Terry Boyd: The curious case of Curtis Morrison
Last night, I got emails from Ruby Cramer, a reporter at BuzzFeed.
Cramer wanted Curtis Morrison’s contact information.
All I could tell her is, “Curtis is no longer a contributor to Insider Louisville.”
Which is a shame.
Curtis has the makings of a solid reporter, under adult supervision.
Exceptional when it comes to getting public documents under the Freedom of Information Act, then squeezing out all the data and nuances on the way to documenting an important story.
Unfortunately, Curtis is also an overt and dedicated political activist, and you can’t be both at the same time at Insider Louisville.
It was my mistake to keep Curtis without an explicit guarantee he wouldn’t indulge in politics.
A painful lesson we’ll never repeat.
Curtis has been accused by Jefferson County Democratic Party Chairman Jacob Conway of secretly taping Sen. Mitch McConnell and his staff in a opposition research session, zeroing in on actress/activist Ashley Judd, who was considering challenging McConnell.
I’m happy to say that one came out of the blue.
We posted a story about the Mother Jones scoop unaware of any accusations.
Whoever made it, the tape ended up with Mother Jones’ David Corn, the same journalist who acquired video of the Mitt Romney “47 percent” speech at a Palm Beach GOP fundraiser.
That story contributed to Romney losing the November election to President Barack Obama.
Until I hear the facts from Curtis, I support him in the spirit of innocent until proven guilty. But his continued activism with Progress Kentucky, a liberal political action committee, is a non-starter here.
Losing Curtis is a loss for news consumers.
Unlike a lot of reporters in Louisville, he’s never had a retraction or major correction even though he always takes on tough, complicated stories.
In the last three months, Curtis broke a number of stories that the rest of the media latched onto including the controversy over Sullivan University trying to purchase property at historic Farmington through board members with conflicts of interest.
He also reported in depth on the Bauer property dispute.
In both cases, I got emails from skeptical developers, who told me “Curtis is a preservationist!” then conceded Curtis’ reporting was accurate and fair to both sides.
During the past two years, Curtis broke major story after major story including that Metropolitan Sewer District had “invested” in complex derivatives called “floating-to-fixed interest rate swaps.” That investment has led to a $100 million “notional” loss – an unbooked loss that will stay with MSD for years – because MSD used a hedging tool to bet interest rates would rise.
While other reporters depend on news releases, Curtis reports the old fashioned way – he spends days and nights combing through hundreds of pages of dry financial and legal documents.
This week, he reported on an internal Metro Government audit that found problems at the Louisville Zoo and Metro Council, a post he filed at 3:30 in the morning.
I stand by his methodology, but not his Jekyll and Hyde dance between activism and journalism.
Full disclosure: Curtis and I are often at odds over politics, which isn’t unusual at news operations.
I’m a middle-of-the-road guy, and I abhor political extremes. As an ethnic Jew, I know one essential truth: When you’ve gotten rid of the Nazis, don’t be surprised if the Bolsheviks turn out to be just as bad.
It’s a complete journalistic vanity that reporters are unbiased. At least 90 percent of journos in this town have political beliefs that align with Curtis’s. So at IL, we try to balance out our biases by reaching across the political spectrum.
IL has had guest contributors from left and right including former GOP gubernatorial candidate Phil Moffitt and Jim Waters, president of the conservative Bluegrass Institute.
Our staffers and regular contributors range from vaguely liberal to moderately conservative Christian evangelicals.
My advice to Curtis always was and always will be, “You can reach more people through thoughtful and fair reporting than through activism.”