Today I finally googled the Chicago Tribune-invented Farm Aid "controversy" and found another Chicago blogger who has written more extensively about it than I have. As an attorney, CPA, and author specializing in non-profit organizations, Jack Siegel has much more experience in this arena, but we make a lot of the same points. I was amused by his attempt to hold various local charities to the false financial standards implied by the article, a clever way to demonstrate the flaws in the reporter's analysis. Here are Siegel's Farm Aid entries in chronological order:
- "DON'T YOU EVER GET TIRED OF HURTING ME": THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE'S CRITICISM OF WILLIE NELSON'S FARM AID DEMONSTRATES THAT NOT ONLY DOES FARM AID HAVE SOME THINGS TO LEARN, BUT SO DOES THE TRIBUNE
- "THE NEWSPAPER AND THE DAMAGE DONE:" THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE’S UNFAIR FARM AID COVERAGE UNDER ATTACK
- LETTER TO THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE'S PUBLIC EDITOR: RE FARM AID COVERAGE
UPDATE 09/28/2005 - In private correspondence, someone suggested that my objective is to defend Farm Aid. Let me be clear: I don't have strong feelings about Farm Aid one way or the other. I think I called in a pledge while watching their first concert on TV twenty years ago, but it was probably my parents' money anyway. My ambivalence can be summed up by a critique of the board members: I like Neil Young a lot, I respect Willie Nelson but don't listen to his music much, I think John Mellencamp became irrelevant at least a decade ago, and I never paid any attention to Dave Matthews.
But seriously, my interest here is in fair and accurate journalism. Any charity could have fallen victim to the Trib reporter's misunderstanding/misuse/abuse of financial data. It just happened to be Farm Aid, and the story's publication came at a critical fundraising moment for the organization (in the business they call that the "news hook," but the false charges and flawed logic within the story made it look almost like "sabotage"). I hope that the Tribune publishes Siegel's letter because unlike the "rah-rah for Farm Aid" letter published on September 26 or Young's passionate defense, his response thoroughly addresses the problems with the story itself.