Beat the press

Hinchey caught on tape by YNN telling Freeman reporter William Kemble to "shut up."

Over the weekend, Daily Freeman correspondent William J. Kemble catapulted to fame among political wonks nationwide when he and Congressman Maurice Hinchey came close to fisticuffs at a Saugerties candidates' forum on Thursday night.

Accounts differ about exactly what happened. On Friday, Kemble told YNN's Capital Tonight that Hinchey "put his hand on my throat." In the same story, a YNN camera man reported that Hinchey only "poked Kemble in the chest aggressively." Hinchey's Republican opponent for his U.S. House of Representatives seat, George Phillips, told the Times Herald-Record that he saw Hinchey physically shove the reporter into Phillips' path. According to a statement released by Hinchey's staff, Kemble was the aggressive one who took "a step toward" Hinchey and who has a "longstanding antagonistic relationship" with him. 

The Daily Freeman itself was silent on the brouhaha until today, when it ran a detailed investigative article about the incident that repeats Kemble's version of events. The newspaper's managing editor, Tony Adamis, also released a statement, in which he writes that Hinchey's claim about Kemble starting it is "untrue" and defends the source of Hinchey's rage against the Freeman: the newspaper's coverage of Hinchey's potential financial interest in a Saugerties development called the Partition Street Project. (Read Adamis' full statement at the bottom of this post.) 

Today, Adamis talked to the Watershed Post about how one of the state's most powerful politicians came to hate his newspaper, and how that will affect the Freeman's coverage of the next two weeks of campaign season frenzy.


Watershed Post: It's good to see the Freeman weigh in on this, now that this video has gone national.

Tony Adamis: We took a lot of flack for the length of time that it took us to respond, but we were just trying to be responsible about it. We took a kind of third-party approach to it. Even though I trust my correspondent, he and I both agreed that if any story was going to be run, it would be done by some other reporter approaching it as any reporter would. Plus, I took the time to do my own investigation.

WP: What did that investigation entail?

TA: I tried to identify as many people as I could who might have witnessed this.

WP: People like George Phillips?

TA: I never actually spoke to George Phillips. He's only recently come forward.By the way, Mr. Kemble has no memory of being pushed into anybody's path. None of the accounts seem to agree. That was the problem for us. We didn't have the video, so YNN broke the story because they built the story around the video, which is actually the antecedent to the real story.

WP: From this point on, is William Kemble still covering Maurice Hinchey for the Freeman?

TA: As far as we've concerned, he is. As an editor, I don't believe that we can allow somebody's else's bad acts to disqualify your reporter. I do not believe that Mr. Kemble did anything wrong.

WP: In May, when Kemble wrote several articles about the Partition Street Project, wasn't he taken off the story so that another reporter, Ariel Zangla, could write a more comprehensive article on the issue?

TA: No. It might appear that way, but Ariel had been working on that story for months. And William was working, for a shorter period of time, on the story on the earmarks issue. And after the earmarks story, the Hinchey camp complained about the characterization in that story having to do with the Partition Street Project, which led us to delay Ariel's story about Partition Street while we tried to do our best due diligence of looking at the complaint. The result was the second Kemble story. That wasn't even a planned story. It was really just a result of the complaint from the Hinchey camp. It's not true that [Kemble] had been taken off the story.

WP: In that second Kemble story, Kemble describes an encounter between Hinchey and an unnamed Freeman correspondent in which Hinchey "brusquely declined to answer, dismissing the query as “bulls**t.” Was the unnamed corespondent Kemble, again, having another altercation with Hinchey?

TA: It was. It was Kemble.

WP: So this has happened before.

TA: You know, that incident happened. I stand by what I said in my statement, that I take it seriously if somebody puts a hand on a reporter. But I have to tell you, in my experience, it's not all that uncommon for there to be this kind of physical contact between a male politician and a male reporter. I have a reporter in my newsroom, Paul Kirby, who wrote the follow-up story about this incident, who says that this must have happened to him about two dozen times in his career. He's had the mayor of Kingston throw his own tape recorder at him. But the difference is, there's no video, so no one else sees it. I'm not minimizing it, but at the same time, the way this has played out says something about the way the internet has changed the way consumers of news perceive the interplay between the journalist and the people they cover. It has forced us into the uncomfortable position of being not just reporters of the news, but players in the news. All that Bill Kemble wanted to do was go back to doing this job. I can tell you, he was very frustrated by this whole thing, because he never wanted to make anything of it.

WP: So why did he tell Capital Tonight that Hinchey put his fingers around his neck?

TA: Because he was asked the question. He was asked. So, you know, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. We were getting pilloried on our website that we were covering it up. It doesn't make any sense. Why were we covering up an assault on our reporter? We were trying to make sure it was in fact a news story. The way it played out forced the issue, in any event. We had to write about it at that point, and we did, and we did it as responsibly as we could. We tried to talk to as many people as possible, and to give Hinchey's side an opportunity to respond. Like I said, you can't allow the people you cover to decide who covers them. Bill Kemble didn't do anything wrong in this exchange, regardless of how the congressman wants to characterize it. They tried to blame him for the congressman's actions. That's one of the reasons why I issued the statement over the weekend. I was dismayed to see how they tried to turn it around on him.

WP: Does Hinchey get mad when he sees any Freeman reporter coming, or just when he sees Kemble coming?

TA: I would say that he gives a frosty reception to anyone at the Freeman at this point.

WP: Have you seen him recently?

TA: I saw him a couple of months ago on the street. He hesitated for a second, he waved at my wife, he looked at me for a second and then he walked on.

WP: Ironically, your reportage about the Partition Project hasn't gone viral itself. Would you say that the Freeman's reporting on that issue has had any impact?

TA: I don't think so. What we did was, we tried to take a look at the relationship between [Hinchey's] own financial interest and his work as a congressman. And we did the best that we could. We looked at it as closely as we could using as many sources as we could under the circumstances. He stopped cooperating early in the process. He stopped answering questions. You know, from my view, the reporting on the Partition Street Project was an evenhanded as we could make it, and as exhaustive as we could make it. But ultimately, as a reader, I'd have to say it was inconclusive. But we put it out there, because we think the reader has to make up his own mind. But for some reason, Mr. Hinchey continues to insist that we made numerous false allegations that he says they have proven are false. We correct mistakes, but there's been nothing that he has proven to be false. All we did was step our way through it as best we could to arrive at an inconclusive article that was our best effort at explaining the relationship between his real estate interest and his work as congressman.

WP: The Freeman is sometimes described as a "right-wing" newspaper. How does that play into this incident?

TA: Where did you hear that? You know, I heard that for the first time in a New York Times column last week. It was some amusement to me. At least half of our readers would disagree with that characterization. I'm now in my twenty-fourth year at the Freeman. Over those twenty-four years, Maurice Hinchey has run for office every two years. To my knowledge, there has not been an election where he has not been endorsed by the Freeman. Now, that's not the news side. But I'm on the editorial board, and while I haven't gone back and checked, as far as I can recall, I don't believe that we've ever endorsed anyone running against him.

WP: Has the Freeman made an endorsement this election season yet?

TA: Not yet.

WP: Can it make an endorsement in the wake of this incident?

TA: Again, you cannot allow the people you write about to determine what you do. You can't do it in terms of assigning reporters, and you can't do it with endorsements. You just have to do your best.

Below, Tony Adamis' statement on the Kemble-Hinchey incident:

There was an incident. Mr. Kemble says the congressman put a hand on his neck. A third party who witnessed the incident says he did not see that, but did see the congressman jabbing Mr. Kemble in the chest with his finger. Yet another witness says Kemble was pushed into the path of another person by the congressman.

For his part, Mr. Kemble views the incident as an unwanted distraction to his work.

However, as managing editor, I take seriously the issue of anyone, including a congressman, putting their hand on or jabbing with a finger a reporter who is simply doing his job.

Further, the Hinchey camp’s characterizations of the incident as either prompted by aggressive action by Mr. Kemble or by false accusations they claim he and the Freeman have made are untrue.

First, the videotape of the questioning of Mr. Hinchey clearly shows that while Kemble was persistent, he was professional and even in tone, while it was Hinchey who lost his composure. The congressman should own up to what everyone can see.

Second, the specific question that Mr. Kemble was asking prior to the incident and which apparently provoked the congressman involves Hinchey’s real estate interest in a commercial Saugerties development which was referenced in a congressional disclosure form for funding of a Hudson River ferry project. To our knowledge, Congressman Hinchey has never answered questions about that connection, which is why Mr. Kemble was posing the question to him.

We stand by our reporting on federal funding to an area Mr. Hinchey represents . We have made no false allegations nor has Mr. Hinchey proven once, never mind “numerous times,” that any of our reporting was false.

Readers may judge for themselves. The stories are posted online at:
— “Hinchey tops in local pork,” May 18,
— “Hinchey stresses his lack of involvement in Saugerties development,” May 21,
— “Hinchey misstated use of federal grant for Saugerties,” May 21 —

Finally, Mr. Hinchey has made a practice of not answering questions about his financial connections to projects benefitting from federal grants. He stopped cooperating early in the process with our investigation into the connection between his advocacy of federal grants and his own financial interests. His brushoff of questions from Mr. Kemble on Oct. 14 was simply the latest instance of his unresponsiveness.