WHYY has positioned itself as a leading reporting outlet on the Central Bucks School District and all of the supposed tumult surrounding the 2021 election of a Republican-majority board. The organization has reported on some of the most minor developments, most of which helped suggest the district was in chaos and that brownshirts were roaming the halls throwing students and teachers in jail. 

But when the news doesn’t suit the narrative, all of a sudden it’s radio silence from the local PBS-member station.

Reporter Emily Rizzo has been WHYY’s voice for the goings-on at CBSD and has cast an extremely critical eye on anything the board has done, while remaining completely credulous about anything its opponents have had to say. At times, she did not even appear to attempt to contact the board for comment when writing about it, a breach of objectivity that makes it hard to fully trust her reporting. (Rizzo denied that she failed to reach out to the board for comment.)

READ MORE — A Central Bucks parent: Truth can lead the way to heal our divided district

Although Rizzo’s beat is Montgomery and Bucks counties, her bio page shows that over the last year, a quarter of her output has been focused on the Central Bucks School District — a staggering number, quite frankly, considering all the potential news when combining the third and fourth most populous counties in the commonwealth. The sheer volume and concentration of stories on Central Bucks over the last year shows this has been her top priority, and WHYY either accommodated it or encouraged it.

When the teacher at the heart of the controversy, Andrew Burgess, filed suit earlier this month against the district with the help of ACLU lawyers, Rizzo reported on it the same day it was filed.

What happened on Thursday, April 20 was one of the key developments since Burgess was suspended nearly one year ago. Yet well over a week passed — six full business days! two full weekends! — before a published report from Rizzo could be found, even though she was in attendance that night.

Broad + Liberty sent an email to Rizzo and her editors early Monday morning — a time when still no story had been published — inquiring about the sudden dearth of reporting, asking that comment be returned by 5 p.m. Monday evening.

Sometime around 4 p.m. Monday afternoon, WHYY finally published a story on the investigation, headlined, “Duane Morris’ investigation into Central Bucks finds no discrimination against LGBTQ students.”

The investigation’s findings highlighted damning information, including Burgess’s own sworn testimony that he did not report some bullying of an LGBT student to district administration. Other evidence showed teachers and administrators at the school proactively monitoring and inquiring about the status of some LGBT students, evidence directly contradicting the broader narrative that CBSD was intentionally and systemically hostile to LGBT students.

“First and foremost, I want to thank you for bringing this matter to our attention,” WHYY Editorial Director Jamila Bey wrote back to us. “As a news organization, we strive to provide comprehensive and unbiased coverage of important issues affecting our community. It’s crucial that we remain accountable for our reporting, and we genuinely appreciate feedback that helps us to maintain the highest standards.”

Bey’s email did not say WHYY issued a news report in direct response to our inquiry, but… 

The Inquirer has not covered itself in glory in this episode either, although our criticisms there are more aimed at the paper’s editorial board than its reporters.

When the news doesn’t suit the narrative, all of a sudden it’s radio silence from the local PBS-member station.

Regular readers of Broad + Liberty will remember the Inquirer’s editorial board in December published a blistering piece critical of the district. We said it lacked journalistic skepticism, was hasty in its condemnation, and that the editorial board lost its cool when claiming the district was on a “crusade” against LGBT students, going so far as to call for the current board majority to be replaced “immediately.”

Setting Burgess’s actions aside temporarily, the Duane Morris report showed several pieces of evidence in which Lenape Middle School Principal Geanine Saullo was actively on the lookout for harassing and bullying students, and also tried to protect the student who seems to have been the focus of attention.

More evidence showed that a harasser of LGBT students had his cafeteria privileges revoked temporarily, and that a teacher asked the vice principal to keep an extra-careful eye out for the well being of LGBT students when that particular harasser was set to return to the cafeteria.

Saullo worried that she was hearing rumors of bullying but that reports were not hitting her desk. When the mother of “Student 1” called but did not leave contact information, Saullo used Caller ID to track the mother down and got her to open up about her concerns.

Saullo specifically wrote to Burgess, “Please encourage [Student 1] to bring things to our attention. I would hate to see suffering in silence.”

We will not claim that the report delivers incontrovertible conclusions, but this evidence does cast serious doubt on the Inquirer’s assertion that the district was on a “crusade” against LGBT students.

For all her apparent conscientiousness, Saullo has been attacked by rabble rousers like Keith Olberman, as if one needed more evidence that the CBSD affair had become unhinged because of the political narrative.

Meanwhile, the Inquirer appears to have been in that crowd of persons and entities who “pulled the fire alarm and are now complaining that the fire engines showed up,” as one editorialist recently put it. Said another way, they were first vexed at the allegations, then had the sanctimonious brass to complain that the allegations were being investigated, an attitude they laundered under the guise of fretting over how much the investigation was going to cost.

The Duane Morris report was packed with raw evidence: emails, notes, interviews, the sworn interview with Burgess, as well as unsworn interviews with dozens of others.

As the largest news outlet in the state, the Inquirer editorial board owes the district an apology. If not that, it at least owes a follow-up editorial — but either way, intellectual honesty demands that the editorial board account for whether it still fully stands behind its December editorial now that the other side of the story is out.

Emails to members of the Inquirer editorial team requesting comment were not returned.

Broad + Liberty is a nonprofit media endeavor dedicated to sharing voices and stories that are shut out of other media outlets. @broadandliberty

10 thoughts on “From the Editors: WHYY now? Outlet ends days of radio silence after Broad + Liberty inquiry”

  1. Thank you for taking the time to document both the press’ behavior, and their corresponding cognitive bias of favoring information that conforms to their deeply religious-like beliefs and discounting evidence that does not conform.
    The newsrooms are full of radical zealots embracing illogical and provably false ideas to keep the middle class dazed and fighting amongst ourselves. They seek a war between men and women, cling to the idea of destroying a mythical “patriarchy” (its partly why they hated Trump so much) and seek to destroy the idea of any binary system – there is no objective truth. Everything, even including gender must be shades of grey. If you dare point out their stupidity (ineffective and illogical Covid policies, career criminals let loose to eventually murder, constant degrading of public education, etc.) they do their best to try and censor or cancel you.

  2. I remember when PBS began. It showed much promise with opera and symphony presentations, under the radar sports events and superb drama (a la Masterpiece Theatre) and great entertainment such as Dr. Who, Monty Python, The Avengers, and The Prisoner. Then it turned Left and became a way to showcase dreck masquerading as avant-garde theatre, push political propaganda and disingenuous, misleading news. That is where it is today, a failed promise to the American people.

  3. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

    This is why nobody takes biased right-wing outlets like b&l seriously anymore. Especially after the (latest) Fox News fiasco (which I notice B+L never reported on). At least WHYY did report on this story eventually. Would you really like a laundry list of items that B+L reported on ad nauseam before mysteriously “forgetting all about” and NEVER touching again? Are you going to be as ethical as WHYY and eventually follow up on any of this stuff or… nah?

    Let’s start with all those articles about how terrible it was that Michael Zabel wasn’t resigning or facing consequences from Dems. Except then he resigned under Democratic pressure despite risking the House majority. Yet not a single word written in this outlet about Dems holding their own responsible for ALLEGED crimes.
    And CERTAINLY not a word about the credible rape allegations we’re now hearing in court against Dear Leader, who bragged openly about forcibly grabbing womens’ genitals and getting away with it. And not a word about grifter and liar Republican George Santos facing zero consequences by the House GOP because they have such a thin majority.

    How about all the virtue signalling about “free speech” and “social media censorship” which all of a sudden ended when Musk took over Twitter and started censoring and cancelling the “right people”. Sometimes for things as simple as publishing publicly available data.

    How about all those articles from WAAAAAY back (a few years ago) about academic freedom and how classrooms shouldn’t be safe spaces where peoples’ political opinions are never challenged? Why you don’t hear that narrative anymore from the Regressive Right? I’m sure it has nothing to do with their radical crusade to censor textbooks that mention simple facts like that Rosa Parks was black. Seriously, they did this in FL. Apparently that basic historical fact is too “woke”. (i.e. would offend right-wing snowflakes).

    Or what about teachers being fired by private institutions for inflammatory tweets they made? Or cancel culture? Yet not a word about the teacher in Iowa being told by his superintendent that he couldn’t publicly say that “slavery was wrong” without losing his job because of a new Republican law? Give me a break.

    https://www.thefire.org/news/florida-just-doubled-down-stop-woke-act-and-new-bill-just-unconstitutional – This is FIRE, mind you. Pretty much as far from a “woke” group as you can get but will probably be attacked by commenters anyway since Right-wing Regressives can never actually address an argument on its content.

    1. Bro is mad because a Philly area website never commented on a story about textbooks in Florida. Get real!

  4. A lawyer once said: When you have the facts, present the facts, when you don’t have facts, bang on the table and raise your voice. Or, as I learned in a career of dealing with people and facts, “Bollocks will always baffle the brain.” The issue is WHYY in a specific circumstance, not who can create a laundry list of items that are not relevant but provide a chance at “gotcha.” Stay with the issue and not try to deflect it. It is like a child when out of arguments saying: ” ’cause you’re a poopy head.”

  5. Thanks for your work. I donated monthly to NPR for decades. Last year, I switched my monthly donation to Broad and Liberty.

  6. WHYY has been attacking Central Bucks school district since COVID. WHYY is responsible for helping to keep kids out of school. They are a toxic organization. Emily Rizzo prints totally false information.

  7. WHYY does not deserve public funding. For too long the tax paying public has been forced into sponsoring their propaganda. If they cannot survive through viewer membership, like any other subscription-based media outlet, they should fold. WHYY and NPR have always been biased, incomplete, and incendiary in their coverage, but lately it has gotten much worse. Thank you Broad and Liberty for your reporting on this matter. What a disgrace that CBSD had to waste their money in such a non-educational manner.

  8. Some very good newspapers like cable news outlets are becoming slanted to the Left or maybe just over-sensitive to the gender, race, or ethnicity of their reporters. The LNP out of Lancaster is one very good regional rag that I saw being over-sensitive to one of their minority reporters. Maybe WHYY saw Emily Rizzo as a watchdog for progressive issues and gave her a long leash. Maybe they wanted to set her in the limelight. Maybe they became over-protective of their future progressive asset. Maybe they saw her as a future MSNBC icon.

    Recently, I wrote a Letter to the Editor of the LNP claiming a reporter, a young Latina reporter, had written misinformation about the county’s equity report. She indicated that according to the report the future quality of life of minorities in Lancaster County would be affected negatively.

    I had read the county’s equity report. It was an objective report. I have to admit that anytime I hear the word equity especially on a government document I get a little skeptical. I was surprised by its objectivity.

    The equity report calculated that over the next twenty-years the proportional population of Blacks would remain about the same and the proportional population of Latinos would increase about five percent. The reporter’s conclusion was that according to the equity report, over the next twenty-years minorities would be disadvantaged because resources would be directed elsewhere. The equity report made no such statement. And, who would disadvantage Lancaster County minorities? The Amish Proud Boys or Mennonite Militia?

    For me, it sounded like the reporter was employing a reverse Replacement Theory. Had I been a reporter and reported that Blacks and Latinos would increase dramatically over the next twenty-years, and had I written that this increase would disadvantage Whites by redirecting resources, what conclusion would be drawn about my reporting? Biased? Maybe, racist?

    My letter was rejected but it must have struck a chord because I got a reply to my letter. Usually letter writers don’t get replies if they’re rejected. The statement I got back from the editor was, “Our reporter doesn’t write misinformation.” If the reporter had been been honest and written that more Whites disadvantaged Blacks and Latinos, which was how her writing was slanted, I wouldn’t have objected. That’s her opinion. But, that kind of writing is not a news report. That belongs on the editorial page.

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