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The Back Story Of WAVE3′s JCPS Coverage

January 28th, 2014 by jake · 6 Comments

We love to hate on Jefferson County Public Schools and have a history of it. Most (all?) of it is well-founded criticism and started with the district’s two previous superintendents/disasters.

But.

Have you seen Eric Flack’s hit piece on JCPS? If not, here you go.

It is a hot mess of slanted, aggressive, Fox News-style tripe. Which is bizarre to us because he’s typically a pretty stellar journalist.

Watch it:

wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather

Why is it a hit piece? Because Flack worked with EAG:

The Education Action Group, an advocacy organization that has studied the spending of 30 school districts including JCPS, thinks there’s a less expensive way to do it.

“We just wonder is this the most efficient use of hard earned tax dollars?” said Kyle Olson, founder of EAG.

What the heck is EAG? Click here, here, here and here. Long story short: it’s a right-wing organization funded by the typical extremists working to strangle public education. Not once did Flack bother pointing that out. Not once did he bother to reveal that his reporting was an effort to… well… stick with us a moment.

When we first got wind of Flack’s story, we reached out to EAG and made a friend. A friend who told us, essentially, that they reached out to Flack seeking publicity. And then he went on a “witch hunt” using cherry picked data. Which lines up with precisely with what folks at JCPS tell us behind the scenes.

To be fair, based on open records requests, Flack started poking at JCPS several weeks ago. But most of the records in his requests had not yet been fulfilled when he ran his story – because there’s just so much information that it can’t possibly be compiled quickly. Emails confirm that JCPS was working with Flack to get him the data he wanted. It appears that the district in no way was keeping information from him. Staff were going out of their way to assist him instead of being able to focus on the jobs they’re paid to do. Then, a week or so ago, Flack emailed JCPS officials telling them his plans had changed, demanding all of the data he requested immediately.

Flack didn’t even have the documents in-hand before WAVE started running promos.

The best way to tell this story is with records received after a request filed with JCPS. This will seem a bit mundane but it’s a look at how the story came about.

It all started on October 16 when Flack filed an open records request with JCPS, emailing Ben Jackey:

Hey Ben,
I would like to file an open records request for the annual salary of JCPS employee XXXXXXXXX XXXXX. Thanks,
Flack

NOTE FROM JAKE: the above name was redacted. It’s something we rarely do with public documents but it wasn’t pertinent to the story. So we complied with a polite request. If anyone thinks removing the individual’s name is a disservice, I’m happy to discuss. Just don’t see how we could justify using the name in this instance.

Jackey checked with him to make sure he only wanted data for 2013 and Flack confirmed. There was some back-and-forth and some “thanks bro” stuff from Flack. All seemed well.

Later that day, Jackey sent Flack a response:

XXXXXXXXX XXXXX’s annual salary based on 187 days, 6.50 hrs per day is $13,557.81.

That was that.

Then, on November 1, Flack emailed a WAVE3 photographer and CCd Jackey on the message:

DuPont Manual High School
120 W Lee St, Louisville
Might want to shoot JCPS PIO Ben Jackey an email heads up that you’re doing this even though you will be off property. His email is ben.jackey@jefferson.kyschools.us Otherwise he will get a call and hassle you in the middle of your shoot because that’s what he does. I think high school gets out about 2:20ish (I know middle school does….) but Ben could also tell you that. Eric Flack
WAVE 3 Trouble$hooter

Not exactly the best way to approach a JCPS employee working to fulfill one’s requests in a timely manner – joking or not.

Later in an email chain, Flack explained to Jackey that he was doing a story about “social media and kids moving from Facebook to other kids of social meia…”

Flack left Jackey a voicemail explaining that he was being sarcastic, according to an email, and Jackey replied (via email) that it was fine, he understood. All was well – but weird.

On November 22, Flack filed another open records request with JCPS:

Hi Ben,
I would like to file an open records request for a list of all hotel expenses paid for by JCPS in 2012 and 2013.
Thanks,
Flack

Jackey kept Flack in-the-loop a couple days later:

Gonna follow up with you this morning on your request. Can’t be processed the way you’ve asked for it. We can get you information, but we’re going to have to attack it differently. Also, thought you might want to know that the big Orlando vacation they’re talking about was FEA…33 STUDENTS. Not JCPS employees. Don’t let the facts get in the way….
Is there a good me to call you?

They had a telephone conversation later that day. The next morning, Jackey followed up:

Having talked with our CFO again last night, I think this is the best course of action. Because the statute doesn’t require us to compile lists that aren’t already in existence, I will direct you to the link below(which is the doc Voodoo used). This is a report the state requires us to produce every year and is available on the web. So, I think the best advice will be to look for hotels in here and just send me an email saying “I’m looking for information on x,y,z” if there’s a particular vendor payment you’re interested in. Then, we’ll get you the information. In some cases, retrieving the pertinent information should be easy. In other cases it will be a little more involved. But, again, I’m here to work with you.I want to make sure you have all the facts instead of just pos ng things online that are untrue.
h p://www.jefferson.k12.ky.us/departments/FinancialServices/Documents/YTD_AP_Payments.pdf

Flack’s response:

Ben,
This sounds like the correct course of action. I appreciate the guidance and I will be in touch when I have some more some more specific questions.
Thanks,
Flack

Again, all fine and dandy.

A couple weeks later, on December 11, Flack emailed the following:

Hi Ben,
Hope you’re having a chill first part of December…..
We had talked about ge ng some travel expense numbers for JCPS employees a few weeks back. Has there been any progress on that?
Also, I would like to look into incidents of violence in the class room at alternative schools in Jefferson County. I’ve been told that there is an “incident” report that is filed with the district office after each incident and I would like to ORR those reports. But first I would like to know what the proper document or paperwork is to ask for.
Thanks,
Flack

He followed up with a more official request:

Hi Ben,
I would like to file an open records request for incidents reported to JCPS for figh
ng/striking a student, figh
ng/striking a faculty, staff
or other officials, and assault at the following schools:
Breckinridge Metro High School, Beuchel Metropolitan High School, Kennedy Metro Middle School, Liberty High School, JCPS school related activities at The Brook Treatment Center, and any other JCPS Schools deemed “alternative” or “non‐traditional.”
Thanks,
Flack

He received a bunch of data from JCPS and on December 13, Flack emailed this:

Finally went through these vendor payouts. What is available now that I can open records? The actual receipts? And how about the reasons for the trips?
Thanks,
Flack

And on December 16:

Here’s a list of the travel expenses I would like more information about. Officially it would be an open records request for all receipts associated with the line items in the a ached spreadsheet as well as the JCPS employee who was responsible for the charge and the reason for the travel.
I am not sure if you need something more formal, or worded differently, but I thought this was enough to get us started. Thanks,
Flack

The next day, Jackey explained to Flack:

Okay. I will forward onto Financial Services. As I mentioned in our phone conversation, this is probably quite a few weeks’ worth of work. I will keep you posted.

It was no small undertaking and JCPS was keeping him in-the-loop on everything.

Flack acknowledged the extra effort:

I appreciate the effort. Thanks to you and your staff. Talk soon. Flack

After winter break, Jackey touched base with Flack with the following on January 8:

Wanted to follow up on your request. So, I’ve received all the receipts associated with the items you requested. I wish I could give you a timeline for completion, but it’s dependent upon a lot of things.
1) I have two enormous requests I’m dealing with right now that could take some time to complete that came in before yours.
2) Once I get to yours, I have to go through and check each name in Infinite Campus to determine whether or not the person listed in the receipt is a student. If so, then I have to redact student informa on. That is going to take a lot of me.
I’m hoping I can get this to you by the end of January, but just depends.
Also, you probably know this, but state statute doesn’t require us to create a list (you had asked for the name of each person next to the line item). So, we won’t be producing that. However, many of the receipts you’ll receive have the traveler’s name on them.
I will keep you posted on how things are progressing.

Flack acknowledged:

I understand all this and appreciate your a en on and effort.
There are actually two things I wanted to touch base with you on regarding the piece….
1.)Imaybewrong,butIamgoingtoguessalotofthistravelhastodowithcon nuingeduca onandtraining.Iwas wondering if a piece of this story should also address the in house con nuing educa on JCPS offers and teachers
a endance rates for opportuni es here at home. Is there a way to quan fy that? And is increasing a endance at in housecon nuingeduca onandtrainingsomethingthatisonDr.Hargensradar?
2.) I was poking around on the internet and was reminded of the Audit of JCPS that is going on right now which will deal with many issues, including travel expenses. When is that expected to be released?
Thanks and Happy New Year!

From Jackey:

I will have to get someone who understands PD offerings to help with that one. I do know that there is some PD that is required as a result of grants, contracts, etc. And, don’t quote me on this, I think we’re reimbursed for some of those things… which wouldn’t show up in what we’ve provided you. I will check to see if that’s the case.
The second question I wish I had the answer to. Probably will have to talk with auditor’s office on that one.

On January 13, Flack was concerned that WLKY had scooped him:

Hi Ben,
Are you available for an interview on the OEA PRP Invesitga on? Also, to your knowledge did anyone other than WLKY do the story? Thanks,
Flack

Jackey responded:

AllIcansayisthatweareconduc nganinternalaudittodetermineifviola onsofpolicyorprocedureoccurred.I can’t comment on OEA’s report because it’s not ours. I can’t comment on our audit because it’s ongoing.
WLKY is the only to my knowledge.

From Flack:

But you can do all that on camera like you did for WLKY?

Later that day, Flack told Jackey that he was sending a camera guy to conduct the interview with the following questions:

1. Please explain the reason for the ongoing JCPS audit at PRP.
2. What is the scope and focus of that audit?
3. How does that audit compare to the one completed by JCPS at PRP in 2012?
4. Why is it against the rules for JCPS employees to run side businesses from school property? Aside from it being against
therules,whatarethepoten alproblemsorconflictsthatcanarisefromsuchascenario? 5. Is there anything else you can say on this issue that we haven’t asked you?

Jackey sent this after his interview:

Hey Eric,
I was explaining to James that the audit that’s happening now is a standard audit of School Activity Funds that happens twice a year. It’s not being done bc of OEA.
The OEA cites ac vity fund documents from 2010‐2012 (Allega on 4). A ached are the recommenda ons from our internal auditors. What you can see is there were some bookkeeping issues and that the records have go en progressively be er. So, JCPS was aware of issues and has worked to correct them with PRP over the last few years.
It’s also pretty important to point out in the OEA report that they didn’t actually find that Miller had been operating his business there.

He attached quite a few documents regarding the internal audit and explained it all.

The next day, Flack started up with what we all saw air a few days ago:

Hi Ben,
I’m going to have to switch gears a little bit and request an interview now on the JCPS 2012‐2013 Vendor Payments I have reviewed.
Below is a list of specific line items I would like JCPS to provide explana ons for. Please let me know when someone from the district will be able to address these expenses, on camera. Asalways,youcanreachmeonmycellphoneat502‐379‐9330withanyques ons.
Thanks,
Flack
Jack’s Travel Professionals $108,598
Custom Travel $53,154
All About Travel $24,174
TravelOp ons$13,250
Advantage Travel $17,091
Ohio Valley Travel $1,546
Group Travel Planners $1,199
KRNAvia onServices$2,681
Vene anCasinoResort$13,098
MGM Grad Hotel $1,681
Caesars Palace $3,342
Rough River Lodge $14,330
Vail Marrio Mountain Resort and Spa $8,268
GaylordNa onalResort&Conven onCenter$8,570
GaylordOprylandResortandConven onCenter$8,840
Peabody Li le Rock Hotel $7,005
Hilton Orlando $10,436
Hilton Walt Disney World Resort $2,835
Club Quarters Wall Street $3,009
The Fairmont San Francisco $1,012
Fern Valley Hotel and Conference Center $42,941
Crowne Plaza Louisville Airport $39,927
Holiday Inn Hurstbourne $14,864
The Galt House $5,759
Marrio Louisville Downtown $8,960
Hya Regency Louisville $537
Holiday World $1,866
Walt Disney World $671
Sea World Parks and Entertainment $1,075
Renaissance Fun Park $1,359
Rave Cinemas $1,298
Cinemark Tinseltown $440
Incredible Dave’s $771
Kazoing Party & Play $373
Caufields $16,140
LegoEduca on$23,423
Gamestop $573
Kipp Toys $588
Papa John’s $1,036,221
The Goodies Factory $4,237
Achievers Tutoring of Kentucky $75,470
Eric Flack

At some point that day, Flack and Jackey had a telephone conversation and communication broke down. Jackey sent a message to Bill Shory (WAVE’s News Director) to explain what happened:

Bill,
I wanted to make you aware of a situation that has occurred in a conversation between Erick Flack and I.Eric and I have been working amicably on this travel story for some me as he is aware of the fact that his request is extremely voluminous. We have obtained the records he has requested, but due to a back log in my office and because we have to cross reference nearly every receipt he’s requested to ensure students aren’t involved, the dissemination of the information is going to take weeks. Eric is aware of that.

Today Eric sends the email below. I explained to him that I do not believe it is possible to get him this information by Wednesday (the deadline he imposed) because each set of receipts will have to be researched. Then documentation will have to be found explaining each trip and we may have to contact schools or department to find further details about the trip.

Eric then informed me that he is doing this story in conjunction with EAG. Eric then explained that EAG has agreed to hold off on doing the story because they want publicity for what they’re doing. Clearly, WAVE, in return, will receive attention from EAG readers’ for its work. Eric says he understands this is a “right‐wing” group, but he’s including them in the story. I expressed my opinion, as I’m entitled to do, that I believe it’s irresponsible to place an entity that he admits has an agenda and allow them to interpret numbers when your news organization has those exact same numbers and can let those numbers alone tell the story…especially when you’ve formed an agreement (informal as it may be)with an entity you’re interviewing in an effort to gain benefit for both them and you. I know this story was running today or Wednesday. EAG informed me of that.

Then Eric proceeded to tell me “if you’re going to lecture me, I will keep coming at you with story after story after story.” I told Eric I do not appreciate being threatened and he terminated the phone conversation. Bill, I have worked with WAVE on stories that are not flattering to JCPS. I have worked with Eric repeatedly on stories, even when we’ve agreed to disagree on the story. But this type of behavior is unthinkable. I am allowed to voice an opinion. If we are to have the professional relationship that we both want, I feel like I can share my concerns just as you can share your concerns with me…which you have.. At no point..ever..did I say I wouldn’t get the information, would not comment, etc. I told him the deadline would be tough to meet, if not impossible to meet, but never said we wouldn’t cooperate. I have a real ethical and journalistic issue with this agreement WAVE has. I can’t force you to change that. However, I will not and cannot work with someone who threatens to use their position because they don’t like to be “lectured.”

I know this is not reflective of your leadership. And, sadly, I don’t believe it’s reflective of Eric’s overall professionalism and approach,but this cannot be allowed to con nue.

Thanks for your a en on to this.
Ben Jackey

That’s the juice. Flack allegedly threatened Jackey for doing his job.

Jackey didn’t address anything on-the-record with us about the call but his colleagues did – and they back up what he told Shory via email.

Flack didn’t like that, so he sent this back:

I’m not going to get into a email chain debate about this. And Bill and I will speak off line. But for Christi’s benefit, Ben’s characterization of our conversation is patently untrue.

Flack’s bosses knew they had egg on their faces and he (Flack) sent this email to Jackey the next day:

Hi Ben,
First let me say how sorry I am that our conversation deteriorated the way it did yesterday. I sincerely apologize for any role I played in escalating emotions. In no way was I trying to threaten you, or JCPS. I was simply trying to point out that we are compelled to move forward with this story whether JCPS meets the deadline for comment or not. It would certainly be in our interest to be able to obtain JCPS’s explanation for the line item expenses sent previously, and I renew our pledge to do everything we can to offer JCPS the opportunity to give context to the numbers.
I would suggest that we don’t necessarily need receipts by Wednesday at 11pm if that request is unreasonable. If JCPS is able to research the expenses and offer explanation without documentation we would accept that for our report next week. JCPS
could then follow up with the receipts when they are available to corroborate the initial explanation.
Please stay in touch as to how JCPS would like to proceed.
Thanks,
Flack

It wasn’t just JCPS that was outraged to see WAVE working hand-in-hand with a right-wing organization. Take a look at these three stories for more details. Shory attempts to rebut legitimate concerns and fails to do so.

Back to the email chain…

On January 15, the same day as Flack’s apology, he continued asking for records:

I was turning the story over in my mind and I wanted to ask if there was a possibility anything on the list, specifically some of the entertainment type expenses below, could have been paid back by parents?
Or does everything included in the Vendor Expense list come out of the JCPS budget?
Thanks,
Flack
Holiday World $1,866
Walt Disney World $671
Sea World Parks and Entertainment $1,075
Renaissance Fun Park $1,359
Rave Cinemas $1,298
Cinemark Tinseltown $440
Incredible Dave’s $771
Kazoing Party & Play $373
Caufields $16,140
LegoEduca on$23,423
Gamestop $573
Kipp Toys $588
Papa John’s $1,036,221
The Goodies Factory $4,237
Eric Flack

He also sent this the next day:

I know we told you that our piece on JCPS Expenses was airing Wednesday at 11pm. I wanted to make sure it’s clear that we would need any response from JCPS well in advance of that to be adequately included in the story. I’d like to set a deadline of close of business on Tuesday for any informa on JCPS wants included in the report. That way we will avoid mistakes making last second changes before air.
It’s also worth nothing that the lion share of this story will focus on the hotel and travel portion of the expenses, as well as the hotel expenses incurred here in Louisville. So any interviews JCPS could grant in advance of this deadline about the value of Professional Development, both out of town and in town, and how that factors into JCPS expenses, would be vitally important to presen ng a fuller picture of the money spent.

Jackey then made sure Flack was connected with Christi Lanier-Robinson (you read about her here in 2012), who would be handling the story from that point forward.

On January 21, Jackey emailed Flack and his bosses:

As I believe you have discussed with Chris , the Vegas trips were for priority school teachers a ending three different conferences. We think it’s important you know what was gained by attending those trips and how it has directly impacted the classroom.
A teacher from Seneca and a teacher from Waggener are willing to speak with you. I would prefer that you come to the schools to interview them tomorrow morning so as not to disrupt their day. However, both they and their principals believe that it’s so important that these trips are not misrepresented that they are willing to find cover long enough for them to come to your station to interview if that’s the only way to make this happen. Again, this is not preferable.
Please let me know me and loca on for these two interviews.
For some background, I know of four schools that a ended Fern Creek, Waggener, Seneca, and Fairdale. All met their state goals last year. A ached is data that shows their performance in comparison to the previous year.

Rather than dig deep into examining what Jackey had to say – or really understanding professional development – Flack only wanted to do a single interview of one teacher:

I can interview a teacher at either school at 10am. I only have time for one interview. Which school would you like me to go to?

Because actually doing his job and getting more information would have been so difficult.

Flack rescheduled a couple times for personal reasons and Jackey worked with him to do so. He also told Flack that he would bring two teachers, in a further attempt to get Flack to do more than a single, one-sided interview. The rest was history.

The best line of the story was when Flack said this: “JCPS offered up teachers for us to talk to…” Which perfectly illustrated his perspective. He or his bosses didn’t want to get in-depth. He even went so far as to claim on Twitter that he didn’t seek a teacher out:


Which his email chain proves is inaccurate.

All of this was shared here so we could get at the back story – the how and why – of the JCPS story WAVE did. We have no idea why anyone thought it was a good idea without a bit more effort.

But we do know that WAVE should never put Flack on a JCPS story again and should likely leave that sort of reporting up to other stations for the foreseeable future. Donna Hargens should refuse to work with the station for any reason until this sort of crap ends.

WAVE is a station that publicly pats itself on the back for its great coverage. Flack’s even won awards. So it’s safe to say this story, as it was presented, never should have aired.

This kind of behavior is never necessary for a reporter pressuring someone already trying to work with them. This kind of story is never okay for a television station to push out in such a manner.

Louisville deserves better.

Tags: JCPS · WAVE

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 WilderMom // Jan 28, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Eric Flack as proved over and over that he has left true journalism behind and now is as bad as the “reporters” working for the likes of “Inside Edition”. The food truck safety “scandal” and now to see the behind the scenes of the latest story just show that there is a lack of professionalism that seems to be growing worse with every “gotcha” story he produces.

  • 2 jake // Jan 28, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Look, it’s not just Flack. This is not a personal assault on him.

    It’s television news in general that is driven to hype and half-reported nonsense. All to shake viewers up, to sell ads, to sensationalize what would otherwise be unimportant when placed in proper context.

    It’s bullshit and every serious journalist (they exist – there are quite a few in this town who work hard) I know who works for a television station tells me the same thing. They’re all pushed by consultants, news directors focused on the bottom line, to cover the latest shiny object.

  • 3 jake // Jan 28, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Crap. Hit Submit too quickly.

    To continue:

    Look at Joe Arnold. Did anyone else notice that the second a new Director rolled into WHAS11 that he was all the sudden being pushed out to cover blood, guts and cats up trees? It wasn’t lost on me. His talents were being ignored, wasted and it made me sick to my stomach to see. There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell he chose to cover that sort of stuff. And the way that station covered the guy preparing to take his life by jumping from a downtown parking garage? Claudia Coffey ought to have rioted instead of hyping that up. Absurd.

    Seems like WAVE is the worst these days with hype. From John Boel’s hidden camera investigation about – wait for it – drug deals going down at a housing project (quelle horreur!) to this story about spending on necessary professional development by Jefferson County Public Schools.

    At a time when this community is thirsty for news that isn’t sugar-coated or just plain made up, it’s a real let down. (If they weren’t thirsty for information, you wouldn’t be reading this right now…)

    WDRB, while no stranger to hype (Julie Tam and the blue glove!), proves on a daily basis that this sort of junk isn’t necessary. People like Haeberle and Otts report stories that are well-done and don’t rely upon what is essentially propaganda.

    I have lived and breathed propaganda and spin for the last decade, digging through it all day, looking for something useful while eking out a living. It bothers me on a personal level to see it flourish in media like this. It’s something that should be left to the likes of Greg Fischer and Mitch McConnell. While pushing this spin may not be Flack’s intention (seriously, folks, there is no need to personally attack him – he is not a devil and his award-winning track record speaks for itself), it ends up impacting an entire community who relies upon his station for information about what’s happening in their back yard.

    Not everyone has the time or ability to file open records requests, to parse more than 100 emails and several thousand pages of documents as I have done the past… however many days. So I can’t imagine what WAVE’s manager and director think they’re accomplishing by leaving out 99.99999% of the story in an attempt to placate a religio-right-wing organization with a history of fighting against public education. They weren’t unaware of EAG’s work and there’s no way to claim ignorance on that front – they were not duped.

    They have egg on their collective face and owe viewership a serious apology.

  • 4 mary // Jan 29, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Bennett Haeberle going to Wish TV8 in Indy to be the investigative reporter.

  • 5 jake // Jan 29, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    Yep. All the good ones tend to leave.

  • 6 Ken // Feb 1, 2014 at 10:03 am

    100% agreed. Feel free to promote this Wave 3 boycott Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/stopwave3

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