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From the Publisher

September 1, 2005


An apology



This is a long overdue apology to our readers.

As you will learn in this week's cover story, this newspaper and every other newspaper in the county we have researched so far have been victims of a letter-writing hoax. We printed a letter in June from a reader who had written before, whose letters had appeared in other newspapers, without calling to verify the letter's authenticity.

It was a fake name, one he used to influence public opinion in the best-read section of any paper -- the letters to the editor. This deception, we learned this past week, has been ongoing for months, much to our embarrassment, and we sincerely apologize.

The letter writer isn't just an ordinary reader. He is a political activist, and a volunteer and sometimes paid consultant for many liberal causes. He worked on the campaign to elect Jill Geist as county supervisor, Paul Gallegos' initial run for district attorney and Chris Kerrigan's bid for re-election to the Eureka City Council. He was a key player in the successful fight against Gallegos' recall attempt. And he has been an outspoken critic of Pacific Lumber Co. and Debi August, a Fortuna City Council member indicted by the grand jury for conflict of interest. (August's case was later dismissed.)

During our investigation, we learned he wrote frequently under several names, including, occasionally, his own -- Richard Salzman.

By perpetrating this hoax, Salzman betrayed the public, especially the people who have supported his causes. Citizens on the other side of these important issues will long remember his deception. There were many thoughtful, passionate, sincere letter writers during the same period of time who will now have their very existence called into question because of Salzman's deception.

Some readers may ask if our headline, "Web of lies," is too harsh. I don't think so. To write letters under an assumed name is a lie in itself. Then, when we confronted him with the evidence of his deceit last Friday, he initially denied it. It was only after a face-to-face confrontation Monday in our office, and a few more hours of private reflection, that he admitted his deception.

Salzman now claims he has some right to use a "pen name." Maybe in writing fiction, but not in the news business. Political careers and important causes are advanced or maimed based on how the news unfolds, and cynical attempts to twist the contents of newspapers to one's own end should be roundly condemned, whether the twister is Salzman or Karl Rove. Geist has long distanced herself from Salzman; Gallegos and Kerrigan should do the same.

We spent staff time this past week reviewing all letters published in the Journal in the last two and a half years. In addition to those originated by Salzman, we have published a few others whose authenticity we cannot yet verify, meaning we cannot find the authors in any of our databases nor can we contact them by phone or e-mail. Our promise to readers is to do our best to screen letters in the future, and to investigate any and all attempts to falsely and covertly manipulate public opinion.

-- -- --

We also learned this past week of what we hope will be the penultimate chapter in the pepper spray saga. The judge in the case, which found that Humboldt County and the city of Eureka police officers used excessive force in dealing with anti-logging demonstrators in 1997, ruled that the plaintiffs are entitled to recover legal fees. (The ultimate chapter will be when the attorneys actually get paid.)

As we have editorialized many times these past eight years, the county supervisors and the Eureka City Council should have condemned the actions of their officers -- under orders of then-Sheriff Dennis Lewis, who bears ultimate responsibility -- and they should have offered to settle with the victims. Fighting this case every step of the way has been a failure to accept responsibility all along the chain of command and has been extremely costly to taxpayers. The tab so far is in the millions.


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