After close-of-business Thursday, San Diego Christian College’s outside counsel sent inewsource a letter demanding an immediate retraction of our two stories about the college.
RE: Journalist Megan Wood inewsource Article on San Diego Christian College
Dear Ms. Hearn:
My name is Tracy Warren and I am outside counsel to San Diego Christian College (“SDCC”). If you and inewsource have counsel, please direct this letter to your counsel.
On October 30, 2017 Ms. Megan Wood, an inewsource employee electronically published an article entitled: Christian College Can’t Explain $20 Million in Expenses; Agency Cites ‘Very Sketchy Budget’. Unfortunately, the article is riddled with inaccuracies, erroneous attributions, mistaken information and non-cooberation (sic). Ms. Wood’s approach to storytelling is below the standard of care for journalists in the community, defamatory, and inflammatory.
As you are aware, on September 26, 2017, Ms. Wood interviewed San Diego Christian College accountant Steve Chaney. San Diego Christian College had a witness Kelly Buchanan sit in on the interview. Mr. Chaney talked with Ms. Wood for about an hour. Ms. Wood recorded the interview and said she “would not use it”. Mr. Chaney provided Ms. Wood no documents. Subsequent to Mr. Chaney’s interview, Ms. Wood asked him for documents. Mr. Chaney never provided Ms. Wood documents. Ms. Wood then emailed several SDCC board members requesting information and documents. None of them responded to her.
On October 11, 2017, I reached out to Ms. Wood informing her that San Diego Christian College, its board and its executive level employees had no comment to her additional inquiries. On October 12, 2107, Ms. Wood asked me for SDCC tax documents by the end of the day. I never provided any documents or information to Ms. Wood.
From September 27, 2017 to October 30, 2017, no one in position of authority at SDCC, talked with Ms. Wood. She received no documents, no additional information and no cooberation(sic) from any SDCC representative. Over a month after interviewing Mr. Chaney for an hour, Ms. Wood ran with a story containing a multitude of inaccuracies, partial storytelling, erroneous attributions, false quotes, misstatements of financial reports, and unsubstantiated information. Ms. Wood had plenty of time to obtain or verify information but neglected to do so. Instead, the article published prods SDCC for a reaction to Ms. Wood’s inaccuracies. Moreover, one of the witnesses relied on by Ms. Wood was involved in litigation with SDCC and was the subject of a cross-claim against him by SDCC.
Perhaps this is why Ms. Wood reached out to me on October 31, 2017 as well as Dr. Paul Ague and others after publishing her story. Her October 31, 2017 email stated:
Dear Ms. Warren,
I wanted to share the story that I did on San Diego Christian College. We would appreciate a response from school leadership regarding our findings. Again, we ask that you provide the documents that Mr. Chaney said he would make available.
Ms. Wood acknowledges that she went forward publishing the article without the requested documentation.
On November 1, 2017, Ms. Wood emailed me again. Her email stated:
I'm following up to a voicemail I just left you -- I understand Mr. Jensen emailed parents and students at SDC yesterday telling them there are inaccuracies in the inewsource story we recently published. I would like to know what they are so I can investigate and determine if a correction is necessary. I reached out to the main office who said Mr. Jensen had no comment so I'm following up with you.
On November 2, 2017, Ms. Wood published another article on inewsource entitled Christian College Claims Inaccuracies In Story But Is Mum On Details. The article cites to a recording made by Ms. Wood during her interview with Mr. Chaney. It offers little to no correction on the errors in her October 30, 2017 article. Quite candidly, SDCC has little interest in perpetuating the falsehoods told by unreliable witnesses.
As an initial step, SDCC demands an immediate retraction of the October 30 and November 2, 2017 articles by Ms. Wood. SDCC reserves the right to avail itself to the appropriate legal action. To this extent, please preserve all electronic, paper, audio, video and other data collected by inewsource regarding Ms. Wood’s above-mentioned story. Please also retain all interviews, phone calls, logs, computer entries and emails regarding this matter.
Please have your counsel contact me immediately at 858-652-3019.
Very truly yours,
Tracy A. Warren
Re: Megan Wood/San Diego Christian College
Dear Ms. Warren,
We have received your letter, demanding retraction of two inewsource stories published on Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. While your letter says there are inaccuracies in the stories, you have not provided details. California law requires that you specify the statements inewsource published that you contend contain false facts. We would be happy to review any documents you wish to provide, as well.
Every fact in the initial story was linked to a primary document verifying the reporting. To be fully transparent, inewsource shared that version of the story and all of the documents on its website.
San Diego Christian College also still has not provided details of the $20 million in expenses incurred from Fiscal 2012 to 2014. This documentation is required by law as part of the college’s annual IRS 990 filing. inewsource requested this material repeatedly from Mr. Chaney and other school representatives but has not received it. inewsource requests it again now.
We also are happy to respond to two areas you raised in the letter you sent demanding retractions.
First, you state that inewsource reporter Megan Wood told college CFO Steve Chaney that she would not use the interview she recorded with his consent. That is not true.
Following is a transcription of the beginning of the recorded interview on Sept. 26, 2017:
“Megan Wood: It is 2:06 p.m.. I am with Kelly Buchanan and Steve Chaney and we are having a conversation about the finances of San Diego Christian College. This is not for use on public broadcast or TV. This is for information. We are not allowed to use this audio recording. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Steve Chaney: And we will answer any questions. This is Steve Chaney. We will answer any questions that we're able to release. Otherwise we'll just have to say to you that that would be proprietary information and not able to disclose it.
Megan Wood: Of course. Thank you.”
On page 2 of the letter, it says: “Ms. Wood had plenty of time to obtain or verify information but neglected to do so. Instead, the article published prods SDCC for a reaction to Ms. Wood’s inaccuracies.”
inewsource made at least 11 phone calls and sent 20 emails to eight school officials seeking information on the expenses and comments on the documents we had compiled. As you state, college representatives did not respond.
It is the policy of inewsource to correct or clarify information that is proven to be inaccurate or misleading. inewsource has already done that in this case. A Twitter message directed to Megan Wood on Nov. 3, after publication of our articles, pointed out that the website for California Student Aid Commission had been updated to show students from SDC are now eligible to receive CalGrants. inewsource verified that information and updated the story.
Again, if you wish to point out statements inewsource published that contain any false fact, inewsource would be happy to review them and any additional documentation you wish to provide. We ask that we receive the information by the close of business Thursday, Nov. 9.
Very truly yours,
Guylyn R. Cummins
for SHEPPARD, MULLIN, RICHTER & HAMPTON LLP
San Diego Christian College, a nearly 50-year-old nonprofit school in Santee, can’t account for more than $20 million in expenses that are supposed to be detailed on its public tax returns.
An official at San Diego Christian College emailed parents and students alleging our investigation about questionable expenses “presents information regarding SDC that is inaccurate.” However, despite our requests, the college would not say what was wrong with the story.
We'll let you know when big things happen.