Accuracy in Media

I was recently struck by yet another column in USA Today by founder Al Neuharth extolling the virtues of adoption. By now Gannett’s readers are well aware that Mr. Neuharth has adopted eight children. While this may be admirable in and of itself, it is also hypocritical because in 1962 Mr. Neuharth fathered and later abandoned a child out of wedlock.

I am that child, now grown to adulthood, and my story has been covered in the media over the years. My mother, Betty Moore, met Mr. Neuharth in St Paul, Minn., in 1962, at an Associated Press convention. At the time, he was a young editor with the Detroit Free Press and my mother was a Paris-based translator in town on business. I am the result of their affair which continued for more than a year. 

With Mr. Neuharth reneging on his paternal responsibilities and my mother unable to care for me, I spent the first few years of my life in a foster home under auspices of the New York City Department of Welfare. 

Al Neuharth paid child support to my mother for 21 years, per a 1963 New York City Family Court agreement, but over the years he has gone to great lengths to hide my existence from the world. Despite the overwhelming evidence-which also includes a striking physical resemblance and the fact that his name is listed on my birth certificate-he has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that I am his daughter or to have anything to do with me. 

While my story has been widely reported in the news media, USA Today has never carried it. Rather, in 1986 USA Today ran a statement from Mr. Neuharth denying paternity but never bothered to contact me.  Though his statement is semantically correct, I am Mr. Neuharth’s alleged  illegitimate daughter-there was no DNA testing back then to prove his paternity-it is also misleading and false. I have repeatedly contacted USA Today to clarify this to no avail.   

Over the years any interest by Gannett reporters in my story has been quashed. In fact your former gossip columnist, Jeannie Williams, contacted me in 1980 only to have her interest stifled by Gannett editors.   

In 2001 my story was back in the news when the Freedom Forum commissioned Mike Gartner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former editor of the Des Moines Register and former president of NBC News, to write an independent biography of Al Neuharth. The project was abruptly canceled when Neuharth learned that Gartner came to believe our story and planned to devote an entire chapter of the biography to us. Gartner resigned from the project citing lack of editorial independence. 

Though Mr. Neuharth succeeded yet again in quashing the story of my existence, it was widely reported at the time by Accuracy in Media, The Columbia Journalism Review, The American Journalism Review, the New York Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle but not by USA Today, which made no inquiries. USA Today did run an article by Al Neuharth the week the bio was killed-in advance of any other news organization getting wind of the story-which can only be described as personal damage control.    

When I asked the Gartner team what would become of all the sensitive materials I had shared with them, and if my story would make it into another biography, they replied “there will never be another biography because no reputable publisher would leave out the daughter.” But you have, Gannett.

By affording Mr. Neuharth a weekly column in which to proselytize about the virtues of adoption while refusing to acknowledge me, you are misleading your readers and doing a disservice to your profession.   When he was Chairman of Gannett you did not want it to be known that a man of his stature, who publicly had done so much at Gannett to promote women and minorities, had turned his back on his own daughter. Why are the standards Gannett seeks to impose on other leaders not upheld for one of your own? 

Isn’t it your duty to report all facts? To be fair and accurate no matter how powerful the people involved? Isn’t it journalists’ obligation to tell the truth, even if it does involve your Founder and may not be in keeping with the image of him that your company has tried to create? In his authorized biography, Confessions of an SOB, Mr. Neuharth himself states “the first amendment guarantees a free press. The press itself must guarantee a fair one.” 

While you give Mr. Neuharth a forum to boast about the good he has done for unwanted children by adopting eight of them, have you  ever stopped to think why there are so many unwanted children to adopt in the first place? It is because men like Mr. Neuharth choose not to live up to their responsibilities. While Mr. Neuharth repeatedly addresses the topic of unwanted children, this key fact is always left out. 

By turning your head at my story you are suppressing the truth and perpetuating your own Founder’s cover-up. You could report my story tomorrow. It would be fresh news for USA Today. While you allow Mr. Neuharth to publicize his eight adoptions, don’t your readers have a right to know the choice he made when faced with an unwanted child of his own? Your purported mission is to be “ever mindful of our journalistic responsibilities” but you cannot stand for journalistic integrity only some of the time. 

Why is it so important to me to get my story out? Because I want the truth to be known. I have an obligation to myself and my family to set the record straight. I am 45 years old and living the American dream but that does not absolve you or Mr. Neuharth.  

I have a 9-year-old son whom I teach to be responsible for his actions. I dread the day I will need to explain to him that his grandfather turned the other way when he had the opportunity to accept responsibility for his mistakes and do the right thing.

My story is an opportunity to educate readers on what your journalism is really all about.  The choices you make in reporting make a mockery out of the very principles you are supposed to uphold. If an organization as powerful as yours does not abide by the principles it stands for, what’s the point? If you don’t have integrity what else matters?  Sometimes the hypocrisy is just too hard to bear. 

(Editor’s note: Mr. Neuharth’s published version of these facts is that he “denied parenthood but said he had paid the money to avoid publicity.” The annual meeting of Gannett, parent of USA Today, is being held at the company’ headquarters in McLean, Virginia, on April 28, 2009 at 10:00 a.m. ET).

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