An article published online by the Albuquerque Journal, "AG: Governor Wrongfully Withheld Emails," was revised before print publication to strike a decidedly softer tone toward the state's chief executive.
"AG Tells Gov. To Reconsider Email Response" reads the new headline. The revisions offer a unique window into the editing process at New Mexico's largest daily newspaper.
The article details a letter New Mexico Attorney General Gary King sent that warned the governor's office it could be liable for $100 per day since August for failing to properly respond to an Inspection of Public Records Act request filed by SFR last June.
The original article opened with a direct lede about the dispute: "Gov. Susana Martinez's office wrongfully withheld records after an Inspection of Public Records Act request for emails related to state business sent by staffers using private email addresses, according to the Attorney General's Office."
The article published in the paper on Friday, however, had softened: "Attorney General Gary King’s Office is telling Gov. Susana Martinez’s staff to take a second look at its records to see if private emails related to state business were wrongfully withheld from a recent Inspection of Public Records Act request."
The revision also removed direct references to a Martinez administration official, Public Education Department spokesman Larry Behrens, who sent one of the emails in question to Martinez' political advisor Jay McCleskey, listing the names of non-union teachers in New Mexico. References to the content of that email have also been removed.
"The basic answer is, it really hadn't gone all the way through the editing process," Albuquerque Journal Editor-in-Chief Kent Walz tells SFR. "It really was a matter of trying to cross as many T's and dot as many I's as we could."
Walz says the story needed "additional reporting."
Indeed, the revised version contains an extended comment from the governor's office.
In the original article, the governor's spokesman, Enrique Knell, said the governor's office had not received the letter, even though it was dated Feb. 5 and addressed to Assistant General Counsel Matthew Stackpole. In the revised version, by contrast, Knell is quoted at length, alleging that King's office was "playing politics" by telling the governor's office to provide the requested public documents to SFR.
In addition, Knell tells the Journal that King "was made aware that our office had already provided the Santa Fe Reporter with all responsive emails," and "We look forward to the AG applying these same standards to himself, the legislature, and every other governmental agency in the state.'"
Despite adding more comments from the governor's office to its revised story, the Journal did not include any response from King about the allegation that he was "playing politics."
"We were never contacted for our side of the story," King spokesman Phil Sisneros tells SFR. "But that's not unusual."
When asked why the Journal's "additional reporting" didn't include a comment from King, Walz said it's "a good point. I don't know. That's something we may well still be pursuing."
Sisneros says there was "no politics involved" in the letter his office sent to the governor's office to enforce SFR's IPRA complaint.
"We didn’t apply any different standards than we would apply to any IPRA request," he says of the letter. "And for the most part, we're quoting the law. That's what the law says. We didn't make it up. And those same standards would be applicable to anyone--including ourselves. And they are."
SFR, meanwhile, has yet to receive the records it requested last June. Despite visiting Knell's office in person on Thursday and leaving
repeated phone and email messages, we have received no response regarding our IPRA request or complaint.
King's original letter highlights a policy debate over whether emails concerning public business are subject to records requests if they're sent over private email accounts. King, whose office enforces IPRA disputes, has issued an opinion that all emails relating to public business are public records, regardless of whether they're sent on private email accounts.
Martinez originally ran on a platform of transparency. But SFR's reporting shows her office's record on transparency has been mixed. Her administration issued an order that public employees use public email accounts for public business, but only after a liberal political action committee leaked emails showing members of her administration were doing the opposite.
Below, SFR has posted pdf versions of both the original story and the updated version, with highlighting in sections that have changed. (We obtained the original story as a cached version on the web.)