Rev. Austin Miles, a chaplain in Northern California is a writer and historian. He is the author of Santa's Surprising Origins, a story that received worldwide circulation and resulted in him being cast in the 2004 Hallmark Christmas Movie titled, Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus. He played the mall Santa who magically received the gift of sign language.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Society • “Reporters Who Kill” Piece Sparks Firestorm

The Contra Costa Times based in Walnut Creek, California, went into a hissy-fit over my story that broke in the wee hours this morning titled: “Reporters Who Kill: A Princess-Presbyterian Minister—Oakley Pastor. I had accepted a phone call yesterday morning from Times Reporter, Rowena Coetsee, but did so since I knew her, and trusted her. I should have remembered The Scorpion Story…“What did you expect? I AM a scorpion.”

Because I genuinely like people and expect the best from them, I am an easy target and often taken advantage of and misused. That is why President Ronald Reagan said, “Trust…but verify.”

Ms. Coetsee said she was doing a gentler version of the news regarding Pastor Jerry and wanted to ask me a couple of questions which,  in my naivete’, agreed to answer, not only because I have manners, but also I trusted her.

Later that evening, the upcoming story was posted on The Times Website, http://www.contracostatimes.com It should not have been surprising that she re-wrote most of what I said to fit her own story direction. “Too soon oldt and too late schmart.” (Pennsylvania Dutch Proverb.)

I emailed her a polite request to change words that I had never said and to delete other additions that really were off track and not necessary. It was an attempt to have the changes made before the paper went to bed and published in print form.

There was no response even though I contacted both reporters on the story, Craig Lazeretti the East County Editor and the newsroom itself. So I published my own take on the suicide of Pastor Jerry Hanoum, titled, “Reporters Who Kill: A Princess—Presbyterian Minister—Oakley Pastor.

This morning, Ms. Coetsee fired off an attack email that began, “Mr. Miles.” In her anger she forgot proper protocol by addressing me that way instead of, Rev. Miles. Using proper protocol displays social manners which Ms. Coetsee refused to exhibit in her ‘outrage.’ People with class exhibit class in whatever situation they find themselves. An etiquette class may be in order.

She falsely attributed this statement to me regarding Pastor Jerry: “Miles describes Hanoum as a conflicted man, whose “businessman drive” usurped good intentions, which he believes included a genuine desire to repay the money he had borrowed.”

In a telling statement, Ms. Coetsee explained: “There is a difference between paraphrasing what sources say and quoting them. This is what you said: “He had two personalities fighting for existence in the same vessel.” So she is saying that it is OK to paraphrase something said to them that will work, to further the reporter’s goal.

She went on to expostulate, “That is a description (two personalities) of someone who is conflicted. You also repeatedly told me that Hanoum intended to settle his debts. That is a description of good intentions. Hence my paraphrase. Miles describes Hanoum as a conflicted man whose “businessman drive” usurped good intentions.”

How’s that again? So the paraphrase of the reporter that distorts and bends what was said to them to slant the story toward the direction she wishes it to go—and that is the final word and professionally correct? Excuse me Madam, I don’t think so.

Ms. Coetsee spewed on that I did not show her courtesy (?) which she claimed I did not show her as she was being discourteous to me. (I’m getting dizzy). So she is being courteous to me “BUT, she saith, “You have not exrended us the same courtesy, however.” So there.

There were too many glaring errors in the twisted words she ascribed to me, which altered the intent behind the words for her story which will be published tomorrow morning in the Times.

She was outraged over my “Reporters Who Kill” story; “Your blog referring to “Reporters who Kill” is not only inaccurate—but inflammatory. (she should have used an exclamation point here) To say that reporters “are all out for blood and sensationalism” and that “newspapers relentlessly drove (Hanoum) to his death” is to completely ignore that we were simply reporting the facts.” Yep, if you say so.

Let’s go back to the word, ‘inflammatory’ that she used about my story. Excuse me Madam, but because of your hammering on Pastor Jerry Hanoum, he put a gun to his head and blew his brains out. Now THAT, Ms. Coetsee, is what I would call an inflammatory story that would have such an effect as to push a man to take his own life.

In closing her email with a pronounced thud regarding my “Reporters Whot Kill” story, she hissed, “As such, it is offensive to all of us (the Times reporters) that you would spew this kind of vitriol, particularly as someone who CALLS himself a chaplain and PROFESSES to understand journalism.

That did it. Get this straight, young lady. I am a very well credentialed chaplain with training in psychology, philosophy and counseling. I’ve been a voluntary Police Chaplain in New York (I still have my badge) and I have preached in every state of the Union, every province in Canada, as well as preaching in England, France, Norway….enought. Again, what a total lack of class and manners! I think something was said earlier about Etiquette School.

In your effort to be as insulting as possible, you state in your email that I PROFESS to understand journalism.  As a matter of fact, young woman, I understand journalism far more and better than you do. I have won awards for ‘critical review,’ and my stories have been picked up and published by newspapers all over the world including USA Today. I do not profess, therefore I am. (Thank you Descartes)

And yes, I DID go to journalism school at LMC where one lecture instructed students to never publish a atory without a negative veiw point of the story or person. Then I entered the discussion asking if this means that even if I review a perfect book with a very credible author I MUST find something negative to harp on? Yep. Otherwise it is a ‘public relations’ piece. Really!

“That,” I said to my instructor, “is when mischief arises, when one MUST find a bad-side to everything to be published, so if none exists, then one must INVENT something negative.” I then explained how I have been mischaracterized by newspapers determined to find SOMETHING negative about me. The Antioch Ledger-Dispatch was forced to fold its newspaper (didn’t mean to do that) because of the unfounded attacks they made against me.

So obviously, Ms. Coetsee, you were a good journalism student (if indeed you went to journalism school), since you determine yourself to flush out the negative about anybody or anything. That means you are not a competent journalist since anybody can publish trash. Trash is easy to write. It is like those who use vulgarity and curse words because they simply cannot speak correct English. Finishing School perhaps?

The Contra Costa Times and The Brentwood Press pounded on Pastor Jerry Hanoum which was not really directed at an individual who made some mistakes. This contempt is actually directed at the Christian Church itself…isn’t it?

I can remember when Journalism was a skilled and honorable occupation. Too bad it has sunk to the unfathonable depths that it has. As my British friends would say, “Pity.”

However, area newspapers, rejoice…take heart…you have stirred people enough that they will continue sending vitriotic letters regarding Pastor Hanoum that you will continue to publish. (wait—didn’t you just say that MY work was vitriolic?) God help us all.


Final Note:  Ms. Coetsee.  It has become necessary to draw editing pencils, stand toe to toe, then thrust…point to point. Just remember this, my dear: Old Editors Never Die—They Just Lose Their Circulation. Touche’ Madame.


Meanwhile, here is a brief sampling of emails sent in response to my story, “Newspapers Fired Fatal Shot That Killed Pastor.” Several came in regarding the right of Pastor Hanoum’s family to sue The Contra Costa Times and its reporters for causing a man’s death. And yes you did!

5 comments:
Anonymous said…
No one knows what is in one’s heart and mind when that person kills themself…so even more so we are prevented from passing judgement, and as you say, only God is able to do that. It is very, very sad. He was bullied. Shame on his harassers.
May 5, 2011 4:

Anonymous said…
If it is determined that his death was IN ANY WAY a result of the newspaper attacks, those papers and the writer’s of the articles should be indicted for conspiracy to cause death. At the very least they should be sued for wrongful death.
I volunteer to be either on the investigating committee or on the jury. I prefer jury duty
May 6,2011 6:33 AM

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