Monday, May 23, 2005

More on Diana Griego Erwin

Media: Sac Bee's public editor puts out four examples of articles that Erwin was supposed to verify people and places. Instead she quit. (CLICK HERE FOR UPDATED REPORT ON JUNE 27th, 2005 )

The editors selected 12 columns that identified ordinary people the editors thought they could find. They grew more suspicious when they weren't able to verify named sources in seven of the 12. Of the seven, the editors picked four that were among the most recent and which included people who seemed readily identifiable. The editors believed, therefore, the columns would be the easiest for Griego Erwin to authenticate. ....Here are the four: * April 26: Although the reference to the bar and the bartender were dropped in the rewritten column, the editors were unable to verify the existence of Audrey Hellund in the published column. Hellund is described as a woman "who moved to Sacramento a few years ago after the murder of her brother in a Texas roadside altercation." The column ends with this Hellund quote: "... I came here to get away from that memory, but you know what? You can't ... get away. That thinking is everywhere. (People) have no patience. Hotheads are everywhere. What is it about us? What is it?" * April 7: This column begins with, "Elsie Chau lives in a dark, old Craftsman north of downtown somewhere where the Alkali Flats neighborhood bleeds into Boulevard Park." The column tells the story of how Chau finds a homeless woman named Carolina living in a below-ground doorway at her home, how she eventually lets the woman stay in the root cellar and how the two women strike up a year-long friendship. Chau is described as a 62-year-old widow of seven years who lives with her cats, Christine and Queen Sweetness. "The haughty black-and-white felines sweep their tails dramatically about in a way that gives their walks a swagger." The column ends with Carolina suddenly leaving without notice, upsetting Chau. " 'I just want to know that she's safe if anyone knows her,' Chau said. She smiled sadly." Editors can't verify Chau's existence or find her house. But there are other problems as well. Readers are led to believe that Griego Erwin was at Chau's house, what with the descriptions of the cats' sweeping tails and Chau smiling sadly. But, said Rodriguez, Griego Erwin told the editors during their inquiry she was never at the house and that she wrote the column based on a telephone interview with Chau. * March 31: This column talks about the country's racial divide in the wake of well-known defense attorney Johnnie Cochran's death. The column's first paragraph reads: "Margaret Brown invites me to sit at a wobbly wood table in her Florin-area home. She peels carrots and talks to me. Later, as tears roll down her cheeks, she dices potatoes hotly." The column describes Brown as an 89-year-old retired teacher. She is African American and a former Louisiana beauty queen. Her "dark skin is creased and wrinkled." She is called "Aunt Queenie" by her great-nephew, who lives in her concrete basement. The editors can't verify Brown's existence or find her home. * Feb. 20: In a column about a student teacher who fought off a would-be rapist at Hiram Johnson High School, two women are quoted, Mary Magorki and Sheila Baston. The attack, according to the column, "was a hot topic around the lunch table at the senior center Mary Magorki, 72, frequents." The editors can't verify Magorki's existence. Although the senior center is unnamed in the column, Griego Erwin told the editors the facility is the Hart senior center at 915 27th St. Rodriguez said the editors checked with the center and that officials there have never heard of Magorki nor is she one of the center's regular visitors. Baston is described as a woman "who runs a pre-teen 'girls club' at her church in the Highlands area." The paper can't authenticate Baston's existence or find her girls club. Rodriguez said the paper gave Griego Erwin several days to verify any one of the questionable sources in the four columns, but the columnist never offered a single explanation and instead submitted her resignation on May 11. "I don't know if she couldn't, or wouldn't, but in the end, she didn't," Rodriguez said. "To this day, I don't know if these people exist," he said. "But I have the right and the duty as the editor to ask for verification."

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