A lot hit the fan last week when people read our front page stories on James Strauss, the senior editor of the Shore Report.
Those stories questioned Strauss’ writing credentials and revealed his criminal past.
Last week's stories: "Strauss has a criminal record" and "Goldberg says Strauss lies about television writing credentials."
Lots of questions have been raised in the wake of those revelations. Here are some answers:
Q: Why did we write about Strauss in the first place?
We’ve always been suspicious of some of his credentials, but never felt it was worth the staff time to pursue. Besides, we don’t make a habit of character assassination. That’s more the Shore Report’s gig.
Then, three weeks ago, someone sent me a link to a blog by Lee Goldberg, whose writing credits are extensive and verifiable.
Goldberg said he was at a writers conference with Strauss and some of what he heard made him investigate. He concluded Strauss was lying about his writing credits.
These allegations were put in my lap. We couldn’t ignore them and here’s why:
Strauss is a public figure. He’s made himself a public figure through his own actions. No one forced him into the limelight. In the Shore Report, the weekly newsletter he edits, he’s called government officials and others liars and implied criminal activities, usually with no or very little evidence. People who judge others publicly ought to be open to public scrutiny themselves. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Goldberg’s facts checked out. We didn’t just take Goldberg at his word. We didn’t rush to judgment. We took two weeks to investigate his claims. Not only did we contact Goldberg but we went after his source material to make sure it was accurate. It was.
Had our investigation proved the allegations false, we would have written that. It didn’t.
The allegations weren’t minor. If they had been, we probably wouldn’t have reported on them. One of the reasons this story created such a stir was because Strauss’ apparent falsehoods are so large. I moved the story to the bottom of 1A instead of leading with it, so as not to be accused of sensationalism — but I guess there’s no disguising the sensational nature of the story itself.
The allegations weren’t ancient history. Strauss was advertising his apparently fake TV credentials up to the day we ran the stories. Even his criminal background dates back only 16 years.
Contrary to inferences made elsewhere, we didn’t dig into Strauss’ personal life. His criminal history is a matter of public record. All the allegations about his TV writing were simply the result of checking the claims he’s made over and over again publicly. If he hadn’t made those false claims, we wouldn’t have checked on them.
Q: Are we going to be delving into everyone’s past?
Of course not.
Q: Do you have personal animosity toward Strauss or those who support him?
I actually like Jim — at least I did until I learned more about him through this investigation.
Nor do I have an axe to grind with Terry O’Neill or Dick Malmin, who are frequent contributors to the Shore Report.
Since this story broke, they’ve stood up for Strauss. I admire people who stand up for a friend.
We’ve never turned down one of their letters to the editor (one accompanies this column) and don’t plan to in the future. We frequently quote them in our news stories. We’re not stifling their opinions.
But it’s ironic that a group that has so willingly attacked others with no or scant evidence is taken aback when one of their own is attacked with facts.
His defenders’ new spin is that the Shore Report is only meant as a joke publication, like “The Onion.” One said it was “tongue in cheek.”
Those targeted by the Shore Report and their families didn’t think the allegations were funny.
And it’s a strange strategy for a group that wants to be taken seriously to say they didn’t mean what they said. It’s also totally disingenuous.
The sad part is that sometimes they did make allegations that were accurate or worthy of consideration. Now no one will believe them even if they’re right.
Q: Were the stories written to shut down the Shore Report?
I can understand why someone would think that. But the answer is “no.” I’ve never considered the Shore Report competition.
I’ve said in my columns that I think an alternative publication keeps elected officials and the Regional News on their toes. While the Shore Report’s information has been wrong far too often, they have also revealed some issues we hadn’t covered and subsequently did.
And who said the Shore Report should stop publishing? I didn’t. If the followers of the Shore Report don’t care about Strauss’ background, why not continue with it? If a decision is made to shut down the Shore Report, it will be the responsibility of the people who make that decision — not anyone else.
Q: Why didn’t we get Strauss’ side of the story?
We asked Strauss for comments four times. Which is four more opportunities than he’s given to the people he’s accused of wrong-doing.
He and anyone who knows me, knows we would have given him ample space for his response. He chose not to respond.
Q: What harm do his statements cause?
Strauss isn’t your tipsy uncle lying about the big fish he caught or his golf score.
His apparent lies and exaggerations were done soberly and with a purpose.
They were designed to give him credibility when he spoke to the city council or commented on public events in the Shore Report.
They were designed to give him credibility when he spoke at writers conventions.
People who paid to go to writers conferences to learn about TV writing were cheated. Readers of the Shore Report who respected his opinions, now have to question the accuracy of everything he said — which is too bad, because sometimes he was right.
Q: Strauss spent time in jail in the 1990s. Why bring up a crime that occurred in his past? Didn’t he pay his dues?
Swindling almost $400,000 from a school retirement fund is a hard crime to ignore.
Combined with his more current false claims, it seems to say something about his character. Besides, he was in his 50s when he went to jail. It was hardly a crime of a misspent youth.
Q: Did we do the story to sell papers?
Well, that’s one of the reasons we’re in business — to sell newspapers. But, no, we’d never do such a story to increase our circulation.
And anyone thinking we’re going to do stories like this every week will be sorely disappointed.
Q: Are all Strauss’ claims false?
I don’t know. We didn’t include any falsehoods we couldn’t document.
Was he in the Marines? Probably. Was he in the CIA? Possibly. There was a James Robert Strauss in the CIA in the 1990s with a rather colorful background.
Q: Are you going to write more about this?
It depends if more information develops. If Strauss provides his side of the story, we’ll write that. If we made any mistakes, we’ll correct them. But right now, we stand by our story — all of it.
Some of the people who were attacked by Strauss are out for vengeance and would love it if we kept on hammering him.
Other readers will get sick of the Strauss saga if we continue to cover it for too long.
I don’t want to give in to either of those impulses. We’ll play it one week at a time.
Q: Finally, is this a comeuppance Strauss brought upon himself or is the Regional News wrong to cover it?
No matter who you blame, there’s a sadness to Strauss’ story.
Strauss could have put his brains and personality to far better uses.
He didn’t have to puff up his life story to be heard.
Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.