Dave Congalton is a popular radio host on predominantly conservative radio station KVEC 92.0, located in San Luis Obispo. KVEC also features syndicated broadcasts from known right-wing firebrands Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh: both of them have contributed their own slice of crazy to an already tumultuous political climate.
Not to be out-staged by his syndicated comrades, Congalton has adopted an alter-ego as a “journalist” on a Central Coast news site, CalCoastNews, as their Contributing Editor. And what better way to bring more attention to himself than to attack a “obscure, rarely-read blog,” while tossing journalism standards out the window all at once.
That “obscure, rarely-read blog” Congalton chose to attack — quite possibly at the behest of his County bosses — was none other than Razor Online. That was Congalton’s first mistake. True, we’re not “The Dave Congalton Show” yet, riding the coattails of Beck and Limbaugh, but we’d never wish that on anybody. His second mistake was trying to intimidate me because I recently publicly flogged the Board of Supervisors for not responding to the molten core of unanswered questions posed to the Board by the community of Los Osos: questions that come very close to life or death matters, of the cost of the sewer and futures swaying in the balance.
Freedom of the press is something that bloggers and journalists should never take for granted, but Congalton took this freedom and exploited it, and his acts of hypocrisy and toadyism merit the full spotlight treatment by Razor Online.
Without once mentioning the context of my published article, “Get the Facts: Ring Paavo’s Doorbell,” Congalton anonymously published a story on October 15 called, “County demands blogger remove personal information, which contained the County Counsel’s written demand to remove the personal addresses and phone numbers of officials overseeing the Los Osos wastewater project — which I posted at the end of that article, suggesting that Los Osos homeowners ring doorbells to get answers, if that’s what it takes to draw a substantive, accurate response from the mute board.
County officials have acutely demonstrated their refusal to respond to inquiries made by concerned citizens in Los Osos who have exercised all the channels made available to them. I thought, “Let’s make a point. Let’s post their personal information, give people an alternative mode of communication and see how quickly the County responds to that.”
Sure enough, the County responded — and Congalton was there to post their response before even I personally received it.
Congalton’s article on CalCoastNews wrote about details of the written demand from County Counsel, and I can confirm that those details are, indeed, accurate. However, there are several troubling things surrounding the article.
For one, Congalton’s article — which was published at 1:36 AM Friday morning — is written under the false pretense that I received the demand around press time, and in spite of that, I thumbed my nose at the counsel by keeping the personal information up for several hours. That is false. I received the demand at 8:14 AM Friday morning and I immediately complied with the law without any hesitation.
Second, I consented to the counsel’s written demand partly on the grounds that the demand was supplied by a confidentiality disclaimer, which reads as follows:
“If the person actually receiving this e-mail or any other reader of the e-mail is not a named recipient or the employee or agent responsible to deliver it to a named recipient, any use, dissemination, distribution or copying of the communication is strictly prohibited.”
As an intentional maneuver to avoid taking personal responsibility for the article, Congalton did not present counsel’s e-mail in its entirety. Congalton did not disclose the confidentiality clause that was clearly present in the e-mail — the very same clause that he violated. If a journalist is going to copy and paste most of the e-mail, he might as well present the e-mail in its entirety.
Contrary to what the article stated, CalCoastNews did not obtain the written demand by Counsel per se.
Responding to a public records request on Monday, County Counsel Warren Jensen showed an e-mail exchange, showing that he wanted to relay a “quick message” to me by contacting Congalton. After seeing that I posted the e-mail exchange I had with Congalton last Thursday, Jensen perhaps assumed that Congalton would have my e-mail address and he could relay the written demand to me. Scoffing at the obligation to forward me the demand, Congalton wrote to Jensen, “I don’t know this guy. I don’t wish to know this guy.” Instead of doing the responsible thing and forwarding me Counsel’s written demand in a timely manner, Congalton wrote the article and took himself out of it as a person of interest (an “agent responsible to deliver it to a named recipient,” according to the confidentiality clause and Jensen’s request).
In their blind rush to post “exclusives,” tip-based news organizations that rely on “leaked” information to write up news will be quick to dismiss legal confidentiality clauses without reviewing the information on a case-by-case basis. Obtaining information cloaked in confidentiality is their lifeblood. In this case, there are special circumstances that apply that cannot be ignored.
County Counsel prescribed a duty to Congalton (“agent”) to deliver a message, and he didn’t. Why? Instead, he wrote an article about the message that I was supposed to receive in a timely manner, thereby breaching his duty found within the very same confidentiality clause that clearly prohibits the distribution of said message. Congalton’s conduct set a force in motion that created the article bias of my non-compliance — which never happened.
When a “journalist” becomes part of the story, it’s recommended that the same journalist doesn’t cover the same story because, chances are, the journalist will write the story in a favorable light to him. The story had no byline.
Meet me at camera 3, Mr. Congalton.
Dave, what are you trying to achieve here? At a given time, you act like the only radio host that cares enough about the plight of homeowners in Los Osos to feature a few on your radio show, while at other times you don your anonymous mask and post an article on your own “leaked tip” that casts dissent in an unfavorable light without context. How do you reconcile these two personas? Congalton the Compassionate or Congalton the Clown? Which one is it? I think I know.
I’ve listened to your show and listened to your segments about Los Osos. After reviewing your podcasts, I notice you preface every segment about the Los Osos wastewater project with remarks like, “I know many listeners out there have heard about the Los Osos project — and they’re tired of it — but I keep getting e-mails from people who want to be on the show.” And you giving your Los Osos guests very monotonous, tepid introductions. You come across as uninformed at times, asking the same questions of your guests without doing much research prior to going on the air. You devalue the seriousness of the problem with eye-rolling repetitiveness that feeds into the nauseating cynicism of people outside of Los Osos who think we should be outright ignored.
It appears that people only tune into your show to listen to the guests, not you. You’ve personally done very little to raise awareness about a project that has divided the community of Los Osos. In fact, you’ve contributed to the divisiveness by not doing your due diligence as a “journalist.” But then again you can’t be what you never were.
CalCoastNews proclaims itself as, “We are San Luis Obispo County’s on-line independent news source producing in-depth investigative news in the public interest.” That’s a mouthful. Where’s the investigative part? Journalism takes a little more than a copy-paste job. Journalism exercises some degree of care to getting not only the facts, but the circumstances surrounding the facts, including balance. To create balance, one must address the context. If a journalist doesn’t address the context, they’re not a journalist.
In short: Keep your day job, Dave. It’s all you’ve got. Be grateful that you don’t have to live up to the standards of real journalism.