Altice News12 Abandons Any Pretense of Professionalism and Journalistic Integrity in Aragon Reporting

Written By: Robert Cox

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Here is a little story on the story behind the story for our readers – and why you will not see Talk of the Sound content on News12 any time soon.

As our regular readers know, Talk of the Sound broke the news last Friday that New Rochelle Development Commissioner Luiz Aragon was involved in an altercation in an elevator at Trump Plaza. For more than four days no other media outlet reported the incident. In the meantime, we interviewed Luiz Aragon on the record, obtained the CCTV video of the incident, communicated with the New Rochelle City Manager (and got an official statement), the New Rochelle Mayor, City Council members, the New Rochelle Public Information Officer, the lawyer for the victim, the victim himself and more. We broke every aspect of this story exclusively for four days including that Aragon would be in court on Tuesday which prompted other media outlets to run stories. Safe to say, we owned the story from Friday to Tuesday.

So it was no surprise when Monique John of News12 Westchester called Talk of the Sound. She had seen our story, wanted the elevator video, and offered a “courtesy of” credit if we would send her the video. We informed her that we had a standing deal in place with News12 for years that they could use any content on our site — photos, videos, PDF documents, etc. — in exchange for identifying the content as “Courtesy of @TalkoftheSound”. We then transmitted the video file to News12 via email, reiterating that we wanted the credit to read “Courtesy of @TalkoftheSound”. News12 responded soon after, confirming receipt and thanking us for providing the video. We checked Sunday and Monday but no story on Aragon ran on News12.

On Tuesday, News12 ran a story introduced by News12 Evening Anchor Macy Egeland filed by Field Reporter Sabrina Franza riddled with errors and fabrications.

Development commissioner apologizes for tossing cart, worker out of elevator

News 12 went to the building and saw a person who appeared to be the commissioner walking the same dog in the surveillance video outside of Trump Plaza. He was less willing to speak on camera, but said previously that he reached out to the same manager to apologize.

“Immediately, of course, I felt terrible, and I went downstairs but he was already gone.”

This reporting is problematic on multiple levels.

Let’s start with the dog. It is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. The American Kennel Club ranks the breed number 13 most popular out of 193 breeds in the United States. In other words, it is a very popular breed. That a man is walking a corgi does not make him Luiz Aragon.

In fact, the man is not Luiz Aragon as should have been immediately apparent from the man’s build. Aragon is tall and lean. The man in the News12 package is average height and somewhat stocky. A look at this face makes it more clear it is not Aragon. The man in the video is wearing glasses. Aragon does not wear glasses.

Aragon confirmed to Talk of the Sound that the person in the video is not him but another person walking his dog. We know the identity of the person but are leaving his name out of our article because he is not Luiz Aragon and that is sufficient.

Now that you know the person in the video is not Luiz Aragon consider the reporting:

News12 says: the man is “a person who appeared to be the commissioner walking the same dog in the surveillance video”.

Is this the journalistic standard at News12? A person appeared to be a person?

It get’s worse. Way worse.

News12 says: “He was less willing to speak on camera”.

This references a previous statement in the package, “News 12 contacted the commissioner by phone about the video – he said he had nothing to hide.”

In fact, Aragon has been talking to every media outlet who will listen. He proactively reached out to Talk of the Sound on Friday. We did not call him. And he allowed himself to be recorded in a phone interview with News12 when they called him.

It is not that Aragon was “less willing to speak on camera” it is that they were talking to the wrong person.

Consider that scenario: a man walks out of Trump Plaza and is approached by a News12 reporter who thought it a good idea to stalk a public figure outside their home having already interviewed them from their office, someone that had already made themselves available for a recorded interview and said they have nothing to hide. News12 approaches the man and asks the man to be interviewed on camera.

Is it possible that the man did not respond other than stating he was not Luiz Aragon? That seems a safe bet. So, in that scenario, you have a guy who is not Luiz Aragon, who has presumably stated he is not Luiz Aragon, who looks nothing like Luiz Aragon and is in fact not Luiz Aragon.

And here is where News12 hits bottom.

Consider the phrase “less willing” to “speak on camera” with its suggestion that Aragon was willing to speak off-camera. How else to explain the quotes they attribute to Aragon from the man walking the corgi?

News12 quotes the man walking the dog, attributing statements to him as if he is Aragon, that he had “reached out to the same manager to apologize.” and then attributes a direct quotation to the man saying “Immediately, of course, I felt terrible, and I went downstairs but he was already gone.”

The man walking a dog (presumably) tells the reporter he is not Luiz Aragon. He is not, in fact, Luiz Aragon. Yet, News12 not only identifies the man on camera as Luiz Aragon but then attributes statements to this person as if he were Luiz Aragon.

Why would anyone who is not Luiz Aragon give statements about Luiz Aragon’s actions after the incident or describe their personal feelings about what happened (i.e., “I felt terrible”)?

The rather obvious answer is that News12 fabricated the entire scenario. The man did not identify himself on or off camera as Luiz Aragon (and most likely stated affirmatively he was not Luiz Aragon), he did not give any on or off camera statements while walking a dog in front of Trump Plaza. He certainly did not talk about how Luiz Aragon felt about what happened since he is not Luiz Aragon.

In short, News12 lied about the entire “interview”, fabricated quotes and attributed them to a completely different person.

Great reporting. Utter Fabrication. Lie upon lie.

And News12 knows the story is a fabrication.

New Rochelle spokesperson Kathy Gilwit sent an email to News12 Assignment Editor Dave Wolf at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

FYI Dave- the guy walking his dog is not the commissioner.

The email included a link to the News12 story.

Later that day, at the courthouse shortly before 3 p.m., just prior to Aragon’s arraignment in the case, another News12 reporter, Nadia Galindo told Talk of the Sound and a Journal News reporter that the City of New Rochelle had complained that the man in the video was not Luiz Aragon.

“We are standing by our story,” said Galindo.

That might be heroic if you are Ben Bradlee defending the Washington Post’s reporting during Watergate. Less so when you are so obviously wrong, have misidentified a person in a video as Luiz Aragon, broadcast that video to a large audience, then claimed to have interviewed Luiz Aragon off-camera and gotten statements from him and included some of those statements in quotation marks to indicate they are direct quotes from Aragon when clearly that never happened. This reporting is more Janet Cooke, Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, or Jack Kelley than Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein.

The fabricated story with the man walking the dog remains on the News12.com website as of writing this, more than two days after they were formally notified the man in the video is not Aragon.

Our issue with News12 in this same piece is the elevator video featured repeatedly in the package.

News12 contacted Talk of the Sound on Sunday morning with an offer — if you send us the video we will credit you in our story — which we promptly accepted as we so often do (we have never said “no” to a request for content from News12 since our founding in 2008). We then fulfilled our side of the deal, sending News12 the video moments after the call. News12 failed to credit Talk of the Sound as agreed when the package ran on Tuesday.

After seeing the package on News12.com, I was annoyed and wrote back to Monique John at News12:

You called me early Sunday morning and asked me for the elevator video. You agreed to credit Talk of the Sound. I sent you the video. You confirmed receipt of the video. You ran the story but did not credit Talk of the Sound.

Please address that.

This is the second time this year that you guys requested content from us, then ran your story without a credit.

You guys do not pay me so the only value to sharing content with you is a courtesy of credit. If you are going to ask for my content in exchange for credit then not provide the credit I have no incentive to share content, right?

So unless I hear differently, it seems like you are treating your giving me credit as at your discretion. I view it as a contract which you are violating.

My solution is simple. I will simply stop dealing with you guys as I have done with Fios1News. Your option will be to pay me $100 for a photo, $200 for documents, $500 for video.

http://westchester.news12.com/story/41241097/development-commissioner-apologizes-for-tossing-cart-worker-out-of-elevator

Robert Cox

Publisher and Managing Editor

Talk of the Sound

The entire day went by without a response so I wrote again, this time including Dave Wolf, New12 Assignment Editor.

In the absence of a response, we will not be sharing content going forward.

Consider this formal notice: Do not ever again use my content.

Thank you.

Robert Cox

Publisher and Managing Editor

Talk of the Sound

Wolf replied:

The video we used was sent to us by a local resident on Friday.

I have no problem not using your content in the future.

Dave Wolf

So, after years of receiving many, many requests for content, records, news tips and background information from News12 in exchange for a courtesy of credit, having never once said no to a News12 request, this is their response to breaking their agreement with me as a source of content where I am not paid and the only benefit is that I get the courtesy credit. Needless to say I was not happy and let them know it.

Dave,

You must be high or drunk.

If the video was sent to News12 on Friday, why did News12 disturb me on a Sunday morning before 9 am with a phone call to ask for the video?

I am not interested in whatever excuses your are peddling after the fact.

Your organization made a deal — it is actually a contract. You guys came to me unsolicited, offered me a credit if I would send the video. I sent the video. You acknowledged receipt via email. Then you did not give credit as agreed. You broke the contract.

I find your response here bizarre.

You guys routinely COME TO ME and ASK ME for content, records, info all the time. This has been the case for years. Not once did I say no. I do not ask to be paid. I merely want a credit which costs you nothing.

There is a very simple solution if News12 does not want content, records or information from me; stop asking, calling, texting and emailing me with such requests.

I certainly regret having been helpful in the past. Believe me, I will not make that mistake again. Please instruct your producers, reporters and other employees to never call me again. Having done so, you will get what you want – nothing.

Good luck running such an unprofessional news operation. I am sure it will serve you well.

Robert Cox

Publisher and Managing Editor

Talk of the Sound

As far as I was concerned, that was the end of it until I got a call the following morning, despite having made it clear I did not want to hear from News12.

By way of background, Wednesday morning I went to the New Rochelle City Court in the event that John Fraioli, the New Rochelle High School teacher accused of a sex crime appeared. I had broken the story that his bond had been posted the day before, that his lawyer had to present a receipt that Fraioli had turned in his firearms to New Rochelle police the next day, but I had also received an email from the Westchester County District Attorney’s office that contradicted New Rochelle City Court Clerk records which indicated Fraioli’s return date was Thursday. Not sure whether or not he would appear I figured it was better to go both days and see what happened.

Fraioli did appear on Wednesday. I was the only reporter in court. After Fraioli’s brief hearing, I rushed outside to capture video of Fraioli, in the classic shot of the accused walking down the stairs of the courthouse. No other reporters or photographers were there to capture the moment so I had exclusive video of Fraioli, the only such video since his arrest on Monday and likely the only video until his next scheduled court appearance on December 11th.

This is precisely the sort of video I have routinely shared with News12.

Fifteen minutes after I posted the video on the Talk of the Sound Twitter feed, which numerous News12 employees follow (up until today, News12 is now blocked), I received a call from a woman I never heard of identifying herself as the person who runs the News12 newsroom.

Pauline Chiou is, according to her LinkedIN profile, the Assistant News Director at News 12 Westchester, a position she has held for 7 months. Prior to that she worked for 20 years in broadcast journalism including stops at CNN, CNBC, CBSNews after working in local news in Houston and Boston.

Chiou claimed she was calling to “clarify” the News12 position on the elevator video. I suspect the real reason is her wanting the Fraioli video. She said she called because she believes emails are not as good as phone calls. I suspect the real reason is she did not want a paper trail.

Chiou spent almost 20 minutes repeating what I already knew and lecturing me on what she called “best practices” and “process” and “protocol” which, in her warped view, justified not crediting Talk of the Sound on the elevator video despite having contracted to do so.

This is especially odd from someone who claims to have a degree in broadcast journalism from the Medill School at Northwestern and an undergraduate degree from Yale. She is a classic case of someone who sure looks smart on paper but sure acts dumb in real life.

She said Monique John worked on weekends and John was not aware News12 had already obtained the video. She added that News12 did not consider their offer of a credit if I sent them the video to be an “agreement”.

I heard her out them replied that I did not understand the purpose of the call. My email the day before was clear, that I would not deal with any news organization that did not feel it was obligated to honor agreements with sources and I did not want to hear from News12 further. I said that if there was confusion among News12 employees that is not my concern. If News12 did not want my content or assistance in the future there was a simple solution — stop asking for it. I said her time would be better spent telling her newsroom staff not to contact me rather than telling me that “an offer and acceptance” is not an agreement. In fact, it is a legally binding contract and, in this case, I have it in writing via emails.

She kept trying to convince me that she was right and I was wrong which was never going to happen because I tend to know what I am talking about, have a tremendous amount of experience in providing content to news organizations, having done so often and for years. I also know a little bit about the law so I know the very definition of a contact is “an offer and an acceptance”.

Black’s Law Dictionary

United States law defines a contract as a legally binding agreement that places mutual obligations on the involved parties. It usually requires an offer and an acceptance of the offer by parties who are lawfully deemed competent to enter into this type of agreement.

I suggested she talk to News12 legal counsel who can explain why “an offer and acceptance” is a binding legal agreement.

Despite this she kept on pushing me to agree with her “clarification” to the point that I had enough. I told her that I had not considered making a public issue of this or bringing it to a court but said maybe I should file an Order to Show Cause in New York State Supreme Court for breach of contract and then she could explain to a judge why their offer to give me credit if I sent them the video was not a contract and why they were not in breach since I sent them the video but they did not give me credit.

Keep in mind it costs News12 nothing to give a courtesy credit – or apologize when they make a mistake.

The woman continued to press her absurd position, presenting herself as some sort of expert on “best practices”. I told her that what News12 should have done is simply apologized for the mixup, and promised to do better next time instead of ignoring me, then responding in a condescending and rude manner and now lecturing me like she knows something I don’t. Her response was laughable. She said she had called to apologize. It was 17 minutes into the call — I checked — and she had never once said anything about apologizing. It was 17 minutes of condescending prattle. At that point I ended the call.

I am not actually interested to litigate this matter (although if there any lawyers that want to take the case for free let me know). I hope it will be sufficient to recount this experience and show readers a little of the nonsense that goes on behind the scenes. I have had a few ups and downs with News12 over the years but mostly ups and always been cooperative with them. Anytime they asked for help on a story I provided it. I cannot recall single request for content or records or help on a story where I said “no.”

I think their conduct is here is despicable and as they lied, broke their agreement, then ignored my request not to be contacted further they deserve to be shown up as the unethical and unreliable news organization they have proven themselves to be.

Setting aside my concerns about the elevator video, whoever was involved with the package claiming to have filmed and interviewed Aragon on the streets of New Rochelle should be fired. The video should be removed. The victim of their journalistic malpractice should receive an apology.

Maybe the management will change some day and I can go back to providing them content if they ask for it but for the immediate future News12 is cut off.

They have a long way to go to restore their reputation.

News12 did not respond to a request for comment on this article.

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