Something's Rotten at the Loudoun Times-Mirror
The only question is: Which direction is the Loudoun Times-Mirror rotting from, bottom up or top down?
When I got slimed recently by the area's widest-circulation local newspaper, I took it in stride because in my view "integrity" and "journalism" go together about like "prudent judgement" and "puppy." Editor Paul Smith saw fit to print in prominent position a letter with the headline "Shame On Mr. Budzinski," in which the "shame" derived from a deliberate misreading of a disingenuous quote by a reporter who put the word "political" in my mouth - in a front page story in the Loudoun Times-Mirror. Although he posted my rebuttal on the paper's Web site, Mr. Smith did not publish my 300-word response in the print edition which reaches a much larger audience.
The latest offense by the LTM is an order of magnitude more serious: In a story about this week's Sheriff candidates' debate, the LTM printed a slander transcending bias or ethical lapse and treading awfully close to criminal.
On page A5 in Wednesday's print edition, reporter Jana Renn writes:
While Ahlemann tended to criticize the Latino and Hispanic population of eastern Loudoun, George contended that crime exists in every race and culture.
The sentence was since removed from the online version of the story, but the damage has most certainly been done as the paper gets into the hands of tens of thousand of readers this week.
Why do I characterize this as an offense? Primarily because, of all the candidates, Greg Ahlemann is the only one who said nothing about any culture or ethnic group.
You can listen to the entire debate here, but I have transcribed the relevant portions below.
Here is what Mr. Ahlemann said:
Question 3: During the recent debate on illegal immigration in Loudoun, some elected officials and residents have portrayed parts of eastern Loudoun, especially Sterling Park, as being run down and unsafe. Oftentimes these issues have been attributed to illegal immigrants. Do you think this is a fair portrayal of Sterling Park and, if so, what can the Sheriff's department do to improve the quality of life in this community?
Ahlemann: It's a good question and it is the issue in this race. And I don't know that we can quantify and really put a number on the amount of problems that are caused by illegal immigrants. Clearly, as the federal government themselves has stated, I think 12 million illegal immigrants, some people say 20 million. That's quite a large gap, so I don't expect Loudoun County Sheriff's Office or anybody in Loudoun County to have the intelligence to tell us how many are here. Clearly, we've seen a move and change - I've seen it firsthand from working on the streets of Sterling Park since 1997 in how the demographics have changed. I know that many of the people who I arrested initially who had no identification, couldn't speak any English, I'm just gonna guess that they might have been here illegally because at the time we chose not to participate in ICE. Those people lived in Herndon at the time. Now many of those same people live in Sterling. So I think there is a correlation between the two. Trying to say that crime statistics have gone down, you know, seeing that written on a piece of paper doesn't really make the single mother feel much safer as she goes out to buy groceries late at night and there's a lot of people hanging out at different bars or at Pepe's, where we have continuous problems. A place like that clearly needs attention from the Sheriff's Office and probably needs to be shut down.
Pepe's is an establishment notorious in Sterling for the amount of violence and police activity it manages to host - and the police activity is a fraction of what most residents THINK it should hosting. It is six doors down from the local Safeway. Everyone in Sterling who is not a gang member thinks Pepe's needs to be shut down and the fact it has not been is an anomaly much like the Enron scandal was an anomaly. There are many Latino businesses in the shopping complex: Singling out Pepe's demonstrates not a speck of ethnocentrism and any reporter who thinks it does should be working a different beat.
Here are Steve Simpson's and Mike George's answers to the same question:
Simpson: I do think it's wrong to assume, like some people do, that everyone who's in Sterling that's Hispanic is first of all illegal and second of all a gang member, because that's just not true. From our gang unit, the people we deal with, only one in about 20 people we deal with that are in gangs are illegal. So we have to be very careful when we start pointing fingers and saying, making those comments that some people are very quick to make in a campaign. I think there are some issues with Sterling Park. I've been with the Sheriff's Office for 20 years. I think a lot of the issues we see as some of these communities deteriorate are things I've brought to the Board's attention and they're already aware of, and we've talked about this and had a dialogue about housing issues, occupancy issues, zoning issues, those kinds of things. When you have 15 or 20 people living in a house, eight or ten cars parked all over the yard, that's not a law enforcement issue, that's not a Sheriff's Office issue. I can't knock on the door and ask for identification to see who's living there and are they here legally or not. That's not something I can do legally. But zoning officials, housing officials, ordinances that deal with those kinds of things, those are the kinds of things that play out in communities. And with our community policing office we deal with quality of life issues in community policing. That's a program I started when I first took office 12 years ago and we have it throughout the county. Those are the kind of things, working with the county resources, working with the Sheriff's Office in community policing to try to address some of these quality of life issues, that's how you solve those kinds of problems. You don't lock everybody up and everybody doesn't need to go to jail. That's not what it's all about. It's looking at it from a multi-pronged approach with all of us working together to deal with that issue.
George: I agree with Sheriff Simpson when he says we can't look at a certain culture and say they're gang members. I've worked Asian crimes, I've worked Nigerian crimes, I've worked Russian mafia crimes. There's crime in every culture and every race, and we need to be specific about what we're looking at. The crime, if it goes up, is one thing. We need to target crime, we don't need to target a culture.
Setting up a straw man and knocking it down is a classic feature of dishonest argument. It is a technique widely employed in the illegal immigration debate. Greg Ahlemann never mentions any ethnic group, but his opponents do so and go on to accuse him in not-so-veiled manner of "targeting" a culture.
The story by Ms. Renn also said about Mr. Ahlemann:
He said that 4,000 students in Sterling schools do not speak English in their homes, and that while he can't say all 4,000 of them are illegal, 100 of them may be...He later tried to clarify that he was using the numbers as examples and they may not be totally accurate.
Here is what was actually said when Purcellville Gazette publisher Ben Weber had this exchange with Mr. Ahlemann:
Question 4: In light of the recent opening of the new jail facility here in Loudoun County, how do you propose working with the Board of Supervisors and with the areas outside the area, such as Frederick County, in dealing with the overcrowding and housing that we most likely will have in light of the increased gang activity that will likely be taking place?
Ahlemann: ...Speaking with Warren Guerin just a couple weeks ago, of the School Board in Sterling, he said at some schools in Sterling, 64% English is not the language spoken in the home. Four thousand students are in English as a Second Language as part of their curriculum. Four thousand: almost 10% of our students. Am I going to sit up here and say that all those people are illegal immigrants? Certainly not. But could 100 of them be illegal immigrants that shouldn't be in this county? One hundred of them would be $1.4 million taxpayers' savings. There's what we spend to house the inmates. There's no vision, either at the Board of Supervisors level or the Sheriff's level, to resolve these kinds of problems. And that's what I bring, is a new perspective on dealing with things like this. You cut out the criminal element, you deter some of these illegal immigrants from coming here, guess what: You don't have to provide school for them and you save $1.4 million just with 100.
Follow up by questioner Ben Weber: You talked about 4,000 students, you talked to Warren Guerin, you made the assumption, it seemed to me, and please correct me if I'm wrong, that perhaps this large percentage of people that speak a different language - that's part of the reason why we're having this criminal element. I think that's somewhat of a stretch, and please correct me if I'm wrong.
Ahlemann: I'm sorry you perceived that, but I think the point is there's 4,000 - almost 10% of our students - that speak a language that is not English as the first language, that we're educating. And Warren Guerin basically stated at that meeting I was at ...
Weber interrupts: What did that have to do with the jail issue?
Ahlemann: I think it has a lot to do with it ...
Weber interrupts: If I speak Farsi, from Iran, then I'm a potential problem?
Ahlemann: I'm not saying that. There is a correlation between the two. If you're going to look at solving the problems as isolated, and not connecting some of these things together, then we're doing law enforcement the same way we did 30 years ago and we need to look at things in a new light and a new way of dealing with things.
Mr. Ahlemann makes the logical case that increased ICE participation could result in the departure of illegal aliens from this area, and if they were students, or parents of students, in our public schools the county would save $14,000 a year for every one that left and there would be less people in the jail. This is a simple, obvious point that most citizens of Loudoun would immediately comprehend but is, nevertheless, opaque to Ben Weber. And again, Mr. Weber, not Mr. Ahlemann, is the one who brings up a specific culture.
But as to the "4,000": It might have been a little helpful if the reporter had taken into consideration the fact that Mr. Ahlemann was referring to an event covered and quoted - in the Loudoun Times-Mirror:
"In the school system, we do not verify immigration status," Geurin said. His comments elicited a round of applause from the several hundred people in attendance.
He also urged the parents of the school system's immigrant students to take English as a Second Language, or ESL, classes. Of immigrant students, he said about 4,000 in Loudoun took these classes last school year.
That Mr. Ahlemann "later tried to clarify" the numbers is barely true, in the sense he stated clearly in a later exchange that he pulled the "100" figure out of the air to make a point about the potential cost savings. But the printed article leads one to believe he "tried to clarify" about the 4,000 students, when that figure came from a public official on the school board and was quoted in the same newspaper.
The bottom line is the Loudoun Times-Mirror grossly distorted the facts to paint Mr. Ahlemann as a fool and a bigot, when in fact he was completely forthright about the numbers he was quoting and he was the only candidate not to discuss any ethnic group. Why not call out Steve Simpson for the "everyone who's in Sterling that's Hispanic" quote? Who ever said that, besides Steve Simpson?
If the Loudoun Times-Mirror was worth the plastic baggie it's delivered in, THAT'S the statement the reporter would have called into question.
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