Missoulian reporter too aggressive for sheriff’s office public information officer?

Missoula County (Montana) Sheriff’s Department public information officer Brenda Bassett claims Missoulian reporter Kate Haake has misquoted her colleagues, and “often fails to give us adequate times to respond to her inquiries and/or will try to contact multiple people within our office in an attempt to get more information than what she can legally be given. In the past, she was been quite successful at it.”

So, it appears she’s an aggressive reporter.

Bassett, a former TV reporter, claims in a memo that she’s struck a deal with Missoulian management that prohibits Haake from contacting sheriff’s office employees by phone. “Kate has been instructed by her editor, to send all questions via email to me.” (Bassett’s memo is here.)

That’s news to Missoulian editor Sherry Devlin. She tells Romenesko readers:/CONTINUES

The Missoulian has no such arrangement or agreement with the sheriff’s office.

They have made that demand and have attempted to have Kate removed from the beat because she asks questions that go beyond TV soundbites, and has covered both the sheriff’s critics as well as his supporters.

She remains our police and courts reporter and has my full support. Her stories have been and are fair, balanced and accurate. I have at no time agreed to their demands.

The problem is that there is a longstanding division in the sheriff’s department that has resulted in numerous lawsuits and human rights complaints between members of the department.

Our newspaper has aggressively covered those lawsuits and the controversy and its implications for law enforcement in Missoula.

Now the sheriff and his detractors within the department want to export their drama to the Missoulian and to discredit our reporter and newspaper. It is not going to work. We will continue moving forward with good solid journalism.

Haake says in an email that “I stand behind my stories.” I’ve asked Bassett to explain her “agreement” memo.

* Brenda Bassett’s memo about a “Missoulian agreement”

UPDATE – Bassett tells me she’s trying to establish good relations with the Missoulian again, and doesn’t want to respond to the editor’s email. However, the public information officer forwards this exchange.

From: Brenda Bassett
Sent: Friday, July 03, 2015 4:57 PM
To: Sherry Devlin; Sherry Devlin
Subject: Thursday Meeting


Thank you for meeting with me yesterday. I am hoping this plan can help us move forward, but so we have clear terms I want to write everything out.

As you know, the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, along with other local agencies, have had major concerns with Kate Haake’s reporting for quite some time. Among the many issues, staff within our department have been misquoted, had their words taken out of context or vital details of the story have been left out. Because of this, we would ask that moving forward all communication be through me. If Kate has specific questions she can send them to me via e-mail. I will work with the appropriate people in our office to compile answers to the questions that can be answered and send them back in written form via e-mail. We would request that Kate gets us the questions as early as possible so our staff has a reasonable amount of time to respond, and that she prioritize her questions.

Sheriff McDermott will be available for interviews when appropriate. We are committed to being transparent and would ask that you help us get the correct information to the public. We are willing to provide requested information so long as it doesn’t compromise a victim or an investigation.

Thank you for your help and I look forward to our next meeting.


The editor’s response the same day:

From: Sherry Devlin
To: Brenda Bassett
Date: Fri, 3 Jul 2015 17:22:14 -0600
Subject: RE: Thursday Meeting
Thank you, Brenda.
We’ll use this plan moving forward, and keep in close touch about its effectiveness.

Sherry Devlin, Editor

UPDATE 2: The editor says this was the plan she approved:

That Kate would come by her office each morning to check in with her just as she does with the city police information officer.
And that requests for interviews would come through her as they do with the police department spokesman and just as they do for all other media.