Jun 6, 2006

Free Press Reexamines Wenzel, Tanber, and Coingate

(Toledo, OH) The new edition of the Toledo Free Press features some fine investigative work by Justin Kalmes and Tony Gonzalez on a variety of issues related to the Coingate, Fritz Wenzel, and George Tanber stories.

For readers unfamiliar with these scandals, here are links to information on Coingate, Wenzelgate, and Tanbergate.

Kalmes wrote the first article, entitled "Coingate book proposed," which examines a 20-page book proposal by GOP operatives Jon Stainbrook and Joe Kidd. I have been aware of this document for a short while, and had excerpts read to me, but have not yet obtained a copy. The article highlights some of the rumors floating around on the various Noe-related scandals when I worked on Wenzelgate last year (the Free Press and I decided to spike the story when no sources for these allegations would go on record).

Gonzalez interviewed Tanber and some key Blade administrators in an article entitled "Fired reporter Tanber responds to Blade internal investigation." This is a good overview of the various allegations of unethical behavior by Wenzel, and has some unflattering information about possible conflicts of interest involving Stainbrook's work as a freelance writer for the Blade.

The article also has a quote from Bernadette Noe, who said that the Blade did not contact her or her husband Tom for comment on Blade editor Dave Murray's partial exposé of information about Wenzel.

Gonzalez also examines a previously-undisclosed records request that the Blade made in August 2003 about Noe's coin dealings with the BWC. Blade executive editor Ron Royhab previously claimed that the paper began its Coingate investigations in January 2005.

Finally, a Free Press editorial puts this new information into perspective.

I am glad that this information has reached the general public, so that people can have a more complete picture of the various allegations of unethical and illegal behavior.

(full disclosure: historymike is a freelance writer whose work regularly appears in the Toledo Free Press)

Addendum, 7:43 pm: Judge James Jensen denied a motion for a temporary restraining order against the Toledo Free Press to prevent the publication of excerpts from a book proposal credited to Jon Stainbrook and Joe Kidd.


Anonymous said...

They all look like sleazebags, but especially Kidd and Stainbrook.

Why would the Blade hire Stainbrook to write for them? That is really stupid even if they didn't mean anything by it.

Brian said...


I am eagerly anticipating reading a copy of this tomorrow.

Congratulations to you, Tom Pounds, Michael Miller and all of the people who put out the Free Press. In just a little more than a year, you guys have created a pillar of journalistic integrity this community can be proud of.

historymike said...

It's a good read, Brian.

As for your kind remarks, Miller, Pounds, and a whole lot of other people deserve the credit, not me.

My role has been quite small, except to pitch and write the weird ideas that come to me.

The Free Press has been very tolerant of both my short attention span and my slightly-out-in-left-field mind.

Kate said...

hear, hear - congratulations. Not sure WHAT they're publishing but I cannot wait to get a copy!

Tomorrow's their publication date. Kroger carries this paper. Get one early or they'll be gone!

Anonymous said...

So, The Blade first looked into Coingate in 2003 but couldn't get the goods. And, now, it's been established without a doubt that Wenzel had the money laundering story - Coingate's Part 2 - in January, 2004 But he sat on it because he was in cahoots with the Noes for favors ranging from a GOP job for his son, to help launching his short-lived consulting business, Wenzel Strategies, to perhaps even payoffs. According to TFP's story on the Kidd/Stainbrook book proposal, Stainbrook tipped off Blade editors on the Noe investigation numerous times. Still missing is the when. This is key because if Blade editors knew about the investigation in mid to late 2004, and also knew Wenzel sat on the story, the question arises: Why didn't they do anything to Wenzel, who already was in hot water for at least one other ethics violation, according to TFP? If this proves true - and it's beginning to look as though it is - then an even larger question looms: Why didn't Blade editors inform their readers about what they knew and when, along with Wenzel's role in the mess?

Finally, Jack Lessenberry calls Wenzel a bad reporter but he never wrote a single word about his previous ethics violations, as he's obliged to do as the paper's ombudsman, I believe. It appears there's more information to be gleaned. As Professor Hartman told TFP, The Blade has an obligation to tell its readers everything it knows. We're waiting.

Anonymous said...

So, Mike, how are you going to like working for Kidd and Stainbrook? They'll own that paper before this is over.

I see Kidd has talked to WTOL (they have a story posted).

historymike said...

Anonymous #2:

Yes, the Blade left out at least a few important details in their attempt at self-flagellation. The question is, as you intimated: "WHY?"

historymike said...

Anonymous #3:

If Kidd and STainbrook are going to "own" the Free Press, they sure are off to a poor start.

Judge Jensen swatted them down in rapid fashion.

Anonymous said...

Jon Stainbrook is not the most credible person in the world. You have to take what he says with a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

So Stainbrook "tipped off the Blade"...

Considering his extreme lack of credibility for a considerable number of years, I'm not surprised that the Blade didn't follow up on his "tips."

historymike said...

The Blade found him credible enough to: a) hire him as a freelance writer; and b) write about his bid to become county GOP chair.

Anonymous said...

Kidd tipped off Wenzel. Stainbrook tipped off The Blade. So it seems they had the story two ways. History Mike raises another good point: what about the touting of Stainbrook's local GOP party chair campaign by the paper? Everyone here is portraying him as a loser, so what was that all about?

Anonymous said...

All these claims that Stainbrook has no credibility seem to fly in the face of the facts. If he told the Blade about the coin deals, he's obviously very credible. He knew something that needed exposure, and he made efforts to make that information public. Good for him. Maybe rather than knock Stainbrook's credibility, we should applaud him for getting the information to the public.

Historymike, surely you don't think the judge's decision has anything to do with the ultimate outcome of what is the real lawsuit. Have you ever been involved in a prior restraint case involving the press? Not much chance of prevailing there, but trying is an essential first step for a lawsuit that will make these guys newspaper owners.

I think your employer has disgraced itself and I am not someone who is at all anti-TFP.

historymike said...

Anonymous -

Never have been involved in a prior restraint case, and hope I never have to. Agreed, though, that one defeat is hardly the end of the legal process.

The one item I found particularly interesting was the comment attributed to Kidd that TFP had "nothing," yet Kidd and Stainbrook tenaciously clung to the "trade secrets" strategy.

If the proposal is indeed "nothing," why fight so vigorously for the court to impose an injunction?

As far as TFP "disgracing" itself, time will tell. I was not involved in the acquisition of the book proposal, or any other aspect of this story.

I did aggressively pursue this much of this story in the summer of 2005, but a mutual decision arose between TFP and I to spike my draft after no sources would go on record.

As far as Stainbrook: he was certainly in a position to know a great deal about the local GOP, the Blade, and the various marginal figures. I would be skeptical of the motives of any person or entity that attempts to dismiss him.

Some might say Jon is a bit flaky (heck, he might say that about himself), but anyone who has met him knows that he is an intense, driven political operative who should never be underestimated just because he used to have spiky blond hair as leader of punk band The Stain.

I remember seeing him in the mid-1990s at a GOP fundraiser at the old Gladieux hall on Laskey Road(yes, historymike was once a Jack Kemp devotee), and Jon had on this wild red-and-white striped jacket with an insane haircut. My first impression was that he was a lightweight.

Stainbrook, however, knows how the game is played and is not averse to bare-knuckles politics.

(note: historymike is not speaking in any way, shape, or form for TFP in this missive, nor is he currently working on any Wenzel-, Tanber-, or Noe-related work. He is merely an interested bystander with a bit of inside knowledge of the various scandals).

Anonymous said...

Stainbrook was a political operative, but never a major player - something he didn't like. He fell out of favor with the local gop after running against Kaczala...he wasn't involved enough to have "inside" knowledge after that. This is not a big secret.

He has and continues to do JR's bidding - they're old friends (also no big secret), so his freelance work and their promotion of him as gop chair comes as no surprise. The Blade has always wanted to control the party chairmen...

Anonymous said...

Historymike, that wasn't Kidd who said that about "nothing" ... it was Stainbrook, on TV, and it is taking him out of context to leave it at that. If you ever catch his full quote, you'll see that he said the proposal TFP has is nothing compared to what it has become, or words to that effect. I believe he said it doesn't hold a candle to what it grew to be. So he isn't saying their property isn't valuable; he's saying that the TFP's exposure of their intellectual property is not even giving a true portrayal of what they have to sell. If you think about it, they have a strong argument for claiming TFP UNsold their book, undermining their efforts to sell it.

I think they fought to keep it out of the paper because it's their proposal, not TFP's; it was obtained by TFP without their permission that it be distributed; the story they have to tell is uniquely theirs and its value dropped as soon as TFP decided to tell the world about it. If they had wanted that proposal to be public, they could have posted it on the net, but they chose not to. How dare TFP decide they have the right to do with that proposal what the owners chose not to do?

I really do think that when the next step of this drama plays out, TFP will greatly regret their actions. But I'm not a lawyer; I just play one when posting on blogs.

I agree with what you said about Stainbrook. He's a colorful character and it's a mistake to dismiss him as a lightweight. He knows where the bodies are buried. And who buried them. I look forward to reading his book.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Fine stories indeed!

Kudos to the TFP reporters, for their diligence in researching these stories.

Kate said...

You know, I can't wait to see next weeks Toledo Free Press. And that's saying something for me.

I'm hooked!

Anonymous said...

This June 7 piece in Cleveland Scene appears to undermine at least part of the Blade's defense and raises more questions about what editors knew and when. Further, it clearly tells you something about what kind of person Wenzel is:

Unfit for Print
Did The Toledo Blade sit on Coingate until after Bush won?
By Lisa Rab
Article Published Jun 7, 2006
For the past year, The Toledo Blade has been the Ohio Republican Party's worst enemy.
The newspaper broke the Coingate scandal -- the embarrassing revelation that the state lost at least $13 million in a botched investment in rare coins. Starting in April 2005, the paper wrote hundreds of articles dutifully chronicling each new development in the story. Along the way, Governor Taft, President Bush, and many key players in Columbus were tainted by their connections to Tom Noe, the Republican coin dealer at the center of the scandal.
When Taft admitted taking free golf trips with Noe, his political career took a nosedive. His approval rating hit a paltry 15 percent last fall, making him less popular than Nixon during Watergate. Last week, Noe pleaded guilty to felony charges for illegally funneling money to Bush's re-election campaign. He faces at least two years in prison and hefty fines.
Given all this coverage, no one could mistake The Blade for a right-leaning rag. Which is why it was so surprising when a Blade insider accused the paper of sitting on Coingate until after Bush got elected.
The claims first surfaced last summer, but gathered steam this March, in an anonymous letter sent to the board that was considering awarding the Coingate series a Pulitzer Prize. The letter claimed that a Blade politics reporter, Fritz Wenzel, had gotten a tip about Noe's money-laundering back in January 2004, yet hadn't pursued the story, because Noe was his friend.
Executive Editor Ron Royhab vigorously denies the charge, saying that The Blade broke the Noe story as soon as it was solid.
Still, the paper didn't win its Pulitzer. While the prize committee said the letter wasn't an influence, Blade editors knew it hadn't helped. So they launched an investigation into their own newsroom, hiring lawyers, private eyes, and computer experts to comb through e-mail files in search of the mole.
On May 23, veteran Blade reporter George Tanber stepped forward and admitted he wrote the letter. Two days later, he was fired.
But the questions he raised won't go away that easily.
George Tanber is a man who takes ethical conflicts seriously. Over his 14 years with The Blade, he complained about several of the newspaper's policies, from the datelines used to identify where stories are reported to edits that he thought favored the publisher's friend.
The focus of Tanber's Coingate complaint was Wenzel, who had spent nearly a decade at The Blade and covered politics during the 2004 election.
According to Tanber, Wenzel was a walking conflict of interests. Before coming to the paper in the mid-'90s, Wenzel had helped run Republican campaigns in Oregon. His conservative leanings were so well documented that the Lucas County Democratic Party dedicated an entire section of its website to bashing him. During his tenure at the paper, his son, P.J., was on the state and national Republican Party payrolls. In May 2005, Wenzel left The Blade to start his own political-consulting firm. Within days, he accepted thousands of dollars to do media work for Republican Jean Schmidt's campaign. (He has since left to become the communications chief for the Zogby polling company in New York.)
The most damning allegation against Wenzel is that he sat on a tip he got in January 2004 from Joe Kidd, a Republican insider and then director of the Lucas County Board of Elections. Kidd was feuding with Noe's wife, Bernadette, the chair of the local Republican Party, and looking to spill some dirt. He told Wenzel that Noe was illegally funneling money to the Bush campaign. But Wenzel never wrote a word of it.
"Had Wenzel or other Blade reporters broken the money-laundering story early in 2004, then the coin saga would have quickly followed," Tanber wrote in an e-mail to Scene. "That's the way investigative reporting works. Once it starts, it never stops until all the information comes out."
Wenzel claims that he didn't sit on the scoop, but he can't seem to recall exactly when he got it. He told The Blade it was in September 2004. Then he told Scene that the tip was "a common rumor in the newsroom" in the spring of 2004. Later, he recalled "it being a rumor throughout the year. Exactly when, I don't remember." He then urged Scene to refer to The Blade's timeline of events, because he "wasn't paying real close attention."
Executive Editor Royhab recalls a slightly different timeline. He says that Blade editors and reporters first heard the Noe rumors in the fall of 2004. But neither the FBI nor the secret federal grand jury investigating the scheme would confirm the story. The feds revealed their involvement only after The Blade reported Noe's rare-coin investments in April 2005.
"It's absurd [to suggest] that our newspaper knew about Coingate and held it, or that we knew about a secret federal grand jury and held that," Royhab protests.
Yet none of that explains why the paper let a former Republican operative cover politics in a swing state crucial to the 2004 election. Ten days ago, The Blade was forced to acknowledge many of Wenzel's glaring conflicts of interest. Wenzel even conceded that he had talked to Noe about the possibility of their doing consulting work together.
Royhab says he didn't know the extent of Wenzel's GOP ties at the time, but voices no regrets about hiring him. And he refused to say whether there were plans to change the paper's hiring policies to prevent employing political hacks -- or at least avoid conflicts of interest.
"You run into these kinds of things," Royhab says. "You can't control the world because you're a newspaper editor."
Given the natural corporate tendency to pick a fall guy, Royhab's loyalty to Wenzel is refreshing. But it gives no comfort to readers wondering whether the paper might make the same mistakes again.
Which is why, of late, The Blade has been its own worst enemy.

Berserker said...

I see somone found an obscure rag to print their nonsense.

Kate said...

"You run into these kinds of things," Royhab says. "You can't control the world because you're a newspaper editor."

Ok..seriously...did he actually say this?

In his head was he actually thinking 'but we can control what most of Toledo thinks' ?

Oh he should get serious.