Sunday, February 19, 2012


Cayetano again attacks a reporter, this time at Civil Beat

As we have noted previously, this administration has shown scant respect for the constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech and press. The PBN case is particularly disturbing evidence that Cayetano does not tolerate criticism and is willing to retaliate against critics with little regard for the First Amendment.—Star-Bulletin editorial (6/20/2000)

by Larry Geller

Former governor and now Honolulu mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano has lashed out against the media again—before it was the Pacific Business News, this time his crosshairs are fixed on Civil Beat.

In each instance, Cayetano focused his ire on a single reporter, and in each instance probably picked the wrong one. The current spat:

“There is no point in talking to a reporter who accuses me of lacking in ‘believability,’” Cayetano writes to Civil Beat editor John Temple. Of City Beat reporter Michael Levine, Cayetano says, “I will not answer his questions, his phone calls or emails.”

“If Civil Beat wants my opinion on issues — send another of its reporters,” Cayetano writes.

One problem with the former governor’s media criticism: Levine didn’t write the piece Cayetano felt impugned him. Temple did.

[, Honolulu mayoral candidate tries to get Civil Beat reporter thrown off campaign, 2/17/2012]

With the posting on the Poynter Institute website, the incident has escaped Hawaii and is in the national spotlight.

Back in 2001, it was the American Journalism Review that spread the word of Cayetano’s vendetta against then Pacific Business News reporter Malia Zimmerman:

The clashes came to a head on November 30, 1999, when [the governor's communications director, Jackie] Kido filed a complaint on behalf of the state with the Honolulu Community-Media Council, a volunteer organization that mediates disputes about news coverage.

Though the story that sparked the complaint mostly involved another reporter, Kido wrote in her cover letter to the council that Zimmerman was the main problem. The complaint itself said Pacific Business News "continuously ignored journalistic ethics by willfully engaging in the practice of manipulating information and knowingly reporting inaccurate, unbalanced and unsubstantiated stories."

[American Journalism Review, Island Ire, January/February 2001]

A month later, Zimmerman was fired. PBN denied there was a connection between the complaint and the firing.

On June 5, Kido notified the media council that the state was withdrawing its complaint because of Zimmerman's termination, with the understanding that "should Ms. Zimmerman regain employment with PBN within the next 12-month period, the case may be reopened at our discretion."

Clearly, Cayetano was aiming his “ire” directly at one reporter, Malia Zimmerman.

The dispute was mediated rather poorly by the Media Council and was, as it turned out, the last time a case was brought to them to my knowledge (I was serving as secretary at the time).

Zimmerman was likely blackballed by the administration’s complaint and subsequently ventured out on her own, founding the on-line Hawaii Reporter, which has just celebrated its tenth anniversary this month (it was founded in February 2002).

Gina Mangieri, editor of Pacific Business News at the time of Cayetano’s complaint, stated that the article in question was written by another reporter.

Fast forward to the Civil Beat article (Time to Get Serious About Rail Conversation, Civil Beat, 2/16/2012), which it appears was also not written by the reporter Cayetano named, but by editor John Temple. Nor was the article an attack on Cayetano. On balance, it could be read as more critical of the City and of Mayor Carlisle than of Cayetano.

So it’s déjà vu all over again. This time, though, Cayetano’s target is a well-respected, widely read, daily on-line publication. Any war with Civil Beat will play out on iPads and computer screens all over the state. It’s a match Cayetano is not likely to win. From the Poynter article:

Civil Beat will continue covering Cayetano as before. “We’re just going to send the same reporter, we’ll ask him the same questions,” Temple says. “If he doesn’t want to talk, that’s his right and we’ll report back. The next press conference he holds, Michael will be there.”

If Levine gets kicked out, you’ll read about it there, here, and everywhere.


Malia Zimmerman was not the first journalist to be attacked by a sitting Hawaii administration. The Star-Bulletin’s Tony Withington was banned from Frank Fasi’s news conferences after an October 27, 1969 story the mayor objected to. Fasi even refused to talk with the Associated Press when he learned the paper was running AP stories about him.


Perhaps under pressure to produce “content” on a daily basis, Civil Beat’s Michael Levine practices sensationalistic gotcha journalism in making mountains out of molehills (e.g., “fact checking” Cayetano’s obvious metaphors, sloppy choice of words). Focusing on the hole instead of the doughnut, Civil Beat has zero clue on what is going on with Honolulu Rail -- or as Cayetano et al. put it, "We think Civil Beat’s analysis amounts to quibbling over the placement of the knives, forks, and spoons at a table on which sits an elephant nearly the size of an aircraft carrier." In general, Civil Beat has failed to elevate the quality of political discourse here in Hawaii -- which I had hoped would have been impersonal critical discussion (i.e., for every pet policy proposal we should ask, to what *problem* is this the solution? And why is it a “real” or the root cause problem? What are the *other* ways to solve this problem? And in all intellectual honesty, why is it the *best* way to solve the problem?). Whatever happens at Civil Beat, I hope it will pause and reflect on whether it is living up to its aspirations (it isn’t). On the brighter side, thank you Civil Beat for making the Honolulu Star Advertiser a much better (and for now, the better) paper.

Interesting and not surprising that Levine's rail bias CB and Cayetano's style should all clash., but wasn't Malia Zimmerman fired from PBN for pumping up Sam Slom both in the news and on an intimate level?

So I guess what you are saying Larry, is after your story on Ben Cayetano, Ben will come out with a blistering attack on OldDiver. :)

"One thing that struck me last week when we met with the leadership of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation was how focused they were on execution of the project, not on whether the project should be built in the first place.".

I have to agree with Anonymous on his point that the Civil Beat has no clue concerning rail. The above statement which questions why the Authority which was created by public vote to implement rail is not questioning if rail should be built or not is plain silly. Makes you question the thought process of the author.

That could happen. But Disappeared News is a much more narrow target.

As to why Malia Zimmerman was fired. that was never settled. Other than with Malia, of course. Cayetano certainl applied pressure, that is evident from his statements.

Civil Beat is new in town. I'm not making excuses for them, only to say that they do a great job (IMHO) covering many issues, but when history is involved, it does despend on the reporter.

Anonymous' comment that Civil Beat has made the Star-Advertiser a better paper is an interesting thought. Of course, we don't know what the S-A would be like if CB didn't exist. The S-A still exhibits weaknesses and strong biases that I think most people can detect. I loved, for example, starting a multi-part series on the problems of aging by having a military beat reporter interview former Sen. Hemmings, who opposed ideologically much of what most seniors in Hawaii need, and who undoubtedly is retiring in great shape after his service in the Senate. Great choice, that was, to illustrate how the paper has slipped in a puddle of its own soy ink.

I don't know why that came to mind in particular. Except that I think John Temple has directed CB on a path to growth and improvement, while I see the S-A devolving into a larger version of MidWeek.

Michael Levine is a good reporter. In Hawaii he started on Kauai. He asks the tough questions, thatʻs all. And he writes without deference to ego pumped self righteous politicians who think they are above the law.
We need a whole lot more writers like that.

Larry, let me get this straight.

You dismiss Ben Cayetano's charge that Malia Zimmerman was a biased reporter whose professionalism and journalistic objectivity were compromised by an obvious political agenda?

I agree Malia has done some important stories, like the Kaloko dam and Aloun Farm stories. Let me amend that, some VERY important stories. But those few bright spots where she has been able to rise above her role as a political operative do not retroactively invalidate Cayetano's complaint about her bias.

I think Civil Beat is, in general, a good addition to local reporting and debate. But their coverage is uneven and they sometimes miss the point. A reporter doesn't have to serve as a "stenographer to power" in order to be respected by a politician. I think Derek DePledge, for example, is respected by politicians of both parties. He is tough, but fair. And he has good instincts about what is the REAL story behind the surface phenomena. Michael Levine MAY develop the skills, sources and attitude to reach that level of reporting. But he has a way to go. His personality may get in the way.

(BTW- your Captcha clues are becoming too difficult to decipher and I do not think it is just my fading eyesight or befuddled brain which is the problem. The audio clues are also tough. If possible, I suggest you use a less difficult filter. I do not have this problem on other blogs using Captcha).

Kolea, Cayetano may have picked on the wrong reporter (Malia Zimmerman) then as he appears to have done again now (Michael Levine).

Also, I don't think it's appropriate for a public official to define acceptable bias. In any case, Cayetano's attack on CB clearly won't deter CB from continuing to report.

As to captcha clues, I didn't know that they were on! I had turned them off a long time ago for the reasons you gave. They are created by Blogger (Google) not by anything I can select.

Anyway, they are now off again. Thanks for letting me know.


I am not sure I can agree with your proposition that elected officials have to treat all "reporters" equally. Malia was working for PBN at the time. PBN had not yet made its evolution from being George Mason's whiney opinion vehicle to a professional news operation. I am personally close to someone who worked at both PBN and a mainland paper owned by the same chain. He was appalled at the lack of professionalism at PBN during that period. PBN was involved in an effort to professionalize itself during the period in question and Malia Zimmerman's political entanglements, to be polite, were an impediment to that transition.

Whatever concerns I have about the unevenness of Civil Beat's reporting, I do not see anything close to the bias exhibited by Zimmerman and PBN at that time. I think Ben is being thin-skinned and stubborn in his treatment of Michael Levine. And it is foolish for Cayetano to allow his personal pique to antagonize CB while he is running for Mayor. We should expect "professionalism" from our politicians as well as from journalists.

My 2 cents (about a small point made above):
I have noticed more investigative-type reporting in the Star-Advertiser than I ever remember in it's previous incarnations (Star-Bulletin & Advertiser). Of course, it's still very mainstream and corporate. But at least we get a little more NEWS from them, rather than just press releases... I can only surmise that this is pressure from Civil Beat's investigative thrust.

There is one big difference. Mike Levine is a solid reporter. Malia is all those things that Jackie accused her of.

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Requiring those Captcha codes at least temporarily, in the hopes that it quells the flood of comment spam I've been receiving.

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