Reporter’s Commentary: From Austin to Ireland, Telling the Truth is Dangerous

BOSTON — Timothy Sloan is gone as the leader of Wells Fargo & Co. but the damage is done.

Last month, the CEO abruptly announced his retirement after 31 years with the San Francisco-based bank that during the last three years has been dogged by ethics scandals related to past sales practices. Sloan, 58, has said he planned to remain CEO until he was 65.

The sudden resignation hammers home the fact that CEOs come and go but the role of courageous reporting remains regardless of trends or fashions. Media execs who don’t understand that are missing an important point.

Last year, Bloomberg News reporter Shahien Nasiripour was removed from his banking beat after Sloan complained to editors. Nasiripour, a 14-year reporter, was transferred to cover the Trump organization after he had a heated argument with a Wells Fargo public relations person, CNN reported in August 2018.

In March 2018, Nasiripour reported this story about Wells Fargo financing the National Rifle Association and the gun industry, both of which have come under scrutiny in the aftermath of several mass shootings nationally.

Wells Fargo is a major customer of Bloomberg’s sister company that sells electronic terminals providing financial data. So its influence on coverage was greater than most. It’s unlikely Sloan called Bloomberg just to register a complaint; any senior exec could have done that. CEOs call when they want heads to roll, and that’s what happened.

A short-sighted quick fix had longterm implications. Another reporter went missing and the integrity of journalism took another hit it can’t afford.



In April 2018, we recounted in this blog post the details of an egregious case of corporate censorship in Austin, Texas.

In mid-2015, an Austin Business Journal manager said that while this reporter was on vacation, Dell Technologies Inc. threatened parent company North Carolina-based American City Business Journals over our coverage.

ACBJ execs succumbed to the pressure, sanitized the news and then attempted to cover it up. Tweets were deleted, a story disappeared and media credentials denied by Dell. The reporter who wrote hundreds of unvarnished stories about the company was suddenly given an unscheduled performance review stating that his job was in jeopardy despite the lack of a single human resources issue during 10 years with the company.

It was blatant censorship by a bully billionaire in collusion with a national media company affiliated with Condé Nast, New Yorker magazine and Reddit. Dell Technologies successfully targeted a reporter who had written hundreds of articles about the company and knew it well. More than 700 stories listed under this reporter’s byline referenced Dell. So effectively, the company tried to chill the journalist who knew it the best.



However distasteful Dell’s pressure on the ABJ was, it’s important to know that it was also illegal. In Texas, there’s a tortious interference law designed to discourage such abuse of power.

A 2012 Fourth Court of Appeals (in San Antonio) ruling on a case called Strickland suggests that the Dell executive who called ACBJ didn’t need to make an expressed demand that a reporter was fired. Just the call itself can be considered an illegal act of obstructing a person’s right to work, according to the ruling. “A defendant’s interfering conduct need only be a proximate cause of the harm to plaintiff for there to be liability.”

Seeking the truth and reporting it should never be a dangerous endeavor. Unfortunately, it often is.

The world was rightfully outraged earlier this month when Northern Ireland reporter Lyra McKee was shot dead covering a riot involving a group that calls itself the New IRA. She was just 29. The killing quickly drew condemnation from Ireland and beyond — not for political reasons, but for the right and civil reasons that bind all of us.

Irish President Michael Higgins signed a condolence book for McKee at Belfast City Hall, the Washington Examiner reported.

Higgins said, “The loss of a journalist at any time in any part of the world is an attack on truth itself.”