► Other Paper - 07/02/02 - Moyer: 'Columbus Dispatch' is Palmer's mouthpiece Print E-mail

The Other Paper - Columbus, Ohio


Moyer: 'Dispatch' is Palmer's mouthpiece
By Molly Willow - July 2, 2002
It seemed like quite a find to David Palmer. The self-appointed judicial watchdog had pored over 945 pages of Ohio Supreme Court records, following an anonymous tip about judicial misuse of gas cards.
And then he found it: a record showing a justice's card had been used to put 20 gallons of gas in an 18.5-gallon tank.
Voila! He filed 28 felony theft-in-office complaints against Chief Justice Thomas Moyer and justices Andrew Douglas, Paul Pfeifer and Francis Sweeney. 
In swooped Channel 10, along with Dispatch reporter Jon Craig, who wrote about the charges in a June 25 story.
Then came the Washington Post, which ran a page 2 story Sunday.
As unhappy as Moyer was to see the Post article, he said he was more bothered that Channel 10 and the Dispatch, both part of the Wolfe media empire, pursued what he called a "bogus" story.
"I think with him nothing would surprise us," Moyer said of Palmer. "What surprises us is that the other Statehouse reporters are onto him and nobody else ran the story."
Moyer said he's been around enough to know not to criticize reporters. 
Then he criticized a reporter. "Mr. Craig is Mr. Palmer's mouthpiece, literally."
"This is Moyer?" Dispatch Editor Ben Marrison said. "He's a straight-shooting reporter."
Moyer said Tuesday that Palmer's allegations were "ludicrous" and that he expects them to be dismissed quickly. 
Said Palmer Monday: "I try to be as detailed as possible because they would like nothing more than to make my accounting of how I summarized it an shove it up my derriere, so to speak."
No one is denying that the gasoline company records Palmer requested show, in some cases, more gallons of gas were purchased than the state-owned vehicles could hold.
Court spokesman Jay Wuebbold said the confusion is due to oil companies' occasional practice of "arbitrarily" assigning gallon amounts to periodic gasoline bills based on the total dollar amount.
"It sound a little convoluted," Moyer acknowledged. "But that's why we'd like to know from the oil companies: Why do you do these averages?"
The Englefield Oil Co. in Heath sent the court a letter last Thursday--two days after the Dispatch story--calling the $1-a-gallon report from a Bucyrus Duke & Dutchess station "a mistake."
It said the correct amount is on the "manual imprint" the customer, in this case Pfeifer, had signed. That imprint, Wuebbold said, shows Pfeifer didn't buy more gas than his vehicle holds.
Reporters would have seen this if they'd bothered to check, Moyer said. "The two reporters, the Wolfe reporters, just didn't do any of the backup research."
"What surprises us was that highly respected news outlets would publish the story they did without doing better investigative reporting on us, without us getting the records together and giving us a chance to respond."
Marrison said the Dispatch filed requests for court gasoline and maintenance records before Palmer filed any complaints.
"We did our due diligence on our reporting," Marrison said. "The court, on the other hand, did not provide a response that answered the questions about how the gas was used or how any miscalculations have been made." Marrison said the paper received the hand written records Tuesday.
Palmer said the gas card misuse allegations were just "the tip of the iceberg." It's an iceberg that the judges are currently trying to melt with careful documentation of their own, and a plea for follow-up coverage.
"We would hope that the two, the Dispatch and Channel 10, would do stories that were as prominent as the first ones," Moyer said.
And the Post article? "I'm not going to try to do anything more with that," Moyer said, sighing. "The reporter said, "We like quirky things."

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