Christmas Break Media Catfight: City Paper vs. Bloggers, Pet Spas, Murray Waas, et al

citypaper.jpgThe Washington City Paper, read by tens of people across DC, is working on a lengthy story about National Journal investigative reporter Murray Waas. We don't cover the CP too much, on account of not reading it too much, but when the following email exchange showed up in our inbox, we had to reconsider.

It slightly concerns this amusing story from the summer, in which an anonymous blogger (of no great import) reported on CP editor Eric Wemple's troubles with his next-door neighbors, a pet spa. It involved literal shit-slinging and the employment of biometrics.

Naturally, CP reporter Jason Cherkis was deployed to "out" an anonymous blogger who doesn't really have anything to do with Murray Waas.

After the jump, learn how legitimate journalistic organizations use their mighty powers of investigation to ineptly try to figure out who writes local blogs, with reporter Cherkis and former Waas assistant Bryan Keefer.

Edited only to redact a couple names and make it chronological.

Jason Cherkis wrote:

Do you know this guy?

I think his initials are [Redacted]. We think Murray is feeding this guy stuff -- wrong stuff, poorly reported stuff, but still he's printing it. We think he might be a friend of Murray's....

Please keep this under your hat...I'm just asking you.

Bryan Keefer wrote:

Interestingly, Waas just called my boss here at CJR Daily to complain about me, and, I think, try and pitch my boss on having CJR write a story about your as-yet-unpublished piece. My boss said Waas was very worried about you guys having his divorce records.

My boss al so told me Waas sounded very scared of me.

In any case, just wanted to give you a heads-up that Waas is apparently trying to cover his tracks and/or pre-empt criticism of him and/or discredit you preemptively - not that you didn't already know that.


Jason Cherkis wrote:

Yeah--we are trying to report out his attempts to pre-empt our story. There have been many attempts. I'd like to talk to your boss if you don't mind. Let me know what you think. Who is your boss and what's their phone number? (Sorry Murray called about you).

Bryan Keefer wrote:

My boss says no dice - sorry (he was kid of mad that I even asked). I do, however, get the distinct impression I might be next on the Waas call list, and I'll let you know if that happens.

However, since I'm bored at work today, I may have a lead on who "circumlocutor" is for you. There's someone who has posted on under the name circumlocutor who is apparently named [Redacted] (the ititials "[Redacted]" are one of the posters on cicumlocutor).

[Amazon link]

He's listed as being in Baltimore, but it seems like too much of a coincidence . . .


Bryan Keefer wrote:

Oh, believe me, if he does call me, I'll definitely tape it.

Jason Cherkis wrote:

Thanks for the investigative work. It's a huge leap from us here scratching our heads.....If Waas does call please try and tape it.

Jason Cherkis wrote:

Sorry about your job. What are you going to do ?

To: Jason Cherkis

From: Bryan Keefer

Subject: Re: quick question

Date: Sat, 12 Aug 2006 09:42:34 -0700 (PDT)

Thanks. CJR pretty well sucked for the past four months or so, and I was already looking around for new employment, so I have few leads. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to a nice, long vacation . . .


Because we enjoy stirring shit up almost as much as Mrs. Wemple (allegedly) enjoys throwing it, we asked Waas [disclosure: we've met him once and chatted on the phone a couple times, he seems like a nice dude -- we have no clue and don't care who Circumlocutor is] to respond to the email thread accusing him of a) consorting with bloggers and pet spas and b) preempting their upcoming story. His response got really long and sorta involved, which is ok because we figured we'd wait for the slow-ass Holiday season to run this anyway.

1. Bryan Keefer in fact was for a short time both my intern and assistant. In a draft of a Washington City Paper article written about me, and read to me by Mike Lenehan, the editorial director of the company that owns the City Paper, Keefer is quoted extensively on-the-record about me.

One portion of the draft quotes at length an email I sent Keefer regarding a long-term investigative project that he assisted me with at the time. I have to this day not published a story on the subject at all. As all journalists already know, and the public understands as well, the thesis of any story can dramatically change during the actual reporting and investigation of a story. Therefore it is my hope that Keefer not further disclose such information to anyone, and that the Washington City Paper not publish the information in whatever story they might ultimately publish.

Keefer is also quoted in the article saying that I told him the identity of a purported confidential source for a story. I want to state that at no time have I ever disclosed the identity of any confidential source to Keefer or anyone else who has ever worked for me. Nor would I.

I am hoping that the draft of the City Paper story is mistaken in indicating that Bryan Keefer did share with them information learned about unpublished stories or someone he believes to be a confidential source from his time working for me. As a former editor at the Columbia Journalism Review Daily and a media critic, I am sure that Keefer would understand why such conduct would consider such an action a violation of the most fundamental journalistic ethics.

If accurate, I would hope that Bryan Keefer not do it again.

I should note that Mike Lenehan, the editorial director of the company that owns the Washington City Paper, came to Washington and allowed myself and a friend to read a draft of his newspaper's story about me. During that meeting, Lenehan, myself, and a friend, read various portions of the story aloud as we commented about it. At Lenehan's insistence, the five hour meeting was tape recorded by everyone present.

If either he or his reporters believe that I am misrepresenting the draft of their story, especially regarding the portions regarding Keefer, I am more than happy to post online--almost instantly-- a recording of that portion of the conversation.

2. In their email correspondence, Bryan Keefer alleges: "In any case, just wanted to give you a heads-up that Waas is apparently trying to cover his tracks and/or pre-empt criticism of him/and or discredit you preemptively--not that you didn't already know that."

Cherkis then conspiratorially responds: "Yeah--we are trying to report out his attempts to pre-empt our story. There have been many attempts."

Their allegations is that I was attempting to "pre-empt" some story of theirs is an apparent reference to the fact that after Cherkis and Wemple indicated that they were likely to write against my wishes that I was a cancer survivor, I gave an interview to a Washington Post reporter on the same subject.

The reason that I gave the interview to the Post reporter was not only because I thought that he, unlike them, would write an accurate, fair, and sensitive story, but also because Wemple and Cherkis made numerous inappropriate and demeaning comments to me while questioning me about being a cancer survivor.

If either Wemple or Cherkis disagree with my characterization of their comments as inappropriate and demeaning, I am more than willing to instantly post online tape recordings of the portions of interviews they conducted with me during which they made the comments in question.

3. The very first that I ever heard of Erik Wemple's dispute with his neighbor, the Wag Time Pet Spa, and the arrest of his wife for allegedly assaulting the owner of the same said pet spa, is when Wemple himself made accusations that I was somehow involved with them, or conspiring with them all against him.

I wish to assure Erik Wemple that any association he might believe that I have had with the Wag Time Pet Spa or bloggers who are friends of the pet spa owner has existed solely in his imagination, and nowhere else.

I do want to express that I hope that Wemple, his wife, and the Wag Time Pet Spa, are able to solve their dispute amicably and are able to find a way to live in peace with another. I wish them all well in that endeavor.


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