To his credit, the Modesto Bee’s Garth Stapley did acknowledge that Emerson Drake provided much of the subject matter of Stapley’s most recent Modesto Irrigation District (MID) report. In fact, Drake, via his Eye on Modesto website, broke the news of MID payouts to “consultants” via the circuitous route of Martino Graphic Design well before the Bee decided to cover the story.
Stapley was responsible enough to credit Drake for his role the Martino Graphic Design story. However, the Bee editorial that contained a list of what looked virtually identical to Drake’s past recommendations for MID management failed to mention Drake at all. To many observers of the now months-long MID melodrama, it looks like the Bee is not only lagging well behind Modesto’s new media, it’s starting to rely on them.
Part of the problem is the Bee’s dependence on Allen Short’s and Tom Van Groningen’s versions of MID history. Short limited access to MID records years ago. He got away with it because MID Directors and the Bee let him. During his brief tenure as a Director, Mike Serpa tried to investigate MID management, but he was quickly voted off the board, in part because Short and the Bee went after him with a vengeance.
Thus, questions about MID management and differences of opinion between Board members became characterized by the Bee as signs of “rancor.” When some Directors questioned Short’s and Van Groningen’s routine violations of procedure and failure to respond to public inquiry, the Board was characterized as “dysfunctional.”
The criticism reached its height when Director Larry Byrd refused to relent in his quest to penetrate Short’s and Van Groningen’s stone wall of secrecy. But, because of the intense public interest in MID affairs brought on by the water sale controversy, the Bee’s version of events was suddenly subject to far more than the usual review. People on the scene knew better than to accept the Bee’s characterization of Short and Van Groningen as the heroes in the white hats.
Even today, the Bee is running well behind the story of the MID’s Falling Water Charge, and chances are good that Emerson Drake’s head start on Short’s cavalier use of payouts will again produce real news ahead of Bee reports, if only because Drake, like Byrd, isn’t intimidated by Short’s and Van Groningen’s bluster.
Insiders have known for years that the Bee’s dependence on “official” versions of events has skewed the news in favor of those in positions of power. Too often, the result was abuse of the public trust.
Day by day, Valley citizens are learning that the region’s new media frequently offer insightful news well ahead of Bee reports. And it’s becoming ever more evident that even the Modesto Bee is following their lead.