Journalist Turncoat

By Noack, David | Editor & Publisher, April 10, 1999 | Go to article overview

Journalist Turncoat


Noack, David, Editor & Publisher


Ex-reporter reveals source for Chiquita voice mails and says editors told him to trash evidence

When ex-Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Mike Gallagher first learned that gaining access to Chiquita Brands International's voice mails might be illegal, he says he got approval from top editors to destroy materials that could be subpoenaed by the company.

In addition, Gallagher also disclosed the identity of one of his confidential sources a serious journalistic breach for the now- discredited series about questionable business practices involving the world's largest banana producer that ran last year.

The revelations came as Gallagher testified at a pretrial hearing in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court last week in the case of former Chiquita lawyer George Ventura, who Gallagher says provided him with access codes to the company's voice-mail system.

Ventura, who was based in South America, was indicted last year on 10 counts of helping Gallagher gain illegal access to the company's voice mail. He is scheduled to go on trial later this month. Gallagher, 40, pled guilty last year to illegally intercepting the company's voice mails. In a plea agreement with prosecutors, Gallagher agreed to testify at Ventura's trial in exchange for not going to prison. He is slated to be placed on probation.

Before naming Ventura as one of his key sources for the stories, Gallagher had saidprotecting a confidential source was one of the greatest responsibilities of reporters.

Former Enquirer editor Lawrence Beaupre, who oversaw the investigative project, blasts Gallagher over his court testimony. "Mike Gallagher is an admitted liar and felon, and anything he says should be judged on that basis," asserts Beaupre, who is now an executive with the Gannett Co. in Arlington, Va.

In the final days before publication, Gallagher testified, the Enquirer braced for a possible civil lawsuit from Chiquita. To protect sources, Gallagher said that with the OK of the Enquirer's top editors and lawyers, he destroyed tapes, notes, and other documents that could have been subpoenaed by Chiquita

In June, the Gannett-owned Cincinnati paper agreed to pay the world's largest banana distributor $10 million in damages for "untrue'' articles alleging the company had questionable business practices. The newspaper also ran an apology to the company on its front page for three consecutive days.

Gallagher's admission of destroying documents, notes, and tapes was the first public explanation on how the series veered from normal journalistic practices. Media ethics observers say Gallagher's decision to reveal the name of a confidential source must be viewed in the context surrounding the entire Chiquita controversy. …

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