Monday, August 26, 2013

Actor David Hasselhoff says claims published in three Chicago Tribune articles are lies, but the paper refuses to publish a correction [UPDATED]

11/25/13 UPDATE ARTICLE BASED ON NEWLY-AVAILABLE DOCUMENTS: Why did actor David Hasselhoff lie to me about his role with a shady nonprofit now under investigation for "possible $9m misappropriation"? Based on this information, I've retracted my corrections request to The Tribune.


Margaret Holt (source)

Via How news organizations are preparing to handle corrections today by Andrew Beaujon, Poynter Institute, November 6, 2012:
In an email, (the Chicago) Tribune standards editor Margaret Holt says, “our commitment to accuracy transcends publishing platform. Practically speaking, we believe it is important to fix an error promptly, whether it’s in print or online...In our guidelines, we say: If the error is straightforward, we want to fix it fast....
But last week when I brought to her attention that three articles on the Tribune's website include claims about actor David Hasselhoff that he says are lies, she refused to publish a correction.

Per my item last month, for almost a decade, the Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF) claimed that the Baywatch star endorsed their organization and served on their board as "Honorary Chairman."

As Sidebar readers know, SALF was a high-profile Chicago nonprofit now reportedly under investigation by the Illinois Attorney General. Via the June 26, 2013 Dubuque Telegraph Herald:
Since its establishment in 1993, the foundation pledged to teach school children first aid and emergency response practices. Despite receiving nearly $9 million to fund the program, however, very few records of students being taught have been found.
Since 2006, SALF and its founder/president, Carol J. Spizzirri -- reportedly a twice-convicted shoplifter who claimed nonexistent nursing credentials and awarded herself a college degree -- have been the subject of dozens of media exposes

Spizzirri's organization claimed the Hasselhoff affiliation in media reports, in fundraising materials, and in applications for a $200,000 state grant.

As I reported, the genesis of the claims appears to be when Spizzirri's teenage daughter Ciprina appeared as an extra on an episode of Baywatch in the early 1990s.

Mama Spizzirri's outfit apparently inflated that flimsy connection into fabrications about The Hoff that were used to gin up press coverage and soak taxpayers.

The Tribune, which for years published error-ridden, rah-rah articles about Spizzirri and her politically-connected nonprofit, served as a major spreader for SALF's misrepresentations about Hasselhoff.

For example:

Surf's Up For Cpr Crusade As `Baywatch' Star Signs On by Christi Parsons, Chicago Tribune, December 30, 1993

Mother On A Mission -- First Aid Might Have Saved Her Daughter, Now, Carol Spizzirri Is A Relentless Crusader by Julie Dearforff, Chicago Tribune, January 16, 1995

Save-A-Life Foundation in limbo -- Charity dogged by critics, economy is 'in hibernation' by Lisa Black, Chicago Tribune, October 11, 2009

When I recently submitted a corrections request re: the above, a Tribune staffer responded with this Orwellian gem:
It appears the information was correct at the time the article [sic] was written.
I don't know what that means, but as I informed the Tribune, here's what David Hasselhoff's press agent wrote me last month. (Click here for the complete e-mail, including her contact info.)
I was able to reach Mr. Hasselhoff  over the weekend...He was never SALF's Honorary Chairman.  He never had any financial relationship with SALF.  He never had any personal contact with SALF. 
When I moved my request upstream to managing editor Jane Hirt, here's what came back:
Subject: RE: Tribune articles
Date: 8/15/2013 1:43 PM
Mr. Heimlich:

On behalf of Jane Hirt, I’m following up on your email on which she was copied. We have reviewed the email and do not plan a correction on the original article(s).


Margaret Holt
Standards Editor
In other words, "Suck on it, Hasselhoff. Despite your denial, we say you helped promote an organization that may have ripped-off millions of tax dollars."

Per the correspondence below, I also repeatedly asked Ms. Holt for a copy of the Tribune's vaunted - - at least according to what she told Poynter -- corrections policy.

I haven't received a reply.