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<nettime> Banana Republic

[the full text of the Cincinnati Enquirer's expose is available at 
 <>; please distribute these files far and wide.]


 Yes, They Have No Bananas

 'Enquirer' apology satisfies
 Chiquita but leaves everyone
 else with a bad taste in their mouths and
 questions on their lips


 The Cincinnati Enquirer had hoped to make
 journalism history with its year-long
 investigation of Chiquita Brands International.
 It now looks like they have.

 What began as an unprecedented allocation of
 resources and space -- with the paper's top two
 investigative reporters traveling to Central
 America and Europe to produce an 18-page special
 section that had "Pulitzer Prize nominee"
 written all over it -- has turned into an
 unprecedented capitulation to Chiquita that's
 thrown the entire media world upside-down.

 The Enquirer's "abject surrender," as The New
 York Times calls it, is staggering. Based on
 assertions from Chiquita that reporter Mike
 Gallagher had illegally obtained internal
 Chiquita voice mails, the paper has renounced
 the entire series. It published front-page,
 above-the-fold apologies to Chiquita June 28,
 June 30 and July 1. It fired Gallagher and
 placed the complete blame for the fiasco on him.
 And it agreed to pay Chiquita in excess of $10
 million to settle potential legal claims against
 the paper and its parent company, Gannett Co.

 What's just as staggering are the crucial
 unanswered questions. How can The Enquirer
 renounce the entire series of articles, many of
 which were based on first-hand reporting at
 Costa Rican and Honduran banana plantations and
 had nothing to do with the stolen voice mails?
 Are those stories not true anymore? What does
 the $10 million figure represent? Are there
 other components to the settlement such as
 Gannett stock and the transfer of Gannett's part
 ownership in the Cincinnati Reds to Chiquita
 Chief Executive Officer Carl Lindner? And how
 can Gallagher's superiors, including Editor
 Larry Beaupre and Publisher Harry Whipple,
 escape responsibility for the actions of an
 employee who was doing his job?

 All parties directly effected by the settlement
 -- Enquirer and Gannett officials, Chiquita
 officials, Lindner, Gallagher and Enquirer
 staffers involved in the series -- are refusing
 to discuss the above questions. But many of
 those indirectly effected, especially Enquirer
 reporters and editors who must live with the
 shame of their paper's botched investigation and
 subsequent public apology, are wondering aloud
 about what's not being said.

 "I think people (in the Enquirer newsroom) are
 wondering when the editor and the publisher are
 going to be fired as well," said an Enquirer
 employee whom CityBeat agreed not to identify.

 A bunker mentality has taken over at the paper,
 staffers report, reinforced by a lack of
 communication from the top. Whipple issued a
 memo to employees on June 28 that basically was
 a rewrite of that day's front-page story about
 the settlement and included a one-page Q&A on
 the subject. On the memo's cover note, he wrote,
 "As you read and hear about this story in the
 days ahead, you will see that we are taking a
 very public and straight-forward approach to
 this issue."

 At a staff meeting on June 29, employees
 peppered management with questions, only to be
 told to read the published apology for answers.

 "I think the staff wants to know what's going
 on," the Enquirer employee told CityBeat. "When
 we ask for answers, we're told to shut up."

 Likewise, Enquirer officials are tight-lipped
 with outside inquiries. Although Beaupre stopped
 short of issuing a gag order inside the paper,
 he sent out two pleas via employee computers on
 June 29 for employees not to talk about the
 incident with outside media. According to the
 unnamed Enquirer employee, the tone of the
 messages was, "Please, please do not speak with
 them. It could hurt us."

 Reached by CityBeat, Beaupre declined to answer
 questions and referred all inquiries to Whipple.
 Whipple declined to answer CityBeat's questions,
 saying, "The apology and the accompanying story
 we ran on Sunday and the apology we ran on
 Tuesday and Wednesday comprise my statement."

 On June 30, Gannett issued a statement that
 said, in part, "It now appears that the
 experienced and trusted lead reporter on the
 (Chiquita) stories obtained voice mail messages
 of company officials in an unethical and
 unlawful manner. Before publication, he had told
 his editors that the voice mail messages used in
 the stories had been provided by a high-ranking
 source in the company with authority over the
 voice mail system. The Enquirer now believes
 those representations are untrue. Gannett does
 not support such reporting techniques, and we
 agree with The Enquirer's decision to dismiss
 the reporter."

 Mimi Feller, Gannett's senior vice president of
 public affairs, declined to answer follow-up

 Chiquita President Steven Warshaw, Patrick
 Hanley (Gallagher's attorney) and Perry Ancona
 (appointed as special prosecutor to pursue
 possible criminal charges in the voice mail
 theft) did not return calls from CityBeat for

 In other words, no one who knows anything is
 talking. All that's left is to consider the
 volume of unanswered questions and to speculate
 on what looks to be a cover-up of what really
 happened during The Enquirer's year-long,
 globe-trotting investigation.

 A few things, however, are certain. One
 experienced reporter, Mike Gallagher, is
 possibly facing criminal charges, a trial and
 prison time. Another experienced reporter,
 Cameron McWhirter -- Gallagher's partner who has
 not been implicated in the voice mail theft --
 has had a year's worth of hard work wiped away
 and his reputation tarnished.

 And the most powerful businessman in Cincinnati,
 Carl Lindner -- who once owned The Enquirer --
 has tightened his grip on power by bringing the
 city's newspaper of record to its knees in
 humiliating fashion.

 Where Were the Editors?

 The first questions on Whipple's June 28 Q&A
 memo to Enquirer employees were the first
 questions on everyone's lips: "Where were the
 editors? How could this happen?"

 "We took normal and even extraordinary measures
 to scrutinize these stories," Whipple wrote
 under the heading "Answer." "Plain and simple,
 the reporter lied to us. He lied to us
 repeatedly over a period of nearly a year. His
 deception was massive."

 Another question the memo posed was, "Why did
 you trust Gallagher?"

 "He had a record of investigative reporting,"
 Whipple wrote. "His facts had always withstood
 scrutiny. He was trusted. He completely betrayed
 that trust. There is little one can do in the
 face of someone who is determined to deceive
 you, except to take the appropriate actions when
 that deception is uncovered."

 Taken together with the official apology, which
 states that "the facts now indicate that an
 Enquirer employee was involved in the theft of
 this (voice mail) information in violation of
 the law," it's clear that Whipple is placing
 sole blame for the paper's apology and
 retraction of the series on Gallagher. No other
 Enquirer reporter or editor has been disciplined
 or fired, although Whipple writes that "an
 investigation is continuing."

 It's mind-boggling to believe that no one who
 worked with or oversaw Gallagher's stories over
 the course of a year -- local news editor David
 Wells, who directs the paper's investigative
 team; McWhirter; Beaupre; the paper's slew of
 copy editors; and The Enquirer's lawyers, who
 surely reviewed the series before publication --
 thought to confirm the anonymous Chiquita source
 who reportedly provided Gallagher with 2,000
 internal company voice mails. As a matter of
 fact, it's supposed to be Enquirer policy that
 editors must approve any use of anonymous
 sources by reporters.

 In a draft document called Cincinnati Enquirer
 Professional Standards, which Beaupre prepared
 in 1994 for use at the paper, two points address
 the issue of anonymous sources: "Unless
 logistics make it impractical, reporters should
 not promise anonymity without first consulting
 with their editors;" and "Stories containing
 unnamed sources may not be published without the
 approval of the editor or a managing editor."

 Given that Beaupre and Gallagher go way back --
 they worked together at Gannett Suburban
 Newspapers in Westchester, N.Y., and Beaupre
 brought in Gallagher to be The Enquirer's star
 investigative reporter -- it's not difficult to
 believe that the editor gave the reporter a wide
 berth to gather confidential Chiquita

 At some point in the process, however, someone
 in Enquirer management had to have confirmed the
 identity of Gallagher's Chiquita mole, on whose
 anonymous shoulders rode the fate of an 18-page
 investigation of a company owned by Cincinnati's
 most powerful businessman. Hell, Washington Post
 Editor Ben Bradlee supposedly knew the identity
 of Woodward and Bernstein's "Deep Throat."

 Bob Steele, director of the ethics program at
 The Poynter Institute, a Florida-based
 journalism study organization, told the
 Associated Press he wonders how The Enquirer's
 editors could have allowed the problems to

 "My question is, where were the editors back in
 April and early May, in the weeks and days
 before this story was published?" Steele said in
 an AP story filed from Cincinnati. "Good editors
 will ask hard questions about reporting

 So which is it: Does The Enquirer have bad
 editors who don't confirm anonymous sources, or
 has Enquirer management made Gallagher the
 scapegoat for a newsroom-wide breakdown in
 journalistic ethics and policies?

 Other questions remain as well. Did the
 settlement among The Enquirer, Gannett and
 Chiquita contain a provision that Whipple,
 Beaupre and other Enquirer management get to
 keep their jobs? Why is Gallagher staying silent
 when his name has been dragged through the mud
 in front-page apologies? When he does talk --
 possibly before a Hamilton County grand jury --
 will he implicate his editors and others in the
 alleged theft of Chiquita voice mails?

 Pulling the Stories

 More than the official apology and monetary
 settlement, it seems that the central component
 of Chiquita's agreement with The Enquirer was
 that the paper had to repudiate the entire
 series. Every word. Everywhere.

 And the paper has.

 "The Enquirer has now become convinced that the
 (series') representations, accusations and
 conclusions are untrue and created a false and
 misleading impression of Chiquita's business
 practices," the official apology said. "We have
 withdrawn the articles from continued display on
 the Enquirer's Internet web site and renounce
 the series of articles."

 In other words, never mind. Never mind a year's
 worth of reporting about Chiquita's allegedly
 unsavory business practices in Central America.
 Never mind about allegedly unsafe working
 conditions on Chiquita banana plantations. Never
 mind that the Colombian government has launched
 an investigation into Chiquita employees'
 alleged bribes of customs agents in that
 country. And never mind that Catholic Bishop
 Thomas Gumbleton, who visited Chiquita farms in
 Honduras, called the company "an evil
 institution for exploiting the poor."

 All of the above allegations were contained in
 The Enquirer's May 3 special section or
 additional stories published over the following
 two weeks. None, except for the long stories on
 Chiquita's overall business practices, relied on
 internal voice mails for their facts. Yet all
 have been renounced by Enquirer management.

 "Workers sprayed in the fields," a May 3 story
 with a dateline of Cocobola Farm, northeastern
 Costa Rica, contained this passage: "As two
 Enquirer reporters witnessed, on recently
 sprayed farms the air is heavy with a stifling
 chemical stench. Breathing is difficult and the
 pesticide residue covers everything."

 Are we now to believe this scene never happened
 and that Chiquita doesn't spray pesticides on
 its farm workers?

 Another May 3 story, "Villagers fear brutal
 guards," carrying a dateline of San Alejo
 Plantation, Honduras, featured an interview with
 a young man who'd been shot by plantation
 security guards working for a Chiquita
 subsidiary company: "Lisandro Juarez, 15, showed
 the Enquirer the huge scars where the bullet
 entered and exited his back, passing just an
 inch from his spine."

 How can this exchange be renounced by Enquirer
 management? Should we tell Juarez that his scar
 doesn't really exist now?

 Besides removing the series from the paper's Web
 site,, The Enquirer has also
 removed any trace of it from its Web archives. A
 casual look through various search engines such
 as Yahoo! and Excite turned up numerous
 references to the paper's Web version of the
 Chiquita series, but every time a link to the
 series' individual articles was clicked on, only
 The Enquirer's official apology appeared.

 About the only place you can still find the
 original version of the May 3 special section is
 on Lexus/Nexus (for a fee) and at the public
 library (on microfilm). And The Enquirer might
 have the ability to remove the series from those
 locations, too.

 Chiquita officials couldn't be more pleased.

 "You can imagine first and foremost for us is
 that a recognized publication has stated
 categorically that the result of the reporting
 was inaccurate and untrue," company president
 Warshaw told The New York Times. "That is the
 most important thing for us."

 What's the Real Cost
 of the Settlement?

 The front-page story accompanying The Enquirer's
 June 28 apology spelled out the terms of the
 capitulation to Chiquita, including "a payment
 in excess of $10 million in exchange for
 settlement of claims against it by Chiquita."

 Legal and journalism experts reacted with
 amazement that a newspaper would pay a
 settlement before the injured party even filed a
 lawsuit. But with Food Lion's jury trial win
 over ABC/Capital Cities under a similar scenario
 -- the issue wasn't whether the stories were
 true but whether the reporters used illegal
 means to get the stories -- perhaps Enquirer and
 Gannett officials had good reason to cut a deal.

 No details have been released concerning
 Gallagher's alleged theft of internal Chiquita
 voice mails. An anonymous high-ranking Chiquita
 official told The New York Times that the
 company's voice mail system records the
 keystrokes of anyone using a voice mailbox and
 had recorded "an intruder going from one
 executive's voice mailbox to another."

 The "smoking gun" that identified Gallagher as
 that intruder, sources say, might have been
 telephone records showing calls to Chiquita from
 a number that incriminated Gallagher. Whatever
 the evidence, it must have been irrefutable or
 The Enquirer would never have agreed to
 Chiquita's severe terms.

 Rumors abound about the cash payment, with some
 sources claiming that the actual settlement is
 in the neighborhood of $40 million to $50
 million. The additional value, they say, could
 be in the form of Gannett stock.

 If true, it would be an ironic return to Gannett
 for Lindner, who was Gannett's second largest
 shareholder 20 years ago, when he supposedly had
 visions of taking over the company.

 Lindner owned The Enquirer from 1971 to 1975,
 when he sold majority ownership of it to
 Combined Communications, which merged with
 Gannett in 1979. After the merger, Lindner
 controlled 4 percent of Gannett's outstanding
 public shares, making him the company's second
 largest shareholder.

 Al Neuharth, one-time Gannett CEO and founder of
 USA Today, recalled in his autobiography
 Confessions of an S.O.B. that Lindner tried to
 take over Gannett because he'd always wanted to
 give one of his sons a media company to run.
 After the takeover bid failed, Lindner sold his
 shares in Gannett.

 Could Lindner be interested in reacquiring a
 stake in Gannett? It's not out of the question.

 Nor is it out of the question that Lindner would
 be interested in acquiring Gannett's limited
 partnership in the Reds. By adding Gannett's 1
 share to his own 1 1/2 shares, Lindner would own
 the second largest block of shares next to Marge
 Schott -- which gives him more leverage if he's
 interested in pursuing control over the
 franchise when the current partnership agreement
 ends in a few years.

 Reached by CityBeat for comment, two of the
 Reds' limited partners said they had no
 knowledge of a possible deal between Gannett and
 Lindner for Gannett's ownership share.

 When all is said and done, the settlement among
 The Enquirer, Gannett and Chiquita looks like
 nothing more than a complex business deal. Lost
 in the official mumbo-jumbo about unethical
 reporting, violations of company standards and
 possible criminal charges is a simple
 journalistic concept -- the truth.

 Who really is at fault? Are the articles true?
 Did Chiquita do anything wrong?

 PRESS CLIPS welcomes contributions, comments
 and, of course, press clippings. If you have a
 gripe with the media, see a goof or otherwise
 catch 'em with their pants down, write CityBeat
 at 23 E. Seventh St., Suite 617, Cincinnati,
 Ohio 45202. Or e-mail us at

 NANCY FIROR and KATIE TAFT contributed research
 to this column.

 CityBeat, Vol. 4, Issue 32; July 2-8, 1998
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