New allegations from ALIPAC leader who was banned from KGUN9 websites

New allegations from ALIPAC leader who was banned from KGUN9 websites

CREATED May 30, 2012 - UPDATED: Jun 4, 2012

Update:  Gheen has now replied to KGUN9's demand for an apology to our viewer, to our demand for retraction of his many false and defamatory statements, and to our request for more information regarding his complaint about our coverage of his ban from our Facebook page.  See the footnote at the bottom of this page.

Notes and commentary by:  Forrest Carr, KGUN9 News Director

The head of the Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, or ALIPAC, is not taking his exile from KGUN9's Facebook page well.   On Thursday he sent me a private Facebook message accusing me of lying about the Facebook exchange that got him banned, and promising to seek legal action.

Gheen also posted messages on his ALIPAC Facebook page saying much the same thing.   After calling me  "a serial liar," Gheen wrote that I am now claiming that he "threatened someone online while hiding the post that exonerates me from his false claim."

In response to Gheen's latest attack, KGUN9 News is making available the full Facebook exchange that led to his posting ban.   Viewers can decide for themselves whether any of the posts helps Gheen's argument or disproves anything that KGUN9 News has reported.  That exchange is available in the "Related Documents" section above at left (or click here.)   It is unedited except to remove the name of the viewer in question in order to protect her privacy.

On Thursday night I responded to Gheen's message and offered run a correction or retraction if he can demonstrate that any statement made by anyone at KGUN9 News regarding the events leading up to his ban from our sites is incorrect.   I also sent  him a detailed demand for retraction in regards to numerous false statements he has made about me and KGUN9 News over the past week, and also asked him, again, to apologize to our viewer.   By the close of business on Friday, I had yet to get a reply.* (See update at the bottom of this page).

This latest round in a week-long verbal cage fight with Gheen stems from an argument Gheen got into on Wednesday with a KGUN9 viewer on our Facebook page.  When it turned personal, I warned Gheen to drop it or he would be banned from posting.  Gheen ignored the warning.

I banned this national newsmaker from communicating directly with our viewers only with the greatest reluctance.  In pursuit of allowing a vigorous public debate on this issue, KGUN9 News let Gheen post attacks on KGUN9 News multiple times a day for the past several days.   I challenged him on his falsehoods but let him continue to post his broadsides, even after they turned intensely personal and increasingly defamatory, ugly, demeaning and insulting.

But on Wednesday afternoon, Gheen chose to focus his tirade on a KGUN9 viewer.  He made the incredible suggestion that it might be a good learning experience for her if ALIPAC were to send out a press release to the entire state of Arizona claiming that this particular viewer supports Nazis.

I applaud this viewer for her courage.  Having seen Gheen's treatment of me and KGUN9, she had to know what kind of response she might get.  But she went ahead anyway, and with just two posts she did a better job of responding to Gheen than I did in several days of back-and-forth messages. But in return for expressing an opposing viewpoint, this viewer wound up having the attention of a nationally registered political action committee focused right on her in a personal and potentially unnerving way.  

That was unacceptable.

In response, I told Gheen that he would not be allowed to bully, intimidate or harass our viewers.  I warned him that if he were to post another response to this viewer in any context other than that of an apology, I would ban him from the site. 

Gheen did respond, did mention the viewer, and did not apologize.  Instead, he defended his actions and repeated his offer to subject her to what he now called an "empathy study."

Dude -- offering to subject a private individual with whom you have a political disagreement to a traumatizing "study" is so not cool.  How is it that you don't get that? 

It does seem obvious to me from his post that he was hoping that this would provoke a ban from KGUN9's sites.  His closing words to me were:   "I guess now is a good time to let you know that lots of people have contacted us about all of the posts that you deleted beneath KGUN 9 articles that were critical of your positions. No wonder you are threatening me with the same. Go ahead and prove your weakness and intolerance Mr. Forrest. You go hit that button you big man you."

Done.  I regret having to do it, because I knew that the move would immediately play into Gheen's hands and give him fresh ammunition.  I'm certain that this was his intent.   In Wednesday night's version of this story, I wrote, "Now Gheen gets to retreat to his ALIPAC site and Facebook page and claim that KGUN9, a hotbed of liberalism, kicked him off its Facebook page in order to stifle his conservative political views. I'll bet the posts are going up right now, with claims to the effect of, "KGUN9 bans conservative viewpoints!  That lying, liberal, totalitarian news director Forrest Carr couldn't stand the heat!" 

By the next day, Gheen had indeed posted an accusation along those lines, using two of the three exact words I had predicted.  Surprisingly,  he forgot to include the word "liberal," a label he slapped on me seven times in his open letter last week.  In its place he substituted a new word that's not nearly as good.  As a result, I now have to settle for the title of "lying totalitarian coward."  Too bad.  "Lying liberal totalitarian" trips off the tongue so much better.  I was looking forward to putting that on my business card.  I was even planning to get a new phone number to go with it:  Dial LLT-NEWS!  I think that would look good on billboards.

By the way, can you be a "totalitarian" and a "coward" at the same time?  The two concepts don't seem compatible.   Just sayin'.

Come to think of it, nor are the concepts of "liberal" and "totalitarian."  In fact, the two labels are mutually exclusive.  You can't be both at the same time.  Bill, I think you are going to have to retract some of the insults you've hurled in my direction, if only for the sake of internal consistency. 

Gheen's rhetoric is so over-the-top ridiculous that it's hard not to laugh, and I try to keep good humor about it.   But on the other hand, really, it's not funny.    These kinds of falsehoods can do a lot of damage, and Gheen's latest post is forcing me to deal with a new one, the claim that KGUN9 has been systematically removing posts from ALIPAC supporters.  It isn't so.   KGUN9 administrators do remove posts that violate our terms of use.   I can't swear that no ALIPAC-related posts have been removed for that reason.  But the only systematic removal was the one I made happen Wednesday afternoon.  Unfortunately, it's an all-or-nothing deal.  The ban function automatically removed all of his posts -- and for any threads that Gheen originated, the attached comments went with them, regardless of the author.

This all ended the way it had started, with a KGUN9 viewer.   The spark was a single viewer-submitted question that KGUN9 News asked of Congressional candidate Jesse Kelly.  The viewer wanted to know why, given allegations from U.S. Senator John McCain and the Anti-Defamation League that ALIPAC is backed by white supremacists and the like, Kelly accepted ALIPAC's 2010 endorsement.  

The Anti-Defamation League is credible and its accusations were well sourced.  The Southern Poverty Law Center, which in the past has accused Gheen of racist comments, and has claimed that ALIPAC has had backing from at least one hate group, also is credible.  John McCain cited some of these allegations in making his attacks on ALIPAC.   As a nationally respected politician, his comments were newsworthy.

KGUN9 has not claimed, nor does it claim now, that the allegations have been proved, only that they are credible, newsworthy, and appropriate subject matter for political coverage.  That is why we relayed our viewer's question to Jesse Kelly, who sought and accepted ALIPAC's 2010 endorsement.  The question was valid and remains so given ALIPAC's renewed endorsement.

Gheen has pointed out to KGUN9 that ALIPAC can't be held responsible for extremist groups that might repost material from ALIPAC's site.  If, for the sake of argument, some of ALIPAC's material is the kind that some extremist groups might find attractive, does that mean ALIPAC itself is extremist?  Should ALIPAC be judged by the character of everyone -- and anyone -- with whom its message might resonate?   Should anyone care or find it surprising that two left-leaning groups would attack a right-wing political action committee?  These are good questions.  KGUN9 does not propose to answer them.  We urge you instead to ponder the matter and make up your own mind.

To assist you, KGUN9 explored the ALIPAC issue in 2010 and again last week.  We've published several TV and web stories, and I have engaged Gheen and his followers on KGUN9's Facebook page as well.  We stand by our reporting.  Those of you who've been following along have heard Gheen's defense in detail.  You've seen firsthand how he conducts himself.  With that information, you should have enough facts and observations to make up your own mind about his character, that of the organization he leads, and what effect, if any, ALIPAC's endorsement should have on the race for Arizona Congressional District 8.

Jesse Kelly chose not to answer our viewer's question.  That is his right.  But his campaign spokesman tore into our anchor, Jennifer Waddell, calling the question improper and indicative of a low standard of journalism ethics.  The spokesman repeated that assertion to me personally a few days later.  Then  Gheen took up the attack, expressing himself even more forcefully, launching a week-long bullying campaign directed against KGUN9 and me personally, using lies, personal insults and epithets (I counted 34 uses of the term "liar" or similar terms directed at me personally before Gheen's latest posts) the likes of which I have not experienced in 32 years of service in the journalism profession.  It seems clear Gheen was doing everything he could, using whatever tactics were necessary, to discredit and hold up to public ridicule our newsroom and me personally, so as to neutralize a viewer question that neither Gheen nor Kelly's spokesman wanted you, the voter, to hear.

Yes, we agree that Kelly had every right not to answer the question.  But here is where we part company.  Our viewer had every right to ask it.  So did KGUN9.  There is a term for societies where citizens and journalists are not allowed to ask questions of those in power, or who would be in power.  They are called "totalitarian."

Wow, there's that word again. This time, Mr. Gheen, you might take note its proper use.

*Monday update:  In a response by email sent Monday morning, Gheen did not apologize for his treatment of our viewer, and instead continued to defend the comments that he had directed to her.  Nor did he retract or apologize for any of the 54 false and defamatory statements that I had detailed for him in the demand for retraction I sent him on Friday.  Gheen reasserted his claim that KGUN9's reporting about ALIPAC has been false.  Gheen did not, however, point to any specific statement regarding KGUN9's reporting of his ban from our website that he felt was false, and he withdrew his statement that he intended to seek a legal remedy.

In defending himself against statements by the Anti-Defamation League that white supremacists and the like have promoted ALIPAC and taken action on its behalf, Gheen admitted that someone he called "a real skinhead" might have "made some posts" on certain websites.  But he denied that such posts constitute "evidence of 'ties' and 'backing' by 'neo nazis" in support of ALIPAC.

While making that admission, Gheen also put forth a new theory, claiming that such posts appearing to come from neo-Nazi elements also might have been placed on such websites by an "ADL operative posing as an anonymous racist."  Gheen offered no evidence in support of that claim.

KGUN9 News has expressed no opinion about whether such real or perceived promotion of ALIPAC's message by white supremacists constitutes "evidence of ties" or "backing" of ALIPAC by such people, nor do we express such an opinion now.  We leave that judgment up to our viewers, and we stand by our reporting.