D.R.: Off the record, please
This was a first for being burned by my own promise. A source meets under the condition that his information is strictly off the record. A year later he publicly wonders why his information from the meeting wasn’t published.
Um. Well. We had some missed connections, sure, that were mainly my fault. But there was that matter of an inviolable agreement. At least on my end.
John Denardo had been freshly fired by the county when he contacted me last summer. I agreed to meet. He had some interesting claims about Eagle County Commissioners Arn Menconi and Peter Runyon. Only, he wasn’t ready to speak for the record because he some arbitration and/or other post-employment negotiating to do with the county.
A month or so later he was ready to meet again, but I was busy with other things, mainly the upcoming 2006 election. Then we went back and forth. I called. He was headed out of town and would be back in a week or two. Then I’d be caught up in another project and wouldn’t have the time to talk and then try to corroborate or otherwise document his claims. Then he’d be headed out of town again. Then we fell of one another’s radar. Or more precisely, he fell off mine. My bad, most definitely. I should have kept trying or handed him off to someone with more time.
But I confess I was wary, too. We had used some information from him anonymously that did not check out. And when I checked informally about Denardo with county and former county folks, high and low, like Arn or hate Arn, I learned he had a poor reputation.
Also, his claims about being a go-between for Menconi and Runyon didn’t quite make sense. They have always had easier, less traceable means, if they wanted to break the law governing communication outside of official meetings between them. The guy plainly was disgruntled. Lots of red lights, in short.
But hey, you never know. Everything he claims could very well be true. It’s the proving part that gets difficult. And he wasn’t checking out as a person that you just take their word for it and run. Unless, of course, you have a recall bid to conduct.
I think my wariness was justified given the rather selective memory Denardo exhibited in a newsprint flier that came out this week and in e-mail contact we had afterward.
Why didn’t I publish his claims? Well, for starters I was under a promise not to. My bad for not getting him speaking on the record when he was ready. But then again, there’s that matter of corroboration and interviewing the subjects of his accusations. And then the decision whether a disgruntled fired guy’s claims should be published ” especially in light of previous information that didn’t check out and coming from a source who did not inspire a lot of respect among people who worked with him.
I got busier than I thought I would be, and clearly I should have had someone else check into Denardo’s claims. That was a mistake. I still keep thinking I’m going to get out of the weeds of the latest have-to-get-done-now project and chase this or that tip myself. Generally, these tips are time-consuming and a little sketchy ” not promising for reporters who have plenty of real stories to get.
The flier, I hate to say, made the decision to pursue these accusations easier. We’re no longer introducing dubious claims out of thin air, but checking up on the flier. I think I can predict the result: Denardo has his claims aired, and his targets have their chance to deny them. Lots of mud, and no clarity, in other words. But at least we’ll give the targets a chance to answer and speak for themselves.
Denardo, conveniently now, can avoid showing any kind of backing for his claims with the excuse that the Daily editor missed his chance. Which is true. It’s just not a complete accounting.
Watching the guy in action with the benefit of personal experience now, I don’t believe him. I could be wrong, of course. But I’m remembering that promise. I’m not mad about it or anything. But I know better than to trust the guy.
Don Rogers is responsible for the editorial oversight of the Vail Daily, Eagle Valley Enterprise and Vail Trail. He can be reached at 748-2920, or email@example.com. Read his blog at http://www.vaildaily.com/section/BLOG