Today the Fargo Forum picks up some of my reporting on a controversial rail delays report requested from North Dakota State University by Senator Heidi Heitkamp, but they completely miss the most important detail in the story and they allow spin to stand for fact.
For instance, the Forum report states that NDSU professor Frayne Olson’s problem with the report was that it “was reported in the national news media as an official NDSU report, when it was only a preliminary estimate.” But that’s not really true. It wasn’t that the media was touting the report as official. It was that the report itself was inaccurate. And you don’t have to take my word for it. NDSU admitted as much in a May 14 letter to Senator Heitkamp signed by Olson himself:
And Olson himself seemed to have no problem touting this as a study. He appeared on television with Chris Berg discussing the “study” just days after it was released. Yet we’re supposed to believe he was concerned about a mere preliminary analysis being touted as an official NDSU study?
He seemed to have no problem doing that himself.
But much more important than that is Senator Heitkamp continuing to use the study – for months! – after NDSU told her they were withdrawing it. Nowhere does the Forum report mention this fact, which I laid out in a timeline based on emails from an open records request last week.
Senator Heitkamp’s office was told on May 14th that the study was being withdrawn. That same day a Heitkamp staffer insisted that the numbers couldn’t be “taken back,” and then Heitkamp’s office continued to push the study to the media (where it was widely reported) until early September.
That’s the story in all of this. A U.S. Senator, more concerned with inserting herself into the headlines than with accuracy and responsible policy making, jeopardized her own credibility and the credibility of one of North Dakota’s universities by using a study her office had been told – repeatedly – was flawed and withdrawn.
Somebody should ask Senator Heitkamp why her office was so cavalier with the facts, and NDSU’s reputation.
I’ve tried. Her office doesn’t respond to my questions.