What a Freedom of Information Request Tells about NYPost, NYDaily News Repo

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iMediaEthics fact checked the NYPost's and NYDaily News' stories against the report by the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the NYC School District. (Credit: NYCSCI.org, screenshot)

The New York Daily News and New York Post had conflicting reports about a teacher and her alleged affair with a student, as iMediaEthics wrote earlier this week. Namely, the daily tabloids couldn’t agree on the age of the student,  with the Daily News reporting he was 18 and the Post reporting he was 17.

According to the Daily News’ report, its sole listed source was a freedom of information request for an investigation into the teacher, Felicia Barahona, and the alleged affair. So, iMediaEthics filed a request for the document too and received a redacted copy of Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon’s report.  FOIA Officer for the Special Commissioner of Investigation Ann Ryan told iMediaEthics by phone that besides us, the only news outlets to request a copy of the report were the Daily News, the New York Post, the Riverdale Press and Univision.

The redacted document didn’t reveal the student’s name, what subject or subjects Barahona taught, her status as a veteran or her income, all which the Daily News reported. Unless you obtained the report yourself as a reader, and then carefully compared it to the Daily News report, you would not know that information wasn’t revealed in the Department of Education report, but by unidentified sources.

And, the report didn’t officially give us confirmation of whether the student was 17 or 18 years old because his age was redacted. While iMediaEthics appealed the FOIA seeking the student’s age, that appeal was rejected on grounds of privacy.  Appeals Officer Regina A. Loughran noted in her rejection letter that no media outlet was given an un-redacted report, writing:

“The Barahona report had been redacted before your request for it and any person who requested it before you did receive the same report as will anyone who requests it after you received it.”

But, iMediaEthics has inferred that the student was 18 and the Daily News was correct in reporting the student was 18.

Why? The report referenced the boy being “an [redacted] year-old male student” at a high school. Unless the report has a grammatical error, the only logical number to fill in the spot would be 18.  Eighteen is the only number that justiifes the use of an “an” as all other possible ages are excluded — 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20.

With that caveat: Since the investigation began in the spring of 2012, the relationship began in the fall of 2011, and the student’s birthday was in the fall of 2011, logically, the student was 18 when the relationship happened.

The report also provided a slightly different version of events from the stories provided by the two New York City tabloids. For example, the Daily News reported that the student moved in with Barahona and she bought wedding rings:

“‘The relationship started during fall 2011 and quickly escalated into a sex-fest where the couple had intimate encounters ‘about five times a week, on weekdays and on weekends,’ the report said.”

The actual report provided the teacher’s side of the story, which the Daily News left out, and a less sensational account of events without any tabloid twist.  The report said Barahona said the student lived “with her for about four or five days,” that “she was in love with” him, “that they planned to marry,” and that “in total, she had sexual intercourse with” the student “about 12 times.”

And, about that whole moving in together thing.  The New York Post reported that the student “tried to do the right thing by moving in with her to help prep for their baby,” but the report indicated he moved in because “he was having problems with [redacted].”

The New York Post highlighted that the relationship came to an end “at least partly because” the student was busted for drinking underage in her house. But, Barahona told the investigators that the student “made an inappropriate comment about her daughter,” had been “arguing with her mother because he had been drinking alcohol,” and “wanted to take the baby to [redacted] to visit his family members.”

Further, where the New York Post reported:

“Investigators said Barahona had been calculating in seducing her student— waiting for him to turn 17, the legal age of consent, before bedding him.”

The report didn’t say that exactly, but did say that Barahona “was very conscious of” his age the first time they had sex.

Research Contributions by Pat Shannon.


UPDATE: 3/15/2013 8:48 PM EST: Check out the redacted report.

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What a Freedom of Information Request Reveals about NYPost, NYDaily News Reporting

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