The Freeploid’s Great Document Hunt

The Burlington Free Press today continued its effort to milk a hot story for all it’s wor — ahem, I mean, cover an issue of public interest — with another article about the state’s reluctance to release documents in the Jim Deeghan case. Deeghan is the former Vermont State Police sergeant accused of massively padding his time sheets and writing almost 1,000 fake traffic tickets.

And those tickets are the documents in question. The Freeploid has been seeking the names of motorists cited on the bogus tickets, and expected to receive them by now. But Deeghan’s lawyer has objected to releasing the list, and prosecutors have, so far, acceded to his objection.

In a diary posted on Monday, i noted my ambivalence about the Freeploid’s heavy use of Public Records Requests. On the one hand, it has every right to seek the documents and has sometimes uncovered stories that people need to know about.  

On the other hand, it’s a relatively easy way to conduct “investigative journalism” — file PRRs and wait for the documents to be released. And the Freeploid is never shy about patting itself on the back for its public-records safaris. But there are other tools in the journalistic woodshop. And, speaking as a subscriber who reads the (virtual) paper every day, my sense is that the Freeploid leans too heavily on PRRs and doesn’t spend enough time on other types of reporting and analysis.

Take the Deeghan case, for example. The Freeploid is getting a lot of mileage out of its request for that list of motorists; in the past week, it’s published two stories reporting that the list is still under wraps. Which seems a bit much. To be sure, the list is a public document and the ‘Loid is within its rights to pursue the list.

But I don’t give a tinker’s cuss about the list, or who’s on it. And when the Freeploid finally gets the list, I’m sure it will publish a nice long story reporting the reactions of folks who are on the list — a piece of reportorial puffery designed to get maximum mileage out of the story without any meaningful information.

After the jump: What’s really important in the Deeghan case.

What I do care about is how in hell Jim Deeghan was able to do what he is alleged to have done: faking his time sheets to such an extent that he was one of the highest-paid employees on the state payroll, racking up more overtime than just about anyone else on the force, and entering hundreds of fake tickets in the system. And what, if any, disciplinary action has been (or will be) taken against Deeghan’s supervisors. You know, the guys who signed his time sheets.

What kind of a system allows such wholesale abuses to happen? And keep on happening for years? If the system is so lax, how do we know there aren’t other fraudsters among Vermont’s Finest?

Those questions, as far as I’m aware, have yet to be answered. Meanwhile, the Freeploid keeps on chasing irrelevant — or, at best, tangential — issues because it can be done the easy way: through Public Records Requests.  

5 thoughts on “The Freeploid’s Great Document Hunt

  1. but perhaps too few reporters to use them.

    Didn’t Gannett just spent the past several years cutting back on expenses or eh staff? All the problems you mention suggest a staff shortage.  

  2. Aw, c’mon, jv, if a records check conducted by your car insurer showed a couple of speeding tickets you never got, and raised your rates because of them, you’d be pissed, wouldn’t ya? Not to mention the dunning letters from the DMV for fines for offenses you didn’t contest, because you never got the ticker for something you didn’t do – or at least not within sight or radar range of Jim Deegan.

    Those folks deserve to know.

    You definitely have a point about every story being hit with a hammer because that’s the only tool cheaply available to the cheaploid.

    On the other hand, public records oughta be, um, well … public. The fact that TJ is rolling over for the defense here does not bode well among those of us who supported his candidacy for AG. He’s going to have to stand up for transparency to get my vote the next time.


    Self-declared leaders must be rejected at once when they lack the integrity to stand publicly for the principles they claim to adhere to in private. ~ Woodrow Wilson


  3. To have plenty of staff to micro report all the press and format changes they were making. Sort of like reading Facebook and twitter posts and just reading about what people had for breakfast and lunch over and over again.  

  4. Aw, c’mon, Nanuq, I know they’re public records and they should be made public. And the first priority should be notifying the motorists involved. I never said they didn’t deserve to know.

    My point was that the Freeploid beats its chest a little too much about these public records chases, and doesn’t do enough other kinds of journalism.

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