by Marion Marks
When Forward-Now.com was established the founders determined several philosophical boundaries, or mission principles that have evolved over the history of the blog. Among these principles was the basic fact that no articles could be published without basis in fact or a belief that any article published must contain some factual information which could be documented or was in the realm of public knowledge factually accurate*.
As the readership expanded, and with pressure for accuracy and validity, it was determined that NO articles would be published that did not credit a specific author, regardless of the credibility of the story. Accountability today is a principle we believe necessary to preserve the integrity of the site as well as those who contribute to the base of information contained herein. When I place my name on a story, I have researched the information, even when I am not a primary source, but I stand behind factual data published under my name.
When there are errors proven by others to correct anything I publish under my byline, I will make corrections and in appropriate cases I will formally apologize to an offended party. I have records of information I have tried to verify as well as explanations related to unaccounted statements I have made that require clarification. Others are also asked to follow similar guidelines.
A recent story I published related to the Caddo District Attorney election and a trial of August, 2000 involving then Judge James Stewart in New Orleans City Court. My direct article related to facts surrounding the only evidence I could recover about the matter from the New Orleans City Court Deputy Clerk, Christina Ngo, dated July 20, 2015. Included in the article this information discovery action with additional communication to the clerk’s office, we never were able to obtain an actual transcript of the reported “trial” of August 20, 2000, The only records we obtained were the Clerk’s, which clearly indicate that the “trial” was scheduled on August 30, ten(10) days later than the record documented by a surprised Shreveport Times writer on August 21, 2000 clearly shows from the front page of the Times.
Such stories with evidence of actual journalistic intent and followup questioning of the participants document the requirements of journalism expected and our belief that without real demands for accuracy we can never expect to be more than a “scandal rag.” Shreveport and other medium-sized markets have far too many one-shot rags that may have been well-intended, but prove to be agenda driven and survive as carriers of paid advertising that cater to gossip or scandal based on half-truths of little more than a political agenda.
Following the current District Attorney Race, I was able to film several candidates at the time of their presentations made at a Tuesday Morning Breakfast Group hosted at the Pamoja Center on Linwood Avenue from May thru September of this year. All candidates were filmed at the Broadmoor Neighborhood Association Forum. These were part of at least ten presentations at these locations I was invited to film as part of a public service and a documentation for voters of the words of those who seek voter endorsements. These presentations and meetings educate me as a citizen, writer, analyst of election facts and offer a forum to communicate in the broader community I have come to love for the many who appreciate fellowship and the open discourse of ideas.
On Tuesday morning, September 15, 2015 I filmed James Stewart, Sr. at this breakfast event, and I developed a new appreciation for the difficult job he seeks in taking on the challenge of running, much less attempting to change the course of the Caddo District Attorney’s office. The very decision of giving up what appeared to have been a life-time job, even though it is elected gives me pause. Because of Judge Stewart’s successful record, it’s a challenge to consider the risks he accepted in stepping down to run for DA. The “slings and arrows” of scrutiny, and the willingness to go through a bitter campaign that we know is extremely negative takes more than stamina. And, the rhetoric is only getting more negative as we approach what appears an election heading for a runoff. Stewart’s armor is made of “sterner stuff!”
All this accepted, I felt there remained the unanswered question concerning the transcript of the trial we are told was recorded August 20, 2000, even though the clerk’s record showed the summons to witnesses for August 30, ten days later. Therefore, on camera, I had to ask the difficult question regarding the whereabouts of the trial transcript. With camera running I asked, and an answer was given, “I am not the custodian of records for the City of New Orleans.” “The people came to court and there was testimony.” “That was old news.”
So, we heard that there was a trial, and his attorney Robert Piper verify these facts from the audience. I must now accept that there is no cover-up, as too many want to make us believe, unless better evidence is produced. Shreveport-Caddo has far too many problems for this to be the pivot that determines change. Facts being documented for publication require that I follow the natural course of discovery of evidence, and do my best to determine accuracy. I have run the limit of my ability at this time to find anything more on this subject, but I made a full good-faith effort. This is the requirement I expect in all efforts to report important stories, no more and no less. All stories should have this same level of diligent concern for accuracy.
This “good-faith effort” standard requires that when others send us stories or “tips” designed to generate stories, I ask a series of standard questions. And, if I have time to get involved, I demand basic work be provided before I accept a story, even if others are willing to sign their name to the contents. In some cases I will even examine the documentation others provide before their story is published, or I will document their statement or physical information. This is what I believe sets us apart from scandal journalism, even though some authors have shreds of information, the premise of their stories lack solid foundation.
Documentation of tips or taking a position on statements also goes beyond mere observation. Obtaining statements from witnesses or photographs or videos goes a long way toward validating accusations or insinuations. So, I will go as far as loaning people cameras or recorders to get documentation, because this assists in telling truths that some ask me to believe only on trust. It’s just like the Ronald Reagan quote, “Trust, but verify!”
So, I want to thank all those who have been supportive of this blog in the past and encourage us to continue pressing important issues. In many cases we will not always be the first to pass along news, but we will always attempt to be accurate about what we publish. And, at this point I stand by all stories where I have signed my name. The facts have spoken clearly, and I leave it there. All stories will be defended when challenged.