SLO Tribune changes article, apologizes for defamation

July 20, 2022


The San Luis Obispo Tribune has changed a portion of a July 17 article that libeled CalCoastNews and reporter Karen Velie. CalCoastNews and Velie demanded the retraction on July 19 after the Tribune alleged that Velie had “falsely reported” part of a story about the verbal assault that SLO County Supervisor Debbie Arnold suffered at the hands of fellow supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill.

At the prodding of KVEC radio host Dave Congalton, Arnold said Gibson and Hill cornered her in the back of an elevator in 2013 and screamed at her for disagreeing with them in a Board of Supervisors meeting. Hill sprayed her face with spittle as he screamed at her, she said. Arnold reported the incident to County Counsel Rita Neal, but was told she could not make a complaint, she said.

Gibson responded online, “What I recall of that event, which occurred more than nine years ago and lasted less than one minute, is that Mr. Hill was criticizing Ms. Arnold over a vote she had cast a few minutes before.”

“She alleges harassment and ‘bullying’ by the late Supervisor Adam Hill – and me – during a one-minute elevator ride that happened almost a decade ago,” Gibson wrote. “I don’t badger, berate or scream at anyone.”

Several hours later, Gibson chastised CalCoastNews for reporting Arnold’s allegation, even though he did not return a request to tell his side of the story.

“One other point: In the story, Arnold claimed she tried to make a formal complaint, but was denied the opportunity,” Gibson posted on Facebook. “I’ve seen no record of that attempt. CCN, per its usual ‘journalistic’ rancidity, did not verify that claim.”

Supervisor Bruce Gibson

The Tribune repeated Gibson’s allegations in its July 17 article, “SLO County Supervisor said she was bullied by colleagues. Here’s what we know.”

The Tribune article said that County Counsel Rita Neal discouraged Arnold from reporting the incident, but did not prevent her from filing a complaint. The defamatory article claimed CalCoastNews falsely reported Arnold’s quote about being told that she “could not” make a complaint because she was not a county employee, but rather an elected official.

CalCoastNews reported Arnold’s quote, that, “I was told that ‘hey, if you were an employee of the county you could complain and something might be done, but you are an elected, so get over it and get on with it.’ ”

CalCoastNews responded to the Tribune on July 19 with a demand for retraction:

“On July 17, 2022, The SLO Tribune published an article entitled “SLO County Supervisor said she was bullied by colleagues. Here’s what we know.” The story was carried in your newspaper, on your website and on social media. The article contains false and defamatory statements about us and we make a demand that you issue a retraction regarding the defamatory statement contained in that article, on paper, on your website, on social media and elsewhere.

The SLO Tribune article reads that, “In a July 12 article on the claims, Cal Coast News falsely reported that Arnold ‘reported the altercation to SLO County Counsel Rita Neal,’ but ‘Neal told her she could not make a complaint’ because she was an elected official and not an employee.” It is defamatory to write that both a reporter and her publication “falsely reported.” The CalCoastNews story was and is correct.

Supervisor Debbie Arnold

“Supervisor Debbie Arnold told reporter Karen Velie and CalCoastNews that Rita Neal told her she could not make a complaint. Supervisor Arnold has said that she made the statement and that the quoted statement in CalCoastNews is accurate. As a journalist, Karen Velie reports the news. She seeks the facts. She does not create the news by pressuring someone to change their statement.

“Not doing what the SLO Tribune and its reporter would have done in hindsight does not make the story false.

“In addition, the SLO Tribune article mixes a quote by Arnold and a statement to make the claim that Velie and CalCoastNews falsely reported the story. The statement that CalCoastNews and Karen Velie falsely reported that Arnold said she reported the altercation to Rita Neal, and was told she could not make a complaint, is not false reporting because that accurately quoted Arnold.

“The Tribune pushing Arnold to say she had the ability not to follow county counsel’s advice and file a complaint, does not make CalCoastNews’ reporting false.

“The SLO Tribune and its reporter failed to follow sound and ethical journalistic practices by not contacting reporter Karen Velie before publishing the article and calling her reporting false. Without seeking the facts from Velie, the SLO Tribune and its reporter acted in willful blindness.

“In a similar vein, the SLO Tribune article published the assertion by one of the alleged bullies, Supervisor Bruce Gibson, that the release of the story was part of a Republican Party smear campaign. That statement further libels Velie and CalCoastNews by linking them to a nonexistent Republican plot, doing so by referring to the story and then including the claim about the plot.

The SLO Tribune and its reporter could have contacted KVEC Radio Host Dave Congalton who first made the issue public. The SLO Tribune and its reporter could have asked Congalton, who is not a Republican, to confirm or deny Supervisor Gibson’s improbable statement about an alleged Republican smear campaign. Congalton has said it was his idea to ask Supervisor Arnold about the incident in the elevator and that no one contacted or prompted him to discuss the issue on KVEC. Congalton says he became aware of the incident in 2013 but was unable to persuade Supervisor Arnold to discuss it on the radio at that time.

“By this letter and in order to minimize any further damage to our professional reputations, we demand that you immediately remove the libelous statements from your websites and social media posts. We further demand that you immediately issue a retraction on the homepage of your website and on the same page and similar position that the defamatory statement was first published in your paper.”

In its response, Tribune staff wrote they regretted the error, have updated the article, and will run clarifications online and in the printed paper.

In the revised article, the Tribune claims that Arnold told two different versions of the incident.

“Arnold told The Tribune a different story,” according to the Tribune’s July 20 version of the story. “She said that Neal didn’t prevent her from filing a complaint. Instead, she said she felt generally discouraged to report the incident because she wasn’t a county employee.”

Arnold, however, says that while she could have been more careful at choosing her words, it is the same story.

Bill Loving is the editor of CalCoastNews and a former chair of the Cal Poly Journalism Department.

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I was surprised to read about Arnold admitting to feeling bullied by Hill & Gibson. I would have thought her prior experience running a day care facility would have provided sufficient skills for dealing with children.

So here’s the story. Our daily alleged newspaper ignores this newsworthy matter, fails to report it as “news,” gets scooped by little ole CCN, then flails at CCN for doing what the alleged newspaper should have done by claiming once again CCN is biased and inaccurate, skipping over said alleged newspaper’s own reporting failure. Snotty little boys at Tribune can’t take being scooped by nasty CCN, so they’re quick to lob a few whatevers at the scooper. Well sandbox lot at the Trib, if you don’t like being shown up as a worthless “newspaper,” then report the news instead of filling your rag with all the cra- you fill your paper with.

So, the Tribune’s excuse for lying about Velie is to lie about Arnold by saying Arnold was lying?

They did a similar “investigation” in 2016 and said Debbie Peterson was lying when she reported that Adam Hill had locked her in the courthouse on a public holiday when no one was there and told her he had a gun. #MeToo, Trib. #MeToo.

And Gibson wrote. “I don’t badger, berate or scream at anyone.” That’s the biggest lie yet. I thought Gibson was smarter than that. Methinks this has Gibson on the run now, and he’s losing it. It’s easy to prove him a liar because his badgering and berating, maybe even screaming, is public record unless, of course, Rita Neal hides or purges it. But that won’t work this time, Rita, because many folks have already downloaded or recorded it, and then you will get caught out in a cover-up if you haven’t already. With the FBI poking around, that would not be wise.

Read Gibson’s correspondence to the higher-ups in Sacramento to fire public servants Daphne Green and Will Harris, who dared express an alternative view. I’d call that badgering. In fact, I’d call it worse.

Or listen to how Gibson berated people during public comment when he was the chairman of the board of supervisors or how he berated Debbie Arnold on several occasions when he disagreed with her. In fact, he berated his own board of supervisors in a comment at an IWMA board meeting just a few months ago.

You give the Tribune WAY too much credit. It’s been many years since there was an “Editorial Room,” let alone any rooms at all. During Covid the Tribune gave up the last miniscule office they were renting, and literally was like two men (editor and reporter) working out of someone’s Livingroom. Not sure that they have a proper office to this day.

I think you mean a seat at the editorial board with a TT mug.

The Fibune Tribune does not investigate stories. I personally know of a few they misquoted, assumed, just plain made it up! Never bothered to even make a phone call. In these times, these days of mass communication, it’s unthinkable to report on and actually PRINT what you haven’t even bothered to spend 5 minutes investigating!