oh . . . and by the way, Nickelsville needs donations!!!!
Well I’ve been putting in a lot of work (real journalism work) on the REAL Nickelsville story, and I know it’s a good one. But I’ve been having a devil of a time getting the Corporate Media interested in that story, so it really irks me when I see one of these lazy puff pieces that have been planted by SHARE.
Well I tried to look up Ms. Spain’s e-mail so I could ask her why her story was so unbalanced. No dice. You can’t find her contact info on the site.
So then I e-mailed the news manager at KPLU. Twice. After more than a week with no answer, I grew irritated. I then wrote the following semi-satirical piece suggesting that Monica Spain was unpaid intern and if KPLU wanted better writing they should pay people for it. Go here:
I then sent that out to every e-mail addy I could find at KPLU, and cc’d it to a couple hundred of my very best friends.
That got an answer. Ms. Erin Hennessey, News Director at KPLU phoned me back and promptly laid into me for besmirching the reputation of poor Ms. Spain.
Ms. Hennesseyy told me that the reason they hadn’t answered my e-mails to them was that these e-mails had gone into the SPAM folder. She then asserted that KPLU had balanced coverage of Nickelsville overall – “it’s a complex picture,” she said – and she claimed that Ms. Spain was a freelance writer for the station and that’s why her address isn’t listed. To add detail to this persona of Ms. Monica Spain, Ms. Hennessey told me that Ms. Spain formerly worked for KUOW as a reporter. “As soon as I hang up here, I’m going to get back on the phone and tell Monica that some blogger has posted something negative about her.”
Hm. Nice touch, Erin. You really had me goin’ there for a minute . . .
Two days later, I posted a retraction (sort of) on my original satirical claim that Ms. Spain is an unpaid intern. Then I went back, again, and asked Ms. Hennessey for Ms. Spain’s contact information, which is all I’d wanted in the first place. As I explained to Ms. H, I still wanted to ask Ms. S.where she’s getting her information about Nickelsville.
No dice. “I’m not going to give you Monica’s personal information,” Erin said.
“I didn’t ask you for her personal information,” I replied. “I asked you for her contact info. The New York Times newspaper lets people contact their reporters, for chrissakes. Are you telling me that KPLU can’t have the same level of accessibility as the NY Times?”
“Just tell her to contact me then. She can use whatever bogus e-mail she wants. Or she can call my phone from a boiler room somewhere. I just wanna know she’s a real person.” [I’m paraphrasing the conversation there. But that was the gist.]
Still no reply.
A day after that, an astute reader sent me another, earlier Nickelsville piece by “Monica Spain.” And I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the same story: Hey everybody! Nickelsville’s got kids to take care of. They need cash money!
See for yourself:
[Camp Resident Richard] Gilbert says even as Nickelsville was getting close to moving, the population was still growing.
“We have gone back up to almost 145 people in this camp, and they keep coming, each and every day, (those) who want a place to stay and want to stay safe,” he said.
The hope that Nickelsville residents have now, though, is to continue to look for one site, and raise money to buy their own land to keep the community together.
Check it out. Classic Nickelsville Studios Production.
♠ Zoom in on a woman with a kid. Real heartstrings hijacker. Could be a “Save the Children” infomercial.
♠ Hand-picked spokesperson from Nickelsville feeds reporter party line: We’re staying together and staying safe. Ain’t gonna let The Man break our fambly up.
♠ Zoom out on a plea for money: They hope to raise money to buy their own little patch of paradise and KEEP THE COMMUNITY TOGETHER. That last bit is not even a quote, folks. That’s straight Monica Spain. Or rather, “Monica Spain.”
When I read this I thought, Oh yeah. Balanced coverage, huh?
When you add it up it makes sense. “Monica Spain” is either a pseudonym or she’s a paid shill for Nickelsville. Or both. That’s why KPLU won’t let her talk to me. Frankly, I don’t blame them, because they know that as soon as I cross-examine this “Monica Spain” person – or whoever is pretending to be her – I’ll know the truth for certain. And the truth is that this same “Monica Spain” is working for Nickelsville.
Or, to be precise, she’s working for Scott Morrow.
Just like Nick Licata’s assistant, Lisa Herbold.
Just like LIHI director, Sharon Lee.
Just like Jim Chan at DPER, and a dozen other government officials.
They’re all working for that grubby little troll, Scott Morrow.
Shame on you KPLU!
This is not journalism. It’s huck$terism.
And it’s not even hucksterism for a good cause. If this was a one-time deal, where KPLU was boosting some legitimate charity – like say, a food bank – and they fudged some little detail about how many turkeys they gave away last year . . . why then, I’d understand. But these SHARE guys? Naw, man. These guys are really bad news. They don’t help homeless people; they USE homeless people. And if KPLU had the integrity and guts to cover this story like real journalists, they’d know that.
Actually they do know that. If they didn’t before I talked to ’em, they sure as hell do now. In my next piece on KPLU, I’ll tell you exactly how I know that. How I know that KPLU knows . . . that they’re getting used.
Hell. You know, I don’t even mind so much that KPLU was getting used. It happens, right? If it can happen to an otherwise intelligent guy like Mike McGinn, it can happen to anyone.
What I mind is that, once I told them about it, and once Erin Hennessey knew that what I was saying to her was true, she still couldn’t admit it. That’s the really fucked-up part. It’s not that people make mistakes, it’s that they can’t bring themselves to admit it.
(See also: Vietnam. See also: Afghanistan. See also: George Bush.)
But hey, I’m cool with it, cuz honestly, it makes for good blogging. And if KPLU wants to keep lying to me and to the reading public about this “Monica Spain” person, just go ahead. Meanwhile, I’ll keep critiquing their bullshit, just like I do with the Stranger, and the Times, and all the rest of these corporate posers.
I’m gonna e-mail this story out to every last address on earth if I have to, until they either come clean and admit that this “Monica Spain” is a fraud, or until they have her contact me so I can ask her some questions.
Good night and bad luck.
So how do I know that KPLU’s News Director lied to me?
So how do I know KPLU’s Erin Hennessey lied to me about Monica Spain? Well, in the first place, I’ve gotten pretty good at sniffing out liars lately – working the Nickelsville Desk will do that for ya – and my LIE-DAR started crackling as soon as Erin started assuring me that Monica Span was real.
But I didn’t know for certain Erin was lying was until I started to talk.
Yeah. See, when I started explaining to Erin how the Nickelsville PR machine worked, there was this eerie stillness at the other end of the line. It’s like when you are busted for cheating and you’re caught totally off-guard. All you can do is sit there in shock and wait for the other shoe to fall. And that’s just how it was with Erin.
Here’s me, describing the Nickelsville news pimping process to her:
#1 ~ Nickelsville decides it’s time for another puff-piece, so Peggy Hotes or whoever gets out the Rolodex and gives it a spin. Let’s say it stops spinning at “K.”
#2 ~ So Peggy phones you up: “Hey, Erin. We’ve got a pregnant girl here in camp and this would make a good story. Timing is great. Weather’s turning cold and the holidays are just around the corner.”
#3 ~ There’s an understanding with Peggy that your reporter will speak only with the people she’s told to speak with and that she won’t say anything critical. It’s also understood that she will mention in her story that Nickelsville needs money. Preferably at the end.
Here’s the sound her jaw dropping on the other end of the line [ . . . ]
None of this should come as a shock to ANYONE, because it’s been a tradition in the news business biz for like . . . forever. Now that budgets are tight, even so-called public news stations are getting into the act. (Surprise!)
It just good old capitalism at work. If you’ve got something the media wants a piece of (like homeless kids) you’d be stupid to give that away for free, right? Of course, right! So you’re gonna work those homeless kids for all you can. And you’re gonna work the media for all you can, too. You are gonna decide when there’s a story, you are gonna provide the leads, and you are gonna control the message. What’s the quid pro quo? –KPLU gets a feel-good story for cheap, and you sit back and watch the donations roll in.*
On the other hand, if KPLU were to abrogate the understanding and talk to someone who’s not “authorized” to speak for the camp, then that’s it no more “leads” for them. Hell, if they were to even try something like that they’d never be allowed to set foot in the camp again!
After I explain all this, Erin is like: I know what you’re talking about, and while that may happen with other media, I can assure you that it NEVER happens to us. We would never let ourselves be manipulated like that. She then started talking about who they dealt with on the Monica Spain story, but it was SO obvious that she was talking about Peggy Hotes! She had to bite her tongue to keep from saying the name “Peggy.”
So anyway, that’s how I know that Ms. Hennessey was lying to me. It was a combination of those three things:
Spidey Sense + Stunned Silence + Protestations of Innocence.
But how do I know just how much she was lying?
–I don’t, actually. As I’ve said, I don’t know whether Monica Spain is a real person who occasionally whores for Nickelsville or whether she’s just somebody KPLU invented for the purpose of running the occasional fake-ass fluff piece. It’s also possible that Monica Spain is a real person but is a wholly owned subsidiary of Shmorrow, Inc.** But that seems rather doubtful.
In any case, even if Monica Spain is a real person, she’s now been outed, so it seems very unlikely that Ms. Hennessey will ever forward Ms. Spain’s contact information to me. Still, I’m not ruling out that one of these days I’m gonna answer the phone and there’ll be a a woman’s voice on the other end. A silky, sexy voice . . .
TBQ? the sexy voice will say.
This is Monica. [ . . . ] What are you blogging right now?
The media has as much influence over your lives as the government, if not more. Were you under the impression that “public” stations like KPLU can’t be manipulated by corporate interests? Wrong! If anything, outlets like KPLU and NPR are even more beholden to corporate interests than privately owned news media, because unlike the private media they depend on the largess of corporate benefactors. And they’re becoming more dependent – and more commercial – all the time.
If you want the media to tell you the truth, you have to let them know you’re watching them, and you have to let them know when you’ve caught them in a lie.
Contact the staff at KPLU and ask them to talk with “Monica Spain.”
Or just ask them when they’re going to do an honest piece on Nickelsville.
Executive Director of News
For additional info on how the media control public opinion, read Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. Available at a library near you.
The propagandist naturally cannot reveal the true intentions of the principal for whom he acts….That would be to submit the projects to public discussion, to the scrutiny of public opinion, and thus to prevent their success….Propaganda must serve instead as a veil for such projects, masking true intention.
*If I had it to do over again, I would’ve contacted Erin Hennessay and said, “I’d like to make a donation to Nickelsville, but I’d like to speak with Monica Spain first.”
** Shmorrow = SHARE + Scott Morrow.