Magazine article Editor & Publisher

UPDATED: 'Denver Post' and 'Charlotte Observer' in Pulitzer Dispute

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

UPDATED: 'Denver Post' and 'Charlotte Observer' in Pulitzer Dispute

Article excerpt

A dispute over a Pulitzer Prize finalist in investigative reporting has emerged between The Denver Post and the Charlotte (N.C) Observer. The conflict sparked a phone call Wednesday from Observer Editor Rick Thames to Post Editor Greg Moore, who is also a Pulitzer Board member.

Moore says he is now "writing a letter about it." At issue is the Post's July 2007 series on lost and destroyed evidence, which E&P has learned is among the three finalists in the investigative reporting category. The series included examinations of a number of cases in which evidence questions had been raised. Among the cases examined is the story of Floyd Brown, a mentally disabled North Carolina man who was freed in late 2007 after 14 years in prison without being tried. He was charged with murder, but questions about different pieces of missing evidence, including a murder weapon and bloody clothes, eventually led to his freedom. Former Charlotte Observer reporter Emily S. Achenbaum, who left the paper in January to take a job with the Chicago Tribune, wrote numerous stories about the Brown case dating back to late 2006, including an extensive package in March 2007, which predated the Post series. She now wants the Pulitzer board to take a close look at both her coverage and the Post's. Achenbaum contends that the Post coverage, by reporters Susan Greene and Miles Moffeit, was written without credit to the Observer and with the inference that the Post first dug up the story. "They ran follow-up stories on Oct. 9 and Oct. 14 [about Brown's release] and both contain paragraphs that suggested after the Post did the story, that attorneys were immediately called to action to file for his release," Achenbaum said. "They called this a case that they identified, which is a little misleading."

The Post's Oct. 9 story stated at one point that "The Denver Post featured Brown's story and the disappearance of key evidence from his case in 'Trashing the Truth,' a series about the loss and destruction of physical evidence from criminal investigations. Shortly after the story's publication in July, Brown's legal team filed for his immediate release."

Moore acknowledged that the Observer coverage was prominent, but contends that the Post did its own reporting and had no reason to formally credit the Observer. "It seems to me that they did what a really good paper should do, but if anything, their story led us to a treasure trove of court documents that we went and got." Moore added that Brown's attorneys filed the paperwork seeking his release in August, only after the Post series ran. He also said, "we did our own reporting and if someone asked us if this had been written about, we said 'yes'."

Thames, in an e-mail response to Moore's comment, told E&P, "Brown's attorneys did file their writ of habeas corpus a month after the Post's story ran. But they had been working on it for 10 months. And one of them has told us that the Post's story had absolutely no influence on them." Achenbaum also claims that Greene sought information from her on two occasions in October 2007 for coverage related to Brown's hearing and eventual release, but said she would not give the Charlotte paper credit. Those included a request for confirmation that it cost $2.3 million for Brown to be housed at a state hospital and a request for Achenbaum to cover the hearing in which Brown was granted freedom and provide Greene with information from the hearing. …

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