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Monday, January 29, 2007

Tuft Call

Posted By on Mon, Jan 29, 2007 at 3:33 PM

Jennifer Silverberg
Carolyn Tuft got her money back.
Five months after meeting with St. Louis Post-Dispatch editors and P-D reporter Carolyn Tuft, a federal labor arbitrator has ruled that the daily must revoke Tuft's two-day suspension and reimburse her for lost pay, but he let stand the 576-word apology editors published reprimanding Tuft for a pair of investigative reports she wrote about local televangelist Joyce Meyer.

The articles, published in the spring of 2005, alleged, among other things, that the Meyer family lived "free of charge" in two residences owned by Joyce Meyer Ministries, a nonprofit. The articles also reported that "[t]he ministry's board of trustees, which is headed by Joyce Meyer, agreed to pay her a $900,000 annual salary in 2002 and 2003," and went on to state: "The board agreed to provide the couple with free personal use of a corporate jet and luxury cars, [and] a $2 million home where all bills are paid by the ministry."

The paper initially stood behind Tuft's reporting. One month later, however, editor Ellen Soeteber, who has since left the paper, and managing editor Arnie Robbins, who has since been promoted to editor, published an apology stating the articles did not meet their "standards for fairness and accuracy."

The apology clarified several statements of Joyce Meyer Ministries spokesman Mark Sutherland. "A ministry spokesman did not say that the Meyers received free use of the plane and vehicles, as was stated," reads the apology. "Additionally, the spokesman for the ministry never used the word 'hefty' to describe Joyce Meyer's salary. That was a term used by the reporter."

As recounted in an August 2006 Riverfront Times story, Tuft said she gleaned the information about Meyer's free personal use of a corporate jet, luxury cars and a $2 million home from "financial statements, board minutes and other documents." She never alleged the information came from spokesman Sutherland. (Regarding Meyer's "hefty" salary, which was estimated at $900,000, Tuft had written, "Sutherland noted that Meyer has never denied getting a hefty salary.")

Although Tuft says she didn't get what she really wanted -- an order from the arbitrator that the paper retract its apology -- she's glad that the arbitrator found the paper had erred in suspending her.

"It was never about the money. This was about the failure of a newspaper to back up a reporter. It became painfully obvious during the discovery process that my credibility and career had been bartered over a potential lawsuit that would never have been filed." Tuft says. "It's embarrassing for the paper, but I filed for arbitration because management caved to the pressures of a very rich and powerful woman. I think that it had to have a public airing."

Management, too, is encouraged by the ruling.

"We ran an apology to readers because we felt it important to our credibility to correct a number of errors in two stories," says editor Robbins. "The arbitrator found we were justified in taking disciplinary action, and in publishing our apology to readers. We were satisfied with the outcome, and it's time to move on."

-Malcolm Gay


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