Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Too late, the Smarts tried to cover their tracks..but we already knew ....

Smarts, tabloid settle

Enquirer falsehoods are linked to 2 S.L. Tribune reporters
Copyright 2003 Deseret News

By Lucinda Dillon Kinkead
Deseret News staff writer

The family of Elizabeth Smart and the National Enquirer have reached a settlement that retracts salacious comments published by the tabloid last summer. Part of the settlement includes a rare apology to the family and admission it printed false information about Smart family members.
As an important side note, the Deseret News also has learned two Salt Lake Tribune reporters were paid a combined $20,000 by the tabloid for information the Enquirer used to build the story it is now retracting.

"The Smart Family is satisfied with the resolution with the National Enquirer, which clears incorrect and defamatory information from the public record," the family said in comments issued Sunday through family spokesman Chris Thomas.

"Those who are writing or plan to write or produce unauthorized versions of the Smart family story need to take note that citing such reports is unlawful."
The National Enquirer's July 2 issue had a story with the headline, "Utah Cops: Secret Diary Exposes Family Sex Ring."

The story centered on the private lives of some Smart family members and contained details so lurid some Salt Lake supermarkets refused to display or sell it.

"There is a bizarre gay twist to this story," a law enforcement official reportedly said in the Enquirer story.

But a joint statement by the National Enquirer and the Smart family, obtained Sunday by the Deseret News, retracts the salacious details of the story.

"The Enquirer regrets any embarrassment or harm the article may have caused Ed, Tom and David Smart or their families," the statement reads. It also details myriad factual errors in the tabloid story and makes several important admissions:

The tabloid "mistakenly" reported that law enforcement officials stated brothers Tom and David Smart were involved in a gay sex scandal.

It also mistakenly reported law enforcement found a journal documenting the homosexual activities of the brothers and their preferences for sadomasochism, their use of male escorts, and detailing their wives' knowledge of their homosexuality.
"This information was provided to the Enquirer by various law enforcement and local media sources.
 Although at the time it was legally defensible for the Enquirer to publish the information as the Enquirer had no reason to doubt the accuracy or truthfulness of the information provided," the statement says.

"The Enquirer has since learned the information provided was inaccurate and false," the statement continues.
The statement, which the Smart family had planned to release sometime this week, did not name the law enforcement or media sources.

But Salt Lake Tribune editor James "Jay" Shelledy brought the paper's involvement in the Enquirer investigation — and the involvement of the Tribune's two lead reporters on the Elizabeth Smart case — into the spotlight in a column Sunday.

A lengthy column by Shelledy named reporters Michael Vigh and Kevin Cantera, said they talked about the case with the tabloid, and "responded to theories, rumors and 'discoveries' surrounding the investigation, much of which had neither been confirmed nor denied publicly," according to Shelledy's column. He also wrote that the two were "compensated" but did not say how.

"Strictly speaking, talking to the National Enquirer or others of like ilk, in and of itself, is neither illegal nor unethical," Shelledy wrote. "Rather, it is akin to drinking water out of a toilet bowl — dumb, distasteful and, when observed, embarrassing."

The Tribune reporters' behavior introduces a messy element to the already emotional circumstances of Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping last June.


Through the months, hundreds of reporters from around the country and world have scrounged for the latest detail about the girl, her family and police investigation into the case.
Derek Jensen and Pat Reavy, the Deseret News' lead reporters on the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping coverage, said they were contacted by numerous media organizations in connection with the news story but they did not speak with the National Enquirer and do not recall being contacted by that organization.

But in this frenzied competitive climate, and with local reporters on the Smart case suddenly held up as experts on CNN, "The Today Show," "Larry King Live" and MSNBC, some reporters have taken great liberties with using "unnamed sources," "insiders" and "sources close to the investigation" to verify details.
And this rabid reporting climate makes it excruciating to track down statements like those reported in the July 2 issue of the Enquirer.

With the trial of Barzee and Mitchell nearing and rumors still floating about the Smarts, the family hired First Amendment law expert Randy Dryer of Parsons Behle & Latimer in Salt Lake City to protect the reputation and privacy of Elizabeth Smart and the family. Dryer has in the past represented various media organizations in Utah and around the country, including the Deseret News.

"During the course of the investigation it became apparent that law enforcement officers were a leaky sieve of information," Dryer said. "The Smart family was hoping that now that she has been returned, and with an upcoming trial, these leaks would cease. They apparently haven't."

The family had been devoting their energy to Elizabeth's return and did not aggressively pursue remedies to the false and defamatory statements in the Enquirer. "But they are no longer willing to sit idly by and have their privacy invaded and their good name trashed," Dryer said.

As part of his involvement, Dryer called the National Enquirer to get information about the July article.
Information gathered during the negotiations that resulted in the settlement between the Smart family and the tabloid show Shelledy's Sunday column apparently did not provide readers with the entire story.
For one thing, the column implied the two Tribune reporters had only a one-time meeting with a reporter from the National Enquirer.

There were actually a series of information-sharing sessions — most of them over the phone — between the two reporters and the tabloid, Dryer said.

And there is still much discrepancy about the true source of the rumors reported by the tabloid.
Shelledy said Vigh and Cantera provided the Enquirer names of law enforcement personnel in charge of various aspects of the case. But the Smarts claim the Enquirer told them its sources were Vigh and Cantera, Shelledy said.

"If that's what the Enquirer said, it is baloney, given how the information was described and what eventually was printed," Shelledy said in his column.

Shelledy's column said the reporters' behavior was not a "fireable offense," and he did not say how the two reporters were disciplined.

"I verbally wrung their necks and formally disciplined them for ignoring stated policy, but the act did not quite constitute a firing offense," he said.

In a statement provided to the Associated Press by the Tribune, Vigh and Cantera said: "In hindsight, we made a bad decision by associating with the National Enquirer. We regret any embarrassment this brings to our colleagues or The Salt Lake Tribune."

"They are talented, young journalists who suffered a lapse of judgment about whom they embedded with one night nearly a year ago, a mistake they now fully recognize and deeply regret," Shelledy said in his column.
But a Smart family statement seems to sternly rebuke the Tribune's reporters, without identifying them by name.

"The Smart Family is deeply disappointed with local media and law enforcement sources who contributed to the Enquirer article," the family said.
"Those overseeing these individuals need to realize the magnitude of such serious legal and ethical issues and take appropriate action. The family hopes that such persons are held responsible and that this unfortunate episode will serve as a deterrent to those who would think to violate the public's trust."
Cantera and Vigh had hired agents to scout potential television consulting offers and book deals about the Smart case, according to articles printed in the Tribune.