Monday, January 12, 2015

Correcting The Record On Randy Douglas

Willis-WellsOn Tuesday, January 6, the Press-Republican reported a remarkable achievement of Essex County Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas.

Here’s how the newspaper’s article began: “Jay Town Supervisor Randy Douglas was sworn in Monday for an unprecedented sixth term as chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors.” The italics are mine. Their claim is wrong.

Among the subjects I’ve covered on Adirondack Almanack is Willis Wells, a shining star of Essex County’s past and a member of the Lake Placid Hall of Fame. I recently discovered that the articles about his great career, and even his obituary (he died in 1949), were in error. Both sources noted that Wells had served eight terms as chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors, including six consecutive. Actually, he served nine terms, including seven consecutively. Bold headlines pronounced his election each year.

Knowing this, I emailed the recent article’s author, beginning with, “Nice piece on Douglas,” and absolved him of all blame for the incorrect information, which he said was supplied by current county officials who looked back as far as 1960. That’s no problem, and it won’t change the world if it passes unnoticed, but at least the article’s author knew the truth.

The brief email reply to me included, “This is great information. I’d like to refer to this in the next story on Douglas.”

And that’s where I left it, until Thursday’s Press-Republican editorial appeared. I wasn’t cited or thanked for providing the corrected information, and I can honestly say, “Thank goodness!” The editorial did use some of the information I provided, and then pointed out that the newspaper was actually correct in the original article. What?! How can that be?

By redefining some words and phrases. That’s how. Here’s what the editorial said, in part:

“History was made this week when Jay Town Supervisor Randy Douglas became chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors for a sixth term.

“In a county where chairs had traditionally served two one-year terms for decades, Douglas changed everything.

“The last town supervisor in Essex County to serve so many multiple terms as chairman was North Elba Town Supervisor Willis Wells, who led the board for seven consecutive years: 1941 to 1947.

“A Jan. 9, 1947, article in the Ticonderoga Sentinel [provided to them by me after the initial article appeared] told of Wells’s election to a seventh term and called it ‘unparalleled in the history of the county.’ Essex County was incorporated in 1799.

Douglas’s feat is still record-breaking, since he’s the only supervisor in 68 years to be elected to seven terms as county leader.” Again, the italics are mine.

How’s that for convoluted reasoning? The editorial actually said Wells “led the board for seven consecutive years,” and then called Douglas’s six “still record-breaking, since he’s the only supervisor in 68 years to be elected to seven terms as county leader.” I’m not sure where that seven for Douglas came from (the first line of the editorial says “a sixth term,” so maybe seven was a misprint), but in one way, it doesn’t matter. Neither six nor seven would be record-breaking because Wells served nine terms, including seven consecutive. And the writer of that editorial knew this prior to publishing.

Unprecedented? Unheard of? Record-breaking? None of those is close to accurate. It was precedented, it was heard of, it was not record-breaking, and history was not made. That’s why I sent the corrected information in the first place. Ignoring it, the editor chose to double down.

Again, it won’t change the world, but why would an editor, now privy to the facts, choose to couch the information in ridiculous explanations of how the newspaper was right all along?

It wasn’t. Willis Wells owns the records, plain and simple. The world did not begin 68 years ago. Even the name Press-Republican dates back to 1942 – 73 years ago! Their own weekly feature, “Lookback,” uses articles from 100 years ago.

I hate making mistakes, but we all make them, and when someone points out an error, about the best response we can expect is some type of sorry or thanks, and an attempt at correction. And in this case, I really can’t (and didn’t) fault the reporter. It was what we call an honest mistake. The writer sought, received, and reported input from Essex County officials. They provided what was readily available on short notice. I, on the other hand, had far more time in the past to dig into certain records, where I discovered the truth.

The writer seemed genuinely pleased to receive my information, but when the editor became aware of the truth based on facts and records, the decision was made to misrepresent the story, and that’s a shame. It’s a disservice to the wonderful legacy of Willis Wells, to Press-Republican readers, to regional history, and to the profession of editor.

But as someone often tired of all the negativity in the world, maybe I should address this with a positive spin. Perhaps they got it right after all, and the Press-Republican editor is, in fact, prescient. Should Randy Douglas be chosen again in 2016 and 2017, he will own outright the record for consecutive selections at eight. Or if he can win election four more times, that will be ten overall … unprecedented, unheard of, and yes, record-breaking, making the editorial correct at last, by 2019. All we need is patience.

Heck, they may as well go all in with a new motto on future Press-Republican front pages: “All the News, Before It Happens!”

That’s at least as sensible as the “record-setting” conclusion reached in the editorial.

Photo: Willis Wells

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

3 Responses

  1. Avon says:

    Hm. That’s a lot of “thinking aloud”!

    Whatever the ultimate outcome is, it’s probably pithy.

  2. Tim Hubbard says:

    I will certainly trust your statements (based on fact and research) any day over this printed fiasco. Honestly, it sounds like the reporter may have been caught in the middle between you, “just the facts please”-Gooley, and an editor who had a severe case of too much “humble pie” to eat publicly. Well, the good news is: the Adirondack Almanack’s readers get the truth while the readers of the Press-Republican will have to settle for second best! Excellent job as always! TH

    • Larry says:

      Very nice of you Tim, but there are those who disagree. What I received from a Press-Republican employee in response: bitter accusations of being unethical, incorrect, libelous, and defamatory, plus some sneering references to “web journalists.” In a word, whining.
      There were no facts supplied to back up any of it … just a bunch of pretentious, condescending comments. The time taken to write it would have been better spent locating the nine articles, which took me all of ten minutes to find … nine articles announcing the election of Willis Wells each year as chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors.
      But why let the truth get in the way of their own facts?

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