Taken Aback  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Letters
From AJR,   February/March 2008

Taken Aback   


As former executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, I was taken aback by the misstatements included in Anath Hartmann's article "Center of Attention" (The Beat, December/January).

The article cites a case of plagiarism on which I took action in September 2005. That incident actually occurred in 2002 under my predecessor, Chuck Lewis. I made it public during my first year because I felt the center could not stand by its pledge of "integrity" as long as the matter was left unresolved. We also instituted a corrections policy to promote greater transparency and accountability.

The only employee quoted from my seventeen months at the Center, Bob Williams, was someone I let go after he physically threatened a senior manager during a staff meeting. Williams was angry and hurt about having to leave and cannot possibly be viewed as a credible source for this article. I find it unconscionable, particularly in a publication dedicated to journalism, that no other employee is quoted, and that I was not given an opportunity to respond.

Contrary to the statement from current Executive Director Bill Buzenberg, the center was not left "in great shape financially" by my predecessor. Much of the money raised during the year prior to my tenure was used to offset budget overruns on several previous projects. I replaced our director of development and made fundraising my number one priority, much as Buzenberg has done. As a rookie fundraiser, I take pride in the fact that I was able to raise millions of dollars.

I also redirected the center's work away from its paper-heavy reports and books toward a more user-friendly Web site. We provided RSS and streaming video, produced three new databases and supplied interactive tools to assist visitors with their own investigations, all which substantially increased our monthly web traffic.

As for the journalism, we produced more than 50 investigative reports, which received more than a thousand media citations. The center, to date, has won seven prestigious awards for investigations launched under my watch. I was surprised that Chuck Lewis, who remained a highly paid consultant to the center during my tenure, criticized our work for not having "the pop of some of the earlier ones."

I have great admiration for the center, Bill Buzenberg and the board of directors' new chairman, Geneva Overholser. I wish them nothing but success.

Roberta Baskin
Director, I-Team
WJLA-TV
Arlington, Virginia

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