Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ chief spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder Thursday issued a press release accusing Voice of OC of "unethical and inaccurate" reporting.
Voice of OC stands by its reporting.
Schroeder's accusations stem from an article Voice of OC published on Thursday regarding the DA's investigation into a questionable real estate deal involving Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido.
The property swap between the mayor and a city contractor -- which was first revealed by Voice of OC in November -- is the subject of investigations by both the DA and the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
And with elections around the corner, Santa Ana council members have been raising public concerns about the lack of results from the DA probe. This month, they considered whether to have the city attorney prosecute the matter.
Thursday's article, written by Adam Elmahrek, focuses on the DA's response to the Santa Ana City Council's vow to release the city's investigative report on the mayor's property swap if the DA or the state Fair Political Practices Commission does not file charges against Pulido by Sept. 30.
In the course of his reporting, Elmahrek called Schroeder for comment. Specifically, Elmahrek asked her if the DA's office would abide by the council's demand.
Schroeder responded with the following statement:
"We will be filing charges when the investigation is done, and I can't say when that will be. The investigation will be done when it is done."
After the article was published, Schroeder called Elmahrek in an agitated state and accused him of misquoting her. She was angry because the quote left the impression that the DA's office had already made the decision to charge Pulido.
Elmahrek was, and remains, certain that he did not misquote Schroeder. He clearly remembers her statement and the wording of the quote in the article is identical to the wording in the notes he took during their conversation.
We stand by the quote as it appears in the article.
However, in the interest of fairness, we decided that it would be appropriate to update the story to reflect Schroeder's belief that she was misquoted and to clearly state that the DA's office has not made a decision regarding whether to charge Pulido.
The update reads as follows:
"After this quote appeared, Schroeder claimed she was misquoted and asserted that the determination as to whether charges will be filed against Pulido won't be made until the investigation is complete."
Schroeder was not satisfied with the update and demanded, in profane and threatening terms, that the quote be removed from the article entirely.
She said the following:
"If you don't change that, I swear to God, I will send out a press release about how you guys get shit wrong. That is bullshit. You have five minutes to call me back."
When we did not respond to Schroeder's threat, she sent out the press release late Thursday afternoon. In addition to her vaguely worded accusations against Elmahrek, Schroeder indicated that other Voice of OC reporters have acted unethically when reporting on issues involving the DA's office.
Here is an excerpt from the release:
The Orange County District Attorney has endured years of unethical and inaccurate web 'reporting' by various staff members of the Voice of OC…If anyone would like the details of the Voice of OC's pattern of misconduct and unethical behavior, they should contact me directly.
These accusations are entirely baseless and, regrettably, a tactic Schroeder has used against journalists dating back to the late 1990s when Rackauckas first took office.
At one point, a former spokeswoman who was fired by Rackauckas said she was instructed to punish reporters who wrote articles critical of the DA's office and reward those who didn’t.
Last decade, Schroeder's actions against Los Angeles Times reporters investigating the DA's office often made it into the media. In 2006, she issued a press release accusing then-Times reporter Christine Hanley of being "unethical."
The language she used in her missive against Hanley was eerily similar to that of this week's release against Voice of OC. Here is an excerpt:
"[Hanley] has engaged in repeated unethical behavior including the manufacturing of facts. She is reckless and does not care about the truth. If you would like to learn more, please feel free to contact me…"
"It's the same move from the same playbook every time. It's all about trying to kill the messenger," said Hanley on Friday who now works as an investigator with the Federal Defenders Office. "And as this latest episode shows, it's not very effective."
Times editors stood behind Hanley and other reporters who were attacked by Schroeder.
In recent years, much of Schroeder's ire has focused on Voice of OC because our reporting regularly shines the spotlight on the actions of Rackauckas, Schroeder herself, and other DA prosecutors.
She often unleashes profanity-laced tirades at reporters and editors after we publish articles that displease her, and threatens to shut us off from communication with the DA's office, using terms like “off the island.”
We understand this type of treatment comes with the territory when journalists dedicate themselves to holding public officials accountable. And rest assured that we won't waver in our efforts to seek the truth in the face of such attempts at intimidation.