A few days ago, I wrote a story that was critical of Saint Francis Hospital and the way they’re managing the Muskogee hospital — a public trust facility leased to Saint Francis.
Yesterday, a flurry of emails inside the Saint Francis system included one from their in-house counsel breathlessly showing screenshots of a Muskogee Phoenix article reporting on my arrest in April in McIntosh County. The email implied that news of my arrest could be used to discredit my reporting in the future. It also stated that the counsel believed I had been fired “for cause” from the Muskogee Phoenix.
So let me clear some things up right now before they get too excited about the possibilities.
First, I was in fact fired from the Muskogee Phoenix in 2009, but it was not “for cause.” Instead, I made fun of a local politician in my private life, not at the newspaper. That’s it. That’s the whole reason then-publisher Larry Corvi and current executive editor Ed Choate gave when they fired me.
“We can’t have a member of our editorial board making fun of our senator,” Corvi explained. “We are terminating your employment.” I mean, why would a newspaper care about the First Amendment? Instead of suing them for wrongful termination (political speech is one of the very few reasons an employer cannot legally fire an employee in Oklahoma), I decided beating them would be better, so I started MuskogeeNOW.com the very next day, and today, this site boasts a daily average readership of 47,000 people — compared to less than 5,000 according to the Phoenix’s most recent available circulation numbers.
Now, onto the arrest, which I have never addressed publicly. On April 14 of this year, I was arrested in McIntosh County and charged with two felonies: child abuse by injury and assault with a dangerous weapon. I was also charged with misdemeanor domestic assault. The Phoenix, probably still stinging from the fact that a one-man operation has been outperforming their entire staff for nine years, gleefully reported the fact that I was arrested and charged. And Facebook lost its collective mind, going on and on about what a horrible person I was and how awful it was that I had done these things. The problem with that is, I didn’t do those things.
I am not guilty of a single thing I’m accused of doing. Because the case is the subject of ongoing litigation and because it is the centerpiece of a divorce and custody battle, I can’t discuss the details or explain what actually happened — which does not in any way resemble the version of those events that appears in the accusations against me. My lawyer still doesn’t want me to make a statement at all, but I felt it was necessary because Saint Francis seems so intent on using this situation to discredit the reporting of the truth about themselves.
Of course I get the delicious irony of the guy who runs MuskogeeMUGS and reports often on criminal charges on MuskogeeNOW himself being arrested. The rumor mill — and especially social media — LIVE for that kind of thing.
“Why didn’t you publish your own mug?” That’s a question people ask sarcastically all the time. I didn’t publish my own mug because McIntoshCountyMUGS hasn’t published mugs for years due to a lack of cooperation from the jail. Believe me or don’t, but if I had been arrested in Muskogee County, I would have published my mug, just like everybody else’s.
“Why didn’t you report on your arrest?” I get that question a lot, too. There are a lot of arrests I don’t report on, for one reason or another. The fact is, the arrest happened in McIntosh County, south of I-40, no one other than me was physically injured during the alleged incident. Also, I had just gotten out of jail, was suffering from a massive concussion that took a full month to start getting better and I wasn’t thinking very straight at the time because of it. By the time my head cleared from the concussion, my attorney had advised me that talking about the case publicly was a Very Bad Idea, so I continued my silence, even in the face of all the lies, rumors and attacks that have been dogging me since that day.
But when shady corporations start playing even shadier games (and attacking my character to shut me up is, believe me, the LEAST of the shady things you’re going to hear about Saint Francis’s mode of operations), it’s time to clear the air. Believe what you want about my arrest — it doesn’t affect me. But do not, for a second, think that me being falsely arrested and accused of crimes affects my ability to uncover and report stories that other media outlets refuse to cover for fear of losing advertising revenue. I’ve been a journalist for 30 years, and during that time, I have never been found to be deficient in my reporting, editing or publishing.
Attack my character all you want. I’m used to it, having been a journalist for so long. But my reporting is honest and accurate. When I do make mistakes, I confess them in the same stories in which the mistakes were made — which is more than one can say about ANY other news source.
The last resort of those trying to hide something is to attack the person who’s exposing the thing they’re trying to hide. The best defense against such attacks is to take that weapon away from them by talking about it openly, which is what I’ve done here. Now, when I continue to expose how Saint Francis is doing their very best to rape Muskogee and steal all the medical industry revenue that rightfully belongs here to help this community, they should just focus on the issue at hand instead of trying to divert attention to the person who’s shining a light on them.