The Story Behind Broken Trust
by Randall Roth
This document was circulated at the October 1999 meeting of the Honolulu Community Media Council.
Sometime in early June of 1997, I began planning for a series of Price of Paradise radio shows about the Bishop Estate. In addition to the radio broadcasts, there would be a lengthy essay. I wasn’t sure at that time who would actually write it. It seemed likely that I’d do it myself or with someone, but I was open to the possibility that I would just provide information to someone else who would do the actual writing. Regardless of the author(s) ended up being, I expected to publish it in a Sunday focus section of The Advertiser, as had been done with nearly 150 pieces previously submitted on my own behalf or on behalf of radio-show guests. I had worked with The Advertiser’s editorial-page editor Jerry Burris on virtually all of those.
I met with Burris on the 12th of June to let him know that I was putting together an essay that would be very critical of the Bishop Estate trustees, and that they or others criticized in the essay surely would not like it one bit. I added that this piece could conceivably result in a lawsuit. Without making any promises, he indicated that The Advertiser probably would be willing to support my efforts and publish the final product. On several occasions during the next three weeks, I showed Burris copies of my interview notes and described to him the various themes that were emerging.
On July 9, Burris and I met over lunch at the newspaper building to discuss my first draft of the article. He said he liked it, but added that anything this controversial would have to be approved by the paper’s editor, Jim Gatti. He also explained that people mentioned in the article would have to be contacted prior to publication, to get a reaction. I told him that was fine with me. At his request, I prepared a list of questions they might be asked of the people named in the essay.
At about the same time, I asked judge Sam King to critique my draft. He had been one of nearly three dozen people that I had interviewed over the preceding month. Sam’s reaction to the draft was positive, but he shared two concerns. He wanted me to fully appreciate that it could effectively paint a target on me, and he questioned whether the essay would be all that effective. As he put it, “I’m not sure a haole doing this on his own will accomplish anything.”
Not expecting anything but a laugh — after all, he was a sitting federal judge — I asked if he would consider co-authoring it with me. He paused for a second or two and then said, “Yes, but only if it’s ok with my wife.”
As Sam probably expected, his wife Anne, a fan of The Price of Paradise Radio Show, was totally supportive. But the two of them and my wife Susie and I agreed that it would be even better if we could recruit several more co-authors. We wanted people who were highly regarded, especially in the Hawaiian community, and whose backgrounds gave them added credibility on matters relating to the Bishop Estate.
The first name that came to our minds was Gladys Brandt. She had been Principal of the Kamehameha School for Girls and Director of Secondary Education for decades. Plus, she had chaired a blue-ribbon trustee-selection committee that had bumped heads with the justices three years earlier. Like Sam, she had been one of my earlier sources.
The next morning, I was seated at her dining room table, watching quietly as she read the draft. After reading quietly for 10 minutes or so, she looked up and said, “You say that Sam King is with you on this?” I said “Yes,” and she replied, “Then count me in.
I then told her that ideally we’d add another person or two, and she immediately said, “wait a minute, let me call Monsignor Kekumano.” Monsignor, a retired Catholic priest, was head trustee of the Queen Liliuokalani Childrens Trust and had served on the blue-ribbon panel with Gladys. He generally liked the draft, but was concerned that it might not be a good time to lay such a bombshell on the public, that maybe we should wait until the situation on campus had been clarified. With Gladys’ encouragement, however, he agreed to join us.
As an aside, Monsignor periodically would reiterate his concerns about the timing. Whenever he would do this, Gladys would put her hand on my arm and whisper, “don?t worry you just leave Monsignor to me.” Ironically, it was the Monsignor who eventually became most adamant about getting it published as soon as possible.
Walter Heen was invited to join us a few days later. He fit the general criteria and, during his years as a judge of the Intermediate Court of Appeals, he had worked closely with the justices of the Supreme Court. Plus, the fact that he was a high-profile Democrat would make it difficult for the trustees or the justices to discount the essay as being politically motivated.
When I told Walter that Sam, Gladys and Monsignor already had signed on, he immediately accepted the invitation.
To be honest, I expected the four of them to suggest a few minor changes here and there, but basically to go with my draft. Boy was I wrong. They put me and my draft through the wringer, and back again. As the draft kept changing, I felt like they were not just changing my baby’s personality, but cutting off fingers and toes.
Eventually, however, it was clear even to me that they had greatly improved it. Each of us ended up feeling essential to the final product, absolutely convinced that no one of us, working alone, could possibly have matched it.
Some day I’d like to write a book about the four of them and about the dynamics of our many working sessions. Being their teammate was the most stimulating and gratifying experience of my professional life, and I can?t begin to put into words just how fond I am of them.
While the five of us were constantly refining our essay, I was pushing as hard as I could to meet with Gatti. In fact, during the 19 days following Burris? statement that Gatti’s approval was essential, I called Burris on a daily basis, sometimes four or five times a day, trying to arrange a meeting with Gatti.
Midway through this period, Burris gave our latest draft to Gatti, described the credentials of its authors, and told him that the piece itself was sure to be “a blockbuster.” But according to Burns, Gatti didn’t even read it for days, and then, after only skimming it, said that he saw problems. As relayed by Bums, “it’s trying to be both journalism and opinion. If it’s e journalism, it can’t run as it is and if it’s an opinion piece, it can’t run as is.” Of course, this concerned us greatly.
Burris reassured me that everything could be worked out, but reiterated that the article had to be approved by Gatti, and that Gatti was simply too busy to meet until the following Monday, July 28. But on the morning of the 28th, Burris called to tell me that the meeting had to be be postponed until the next day, Tuesday the 29.” Then, on the morning of the 29th, Burris called again to say that Gatti couldn’t meet on that day either, and probably couldn’t meet on the next day, but for sure would be able to meet on Thursday, the 31st.
On the morning of the 31st, Burris called to say that Gatti could not meet on that day either, and that he wasn’t willing to make another appointment for any time that week. Burris listened patiently to my expressions of frustration and then scheduled a meeting with Gatti for Monday morning, August 4.
But when the 4th arrived, Burris called to say that Gatti would not be able to make the appointment and that we would have to reschedule. I responded by telling Burris that 1 would be down there in 15 minutes and that I would not leave the building until I had seen Gatti.
After waiting outside Gatti’s office and then in Burris’ office for a total of several hours Gatti appeared. Not bothering with pleasantries, he said I had 10 minutes. I explained as quickly as I could what we were trying to do and our reasons for wanting it published as soon as possible. Gatti said little and ended the meeting by saying that he needed two more days. I asked if he could possibly make that one day, and he responded by asking, “Am I being unreasonable here?” I wanted to say yes, but the tone of his voice suggested that answer wouldn’t help matters. So I said, “No, I’m the one who?s being unreasonable. Two days can work just fine.”
I went to the newspaper building two days later, expecting to meet with Gatti, only to have him tell me that he needed more time. He refused to set up an appointment, but said nothing when I told him that Sam King and I would be outside his door at 9 o’clock the next morning.
Sam and I showed up at Gatti’s office the next morning at 9, as promised. Burris had not yet arrived, but Gatti invited us in anyway. After brief pleasantries, he began the meeting by saying that he had read the draft carefully and was convinced that it was much too long; mostly contained information that already had appeared in The Advertiser; and that the rest of its content just repeated what he’d heard others say privately. If it was to be published, he said, we would have to convert it to “just an opinion piece.”
When I told him that we might be willing to limit what we wrote to just our opinions, but only if Burris or some reporter from The Advertiser wrote a companion lead story containing the background information that we had assembled, he emphatically stated that there would not be a lead story when our opinion piece ran, if it ran at all.
When I indicated that we might feel compelled to take it to the Star Bulletin, he said they had far fewer readers and that they would have the same problems with it that he had just identified. He added that it would take the folks at the Bulletin several weeks to get something like this published. After all, they would be starting from scratch.
Thinking he might be right, and not wanting to do damage to the longstanding working relationship between the Price of Paradise radio show and The Advertiser, I told Gatti that I was willing to continue working with The Advertiser a while longer. Gatti refused to promise a publication date, but agreed set August 17 as a target. Sam reluctantly said that would be okay with him, and I did too. I added that I would do my best to get an okay from Gladys, Walter and e Monsignor. I knew the three of them would not be happy to hear that all I had gotten from Gatti was a tentative agreement to publish a stripped-down “opinion piece” on August 17. But, I was surprised by how strongly Gladys and Monsignor reacted.
When they heard about Gatti’s comments, they insisted that I discontinue all efforts to work with The Advertiser, and that I immediately take the essay to the Star Bulletin. They were convinced that Gatti was giving us the runaround and that more problems lay ahead if we continued trying to work with him. They also felt that we simply couldn’t afford to dilly dally any longer. Over the preceding several days, Gladys and Monsignor had become convinced that Lokelani Lindsey was about to fire Kamehameha Schools President Michael Chun on trumped-up charges. They were convinced that our essay would prevent that, but only if it was published before Lindsey could take action.
At one point in our conversation, I explained to Gladys and Monsignor that taking the essay to the Bulletin could effectively end my relationship with The Advertiser. To my surprise, they didn?t hesitate for a second. “Take it to the Bulletin.”
Walter agreed. With this recommendation, though he didn’t seem to feel as strongly as did Gladys and Monsignor. When I reported this to Sam, he said, “Yeh, that makes sense. We’ve wasted enough time with Gatti already.”
The next morning, I met with the Star Bulletin’s editorial-page and managing editors, Diane Chang and David Shapiro, to see if they would be willing to publish it. They read it in front of me, then said they’d like to speak privately. I said that was fine, and stepped outside the office. Within 30 seconds, Chang emerged with a big grin and said it would be in tomorrow’s newspaper, Saturday, August 9, 1997.
I’ll never forget later that morning noticing Shapiro as he looked up from the copy he was editing. To no one in particular, he said “God, I love this job.” I also should add that it was the folks at the Bulletin who came up with the name, Broken Trust. In my opinion, that added a lot. The atmosphere around there that day was euphoric. The folks at the Bulletin realized immediately the significance of what they were putting into print. Three days later, Governor Cayetano called for an investigation of the trustees.
The August 17 Sunday Advertiser contained an expanded focus section filled with criticism of Broken Trust, including a full-column editorial that quoted liberally from lengthy critiques by trustee Dickie Wong and the justices. This enabled readers to read twice the justices’ description of Broken Trust as “unfounded reckless speculation,” and Dickie Wong’s accusation that we had “gone into the gutter making baseless and unprovable charges.”
There also was a long summary of Broken Trust that pointed out what The Advertiser described as flaws. Like the editorial, it repeated comments of Wong and the justices that appeared elsewhere in the same section. For example, it repeated the justices’ accusation that the Broken Trust authors had “wrongly impugned (their) integrity, honesty, ethics, intelligence, qualifications, competence, and professionalism.”
Finally, there was a long article by Gatti himself, entitled “Newspaper Values Must Prevail Over Ultimatums.” In it, he claimed that he chose not to publish Broken Trust partly because we had refused to let him first seek comments from the people who were criticized in it, which was untrue. He also incorrectly implied that we had given him only days, rather than weeks, to make his decision: “This is how the decision evolved over a four-day period. On Monday, August 4, I met briefly with one of the co-authors, University of Hawaii law professor Randall Roth, and he explained the premise and background of the article and left me a working copy.”
He also stated that the decision not to publish Broken Trust in The Advertiser was his and that it was based on his commitment to fairness: “I explained to the authors … my view that even published opinions of others demand an obligation of fairness by The Advertiser… (I had) questions very basic to how newspapers try to be fair and accurate, even if the subjects of our coverage are not in public favor.”
I’m all for fairness, but have to wonder about Gatti. He’s the one, after all, who wrote about an “obligation to seek comment from persons targeted for criticism,” describing this as “basic to how newspapers try to be fair and accurate.” Yet neither he nor anyone else at The Advertiser ever asked the Broken Trust authors to comment on the harsh criticism of the Broken Trust authors by Dickie Wong and the justices, not to mention The Advertiser itself. He didn’t ask before publishing them, and he didn’t ask later.
In fact, when we submitted written responses, they were rejected. A sympathetic Advertiser staffer told us right up front that our responses would never appear in The Advertiser, explaining it this way, “Mr. Gatti has decided that his will be the last word on this.”
Fortunately, the Star Bulletin later published the statements from Wong and the justices, along with our responses. To this day, people who read only The Advertiser, have no way of knowing about the many inaccuracies that appeared in that August 17 focus section.
People like Gatti will come and go. The point of my telling this story is not to single out one individual. Rather it illustrates the power of the press and the importance of alternatives. With the possible passage of the Star Bulletin, it is good for our community to consider the need for even greater vigilance on the part of each and every one of us.