My Responses to Ulster Publishing

INTRODUCTION TO THIS SERIES OF LETTERS

Ulster Publishing recently ran a two-part article series by Jesse J. Smith, and a column by Susan Slotnick, which to put it mildly were inaccurate and defamatory. These articles appeared in Kingston Times, New Paltz Times and Woodstock Times

I have published an analysis in the article Fake Porn, which explains that I'll have the opportunity to reply to an 8,000 word pair of articles in a series of 400-word letters. We're presenting them here in chronological order. If you're a Planet Waves reader and you have any questions or would like to see documentation of my facts, please write to me at efc@ericfrancis.com.

New letters will be added each week. The first letter was published Aug. 1 and the second on Aug. 8. Then just add a week per letter from there. Once I'm done refuting the rather problematic journalism of my old friends at Ulster Publishing, I'll continue the series developing the wider issues raised by my situation. 

Thank you for reading. Suggestions and ideas welcome.

With love,
eric
PS -- I unpack this whole issue in the Wicked Games series of articles, which have been read nearly 50,000 times as of mid-August. I make a more formal response to Ulster Publishing in the article Fake Porn. And I visit these events from the standpoint of my natal chart in the article Are You My Mother? Read Trish's brilliant responses here. Here are some letters of support from my readers.

Note to My Chronogram Readers | Aug. 1, 2018

To the Editor:

When I was let go by Chronogram in late May, my first thought was: my readers are going to be worried about me. I have not missed an issue in 88 seasons.

I want you to know that I'm OK. I am surrounded by people close to me. I feel like a person who was thrown overboard into the ocean, surrounded by dolphins who are protecting me from sharks. Most of these dolphins are women: my office staff and editorial team, notably, women all known to the Chronogram team, with whom they worked every month for many years.

The person depicted in the recent series of articles in this newspaper is not me.

I am the person who wrote columns urging men to take care of women's bodies; to take responsibility for their own birth control; to respect boundaries; and to negotiate consent meaningfully. And I meant every word.

The person depicted in the article series is like the archetypal toxic male, displaying what would seem to be 24-hour-a-day, full-spectrum, nonstop aggressive behavior.

My world is social, made up of people who take care of one another, who trust and love one another, and who respect and depend on one another.

Yet if you read closely, you will notice that little snips of the truth slip in with the disinformation: Someone who says please. Someone who reaches out to others with poetry. Someone said to ask before petting a dog.

When I worked for this newspaper group for 11 years, we had much higher editorial standards. There were no anonymous sources. Every claim and statement was fact-checked. Every document used in one of my articles was authenticated, and available for public inspection. No story went to press without the subject having ample time to comment. I don't know where those standards went.

We never got personal. What appeared on the news pages had to be of public interest. Private mail was not the subject of news stories. The purported content of intimate relationships was never turned to gossip.

I have been documenting this situation consistently, and my articles are up to the same standards you've come to expect from my other journalism. You can access those articles on my homepage at PlanetWaves.net. You may email me directly at efc@ericfrancis.com.

With love,

Eric Francis Coppolino
Kingston


Taking A Step Back | Aug. 8, 2018

Columnist Susan Slotnick (New Paltz Times) is the most recent person to claim that there was something objectionable in my February Chronogram article, "Take a Step Back." She accused me of the dreaded "mansplaining."

She's in good company. Omega Institute admitted in a state legal filing that it fired me because its management had "determined that the message conveyed in the 'Take a Step Back' article was inconsistent with its brand message." But they don't say what the issue is.

One might get the idea that "Take a Step Back" is some kind of modern misogynist masterpiece. Yet the article takes a moderate feminist approach, affirming as a positive development how, thanks to the MeToo movement:

"[S]ome non-celebrity women are finding a voice to express their previous experiences of workplace sexual harassment. This has expanded into coming out about other forms of abuse, ranging from catcalls to date rape to issues within the family. One thing we're learning is that, for many people, the entire sexual environment is one they associate with transgression and violation."

Here, I am mansplaining to other men that some women feel sexually threatened. Men need to understand this. I also 'splain to my brothers: "It should be clear to men that it's time to take a step back and evaluate our ideas about who and what women are, and how to approach women in social and professional situations. It should also be clear that we all need to arrive at a mutually acceptable concept of respect, which can only come through a dialog."

Another theme in "Take a Step Back" was my concern about employment discrimination against men by firing them based on false rumors, and/or unverified claims about their purported sexual conduct.

I quoted the novelist Margaret Atwood (A Handmaid's Tale), who is also concerned.

"As for vigilante justice — condemnation without a trial — it begins as a response to a lack of justice — either the system is corrupt, as in prerevolutionary France, or there isn't one, as in the Wild West — so people take things into their own hands." But she is worried that "temporary vigilante justice can morph into a culturally solidified lynch-mob habit, in which the available mode of justice is thrown out the window, and extralegal power structures are put into place and maintained."

We can do better than this.

My article is available at PlanetWaves.net/TASB

Eric Francis Coppolino
Kingston


Poscablo Investigation: What's the Secret? | Aug. 15, 2018

There was one fact missing from recent Kingston Times coverage my situation: in May, Chronogram hired a professional investigator of sexual misconduct, named Ryan Poscablo -- and his investigation had a conclusion.

Chronogram's editor Brian Mahoney danced around that point in his July editorial when he said the result was "confidential." What kind of investigation has a "confidential" result -- especially when the issue is seemingly so important?

Ryan Poscablo, a former U.S. attorney, led the investigation. He is a partner in the law firm Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila of New York City. Poscablo and his team interrogated me for 90 minutes. I provided numerous exhibits and references.

In a phone call on Sunday, May 20, Chronogram CEO Jason Stern summed up Poscablo's findings: "The result of a very extensive investigation was nothing -- was that the attorney said, no, there's nothing here -- extensive investigation…that was Ryan's final word."

I reported this in "The Nature of the Beast" on June 13. This quote has not been challenged. The most Chronogram will do is say that the outcome was "confidential." Let's use some logic here. If the investigation found something wrong, Chronogram would advertise that. The problem was that despite clearing me of any wrongdoing, Chronogram fired me anyway -- which it had to justify.

Mr. Poscablo was working with all of the "data" provided to him by Hillary Harvey, then Chronogram's editor at large, as well as rumors that Lorna Tychostup, a former Chronogram editor (2000-2012) had been circulating since the mid-1990s. He had everything he needed to find any patterns that might exist, far into the past, and he determined, "there's nothing there."

When a reporter encounters a seeming contradiction (Stern stating the results of the investigation, and Mahoney stating that they are confidential), he or she has an obligation to investigate. Instead, Kingston Times bypassed that issue, printing any claim of any woman, unfiltered, without corroboration or proof. Nobody ran any of it past me prior to printing the story. By the time I met with Kingston Times editor Dan Barton Weds., on July, 18, the story had gone to press.

If you read things in those articles that seemed uncharacteristic of me, or absurd, that's why. Why did Kingston Times fail to investigate Jason Stern's statement that "The result of a very extensive investigation was nothing"?

That fact would seem relevant. But it wouldn't sell many newspapers.

Eric Francis Coppolino
Kingston


Nancy Drew and the Mystery Poem | Aug. 22, 2018

The recent fuss about me comes back to one claim by someone named Dana Barnett of Seattle, who claims we went hiking one day in the autumn of 1996. She claims that on that hike, something to which she consented happened, but she won't say what it was. She claims it left her feeling “awful, dirty, confused, manipulated, haunted."

That sounds pretty bad. But what was it? What, exactly, happened? In April, the Rev. Rebecca Brown, asked Barnett if she had any proof of her claim.

"I don't know what kind of 'evidence' other people would have, and this argument in itself is very problematic," Barnett said. For sure: evidence would be problematic to her version of events.

"I could share more graphic details or the erotic poem that he sent me afterward (which I have) when I didn't return his phone calls, but I haven't wanted to share details that feel gratuitous or embarrassing," she said in a Facebook post.

"This isn't about embarrassing him, it is about holding him accountable and making space for others to share there [sic] stories."

This is how we know the poem exists. 

Accountable for what, though? Within weeks, I had been fired from two cherished freelance gigs, one with Radio Kingston and another with Omega Institute. I was later fired from two more, all thanks to her efforts.
When I asked her for a copy of the poem, she refused. We learned from the Kingston Times article "Bad Moon Rising" that she even saved the postmarked envelope for 22 years.

We learned the title of the poem: "Returning Milk to the Mother." That does not sound very erotic. I recognize that poem. It was written in May 1996, six months before Barnett claims we went hiking. It's about Beltane, which is in May. It's not about her. She was not there. She is not in the poem. She is lying.

Having a poem proves only that someone has a poem. The public has yet to see this document. Yet it's being used as "proof" of something else: we are not sure what. If the poem is published, it will prove that Dana Barnett is deceiving us, and that the Kingston Times is complicit.

The whole article is built on this kind of innuendo, and would not stand up to 15 seconds of fact checking or review by an attorney.

See all of my responses at http://planetwaves.net/response/

Eric Francis Coppolino
Kingston


A State of Mind Question | Aug. 29

It was not until Weds., July 18 that I got to meet with any personnel from Ulster Publishing about the "Bad Moon Rising" series of articles. By then, the story had gone to press. Through the spring and summer, I voluntarily kept Kingston Times editor Dan Barton updated about my situation, because I had known him since 1989 and trusted him as a journalist, and as a soul.

On the afternoon of Monday, July 16, Barton sent me 13 "questions" from the writer, Jesse Smith, which seemed better suited to The National Enquirer than to a serious community newspaper. I was told to respond "at your earliest convenience." Until that time, I had no idea a story was even moving.

I replied 22 minutes later, and said that we needed to meet in person. That meeting happened the morning of Weds., July 18. I learned three important things from Barton. One is that the newspaper had determined that I was a "public figure," which in legal terms means that I would have to meet a higher standard if bringing a defamation lawsuit.

Whether I am or am not a public figure does not matter. What matters is that the writer, editor and publisher discussed it. They were more concerned what standard I would have to meet as a potential plaintiff, than they were with whether their story checked out.

Second, Barton admitted that his boss, publisher Geddy Sveikauskas, was not especially concerned about litigation, something he's said to me as well. In the newspaper business, that is not a mark of courage. It's about integrity.

Third, the story had gone to press without my comments, or my ability to refute any of the claims made by any of the sources. As of that meeting, the newspaper was already at the printer. While Barton said that was not his "unilateral decision," according to him, a decision was made to publish without contacting me first.

This is a state of mind issue. Ulster Publishing was more concerned about my ability to hold them accountable in court than it was about getting the story right.

I have no desire to litigate this newspaper group. Litigation is an act of war. This is a community issue affecting all of us. I am open to an amicable solution, which will involve an apology and retraction, and the newspaper agreeing to standards and practices to prevent this kind of disaster in the future.

Eric Francis Coppolino
Kingston


Fairness in Journalism | Sept. 5

In reply to the unsigned editor's note after last week’s letter, I want to clarify some of the ground rules of journalism. In my July 18 meeting with Dan Barton, I was the story subject and he was the journalist. In that context the discussion was “off the record.”

It was his responsibility to hold the discussion confidential, not mine. That said, the newspaper published quotes, ostensibly from from my private emails and text messages, that were never run past me. My provision of documents to the newspaper was "on background," meaning, "we will talk about this later."

I trusted Mr. Barton, and provided him with full disclosure of my situation, right up until the time I received a series of questions that were absurd to ask of any private person -- and which evidenced that the article would be a hit job.

No question sent to me by Kingston Times addressed a serious journalistic matter, such as my employment discrimination actions, or what actually happened this spring and summer. They all demanded that I confirm or deny alleged aspects of my most intimate life. “Do you deny having sex with that person” is not a legitimate question to ask a private individual, particularly given how that very matter had been addressed in a professional investigation.

While some have tried to skew the results of that investigation, conducted by a former federal prosecutor, I will repeat what Jason Stern told me on May 20: "The result of a very extensive investigation was nothing -- was that the attorney said, no, there's nothing here -- extensive investigation…that was Ryan's final word."

We have certainly made something out of nothing. By the time I had the questions, the story was done; by the time I met with Barton two days later, New Paltz Times was at the printer. The time for checking the facts is before publication, not after. And when material facts do not check out after publication, they should be promptly corrected. I have documented many, to the editors of this newspaper.

Let's consider the Washington Post's rule for giving story subjects the opportunity to respond:

"People who will be shown in an adverse light in an article must be given a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves. This means making a good-faith effort to give the subject of allegations or criticism sufficient time and information to respond substantively. Whenever possible, the reporter should meet face-to-face with the subject in a sincere effort to understand his or her best arguments."

Eric F. Coppolino
Kingston


Semiotics of Sex| Sept. 13

A few weeks ago, I read an article in this newspaper by Holly Christiana, calling on women to take more responsibility for themselves.

In her introduction, she writes, "Eric Francis is rife with inappropriate sexuality. His articles are full of it, right there for everyone to see, every month. I mostly skipped the articles and read the horoscope. But I wasn’t surprised when I met him that he went straight to the topic of sexuality. Know what I did, as an adult woman who doesn’t really engage in that kind of conversation? Didn’t engage."

First, a correction: our first conversation was about an April Fool's Day prank of mine that she fell for in 2016 -- featuring Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir "playing at Uncle Willy's" in Kingston.

She makes my point for me, because she met me through my writing first.

In a comment to the online post of the article, I asked her what she meant by "inappropriate." Did she mean the open discussion of sexuality?

I got to speak with her a week ago, and she confirmed that any open discussion of sexuality makes her uncomfortable. So here we have a matter of perception; in her reading of the symbol of my approach to sexuality (which is always sexuality in the context of relationships), she had a strong, personal response.

So she states declaratively: "Eric Francis is rife with inappropriate sexuality. His articles are full of it," as if there is no other possible interpretation. There are others; perception is not reality. I lasted as a sex (and astrology) writer for 22 years in a major regional publication.

The past five months, my research team and I have been reading countless hundreds of these interpretations of my existence. I've been described in innumerable ways, including by people who have never met me, only read my work -- besides online commenter Trish, Holly was the first person who mentions my writing.

In the second part of her article, she says that women need to be bolder about their position on sexuality and setting boundaries. Yet how exactly is that going to happen if they are not conversant in the subject? How can we talk about sex if we cannot talk about sex? In my 22-year Chronogram series of articles, I set out not to start a sexual revolution, but a relational revolution that is friendly to sex.

As my critic Lorna Tychostup once said to me, long, long ago: "Every revolution begins with words."

Eric Francis Coppolino
Kingston


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