KIRO Gets Spanked Over Leschi Custodian Story

As you may recall, KIRO-tv did a story about a Leschi custodian, Chester Harris, who, it was claimed, was "bullying" students.  As it turns out, it was one family and their issues at the school (they were told to only drop off and pick up their child because of their continuing complaints against many staff members). 

The custodian's union, Local 609, had asked KIRO to retract their reports and they wouldn't.  I've seen these things and boy, it's not good or fair journalism. 

The union took this to the Washington News Council, a media oversight group, and last Saturday there was a "mock trial" over the work of the reporter Chris Halsne at KIRO.   From the Stranger Slog write-up of the three-hour event:

After a three-hour-long proceeding, supervised by retired appeals court judge Karen Seinfeld, eight members of the News Council's panel voted unanimously that Halsne and his employer, KIRO TV, had inaccurately described Harris as "manhandling" and "bullying" students at Leschi, and unfairly damaged Harris's reputation. 

Seven of the panelists voted that KIRO is now obliged, "under generally accepted media-ethics codes," to retract its stories on Harris, remove them from its web site, air a follow-up story setting the record straight, and "apologize to all those whose reputations were damaged." 

KIRO did not send Mr. Halsne or any rep to the event.

The WNC doesn't have any power to punish KIRO but I would think the public shame might make them rethink how this reporter creates his stories.   They have said they stand by their stories. 

The district weighed in:

In a letter to KIRO sent after the story aired, Seattle School District spokeswoman Holly Ferguson pointed out that Halsne's own hidden camera footage appears to show Harris did nothing wrong. "From your video, it appears Mr. Harris and another adult acted appropriately to intervene with an upset student," Ferguson wrote. "Mr. Harris is very well respected in the school community and our staff and families are very upset by your coverage."

"We believe it is inappropriate for you to have included under-cover camera footage of our students that clearly identifies their faces. While you did blur one student's face, the others were clearly recognizable. The families of these children are very upset and our principal reports that one of the students was in tears today as a result of your having him on television last night. We request that you take down the video immediately to protect the identity of these students."

She added that KIRO had, in advance of Halsne's initial story, been provided with school district documentation showing that the school district—and the Seattle Police—had investigated the past allegations against Harris and found "no information to suggest any wrongdoing."

Here's what parent Laura McMahon, a former journalist herself and parent at Leschi said of Mr. Harris:

“He is a very strong African-American example to a lot of the male students at our school—and also to the female students, like my daughter, who went up to him and gave him a hug," McMahon said. “I thought the character assassination on KIRO TV was just unwarranted… This is a good man.”

Good for the union for sticking up for its member, good for the district for speaking up for their employee and good for the Leschi for supporting a trusted member of their community.

Not good, KIRO.


Paul said…
We are really happy about this fundimental challenge to the downward spiral that our media and political discourse seems to be on.

Everybody complains about it but few actually do something about it at GROUND level.

Hurray for all involved and we hope Mr. Harris does sue the station.

And a special thanks to the community for showing the rest of us how a "village" pulls together around one of its own. Its people like Mr. Harris that make communities possible despite forces like KIRO that seem intent on pulling us all apart all the time.

Enough is enough!
mirmac1 said…
Kudos to Local 609 for taking a firm stance in defense of one of their members.

Too bad the SEA refuses to do the same.

Thanks Mr. Harris for being a great role model for our students.
Also, for all those who like to say "move on", good for all those people who didn't just move on after these stories aired and say "oh well."

Nope, they stood their ground.
Anonymous said…
Boycott KIRO and their advertisers until KIRO responds appropriately and professionally to this finding. Let KIRO know that their advertisers are on notice of the boycott.

They can behave that way, but they'll reduce their audience.

seattle citizen said…
KIRO online advertisers:
Albert Lee appliances; Xfinity; Subaru; Lemay Car Museum; Great Wheel ferris wheel; Port Angeles CofC; McDonalds; Little Creek Casino; Absolute Mobility Center; Puget Sound Orthopaedics; MLS Online
Ed said…
Thanks Seattle Citizen

As of right now......I'm off all of those. And I won't miss a one.

Anonymous said…
I worked for KIRO in the early '90's, part of their push to be more "culturally sensitive and diverse after that "Smokey Joe and the Miracles" blackface debacle. It was a really difficult place to be taken seriously as a college educated African American woman. I was overqualified for my job, promotions were scarce if you weren't a blonde 20 something in the newsroom. As a corporate culture, not only do they have little respect for people of colour, they don't even understand to what degree they don't. So tired of them sending the black reporter to do the "black people stories..." The fact that they sent no representative to their mock trial, just shows how little they understand about how they think this commumity perceives them...

joy anderson
Anonymous said…
Thank God we have blogs like this that would never publish reputation-ruining accusations about a school district employee if the allegations originated from one family, were denied by the union and were found by a district investigation to not constitute "wrongdoing."

Oh, that's right - you guys didn't even wait to see the results of the district investigation before libeling Jo Lute-Ervin.

--Black pot spotter
Anonymous said…
Excuse me spot potter, but we wouldn't have even got wind of an investigation, if it were up to SPS. That's right, questionable conduct by admin is okie-dokie. Everyone else is fair game.

try again
black pot, the allegations at Lafayette did NOT come from one family. There were multiple families involved.

And you think this blog ruined the principal's reputation and none of her own actions? Hmmm.

And the district's "investigation" was a pretty sorry affair as was the principal's own. That she's not going to be a principal any longer should tell you something.

Also, the pot calling the kettle pot doesn't apply here.
Anonymous said…
Crosscut also has a story up about this now. From KIRO? Crickets.... I hope there is a very large settlement in favor of this custodian.

Pot spotter - SPS does not have a reliable history of investigating it's own administrators. Look at the Gregory King/Rina Geoghan mess as a prime example.

Ed said…
Another follow-up story in The Stranger today, with a link to the TVW video:

Also, feel free to add YOUR comments on Ted Van Dyk's excellent piece:

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