Tucson – Pima County spokesperson Nikki Reck ran interference for her boss, who stayed behind her closed office door. Animal Care Center Director Kristen Auerbach, refused to do a scheduled interview with News 4 Tucson. This after Reck sent an email to the news media saying that Auerbach would be available for interviews, inside the new $22 million taxpayer-funded facility. We assumed that meant all news media.
Auerbach, who makes $138,000 a year, wanted to talk about reducing euthanasia and placing a record number of pets. We planned to ask questions about that, along with follow-up questions to News 4 Tucson Investigators’ Sam Salzwedel’s recent report about three allegedly aggressive dogs that PACC released to the public. PACC officials are angry about that report.
After a seven-minute closed door meeting with Auerbach, Reck came out and told us, "We’re not doing an interview today." We replied, "But you agreed to an interview with KVOA and we’re from KVOA,"
Reck said, "If you have any questions, please contact Mark Evans (Pima County Public Communications Manager).
Reck explained that PACC expected another reporter from KVOA; that reporter was later sent out on breaking news.
Evans sent KVOA an email later in the day. Here it is, in its entirety:
Pima County statement about incident today at Pima Animal Care Center involving a reporter from KVOA
"Pima Animal Care Center sent out a press release this morning, Aug. 3, about a public safety report released by PACC Director of Animal Services Kristen Auerbach. The report shows no increase in reported dog and cat bites over the past five years despite thousands of more dogs and cats being saved every year due to PACC’s efforts to give every animal that comes through its doors a fair chance to live its best possible life.
KVOA reporter Stephanie Weaver asked for an interview with Kristen Auerbach at noon, which was granted. Weaver replied by email at 10:44 a.m. that she would “see you soon.”
About an hour later, KVOA reporter Matthew Schwartz arrived and told Auerbach and PACC PIO Nikki Reck that he was there instead and had questions in relation to a story that KVOA reporter Sam Salzwedel is researching.
Auerbach, through Reck, declined to be interviewed by Schwartz due to this “gotcha or bait-and-switch” style news reporting. Sam Salzwedel has admitted to being a dog bite victim and his reporting has been biased toward reporting that PACC endangers public safety by adopting animals with biting histories. Despite being provided information that shows PACC makes public safety its paramount objective, Salzwedel’s reporting has neglected to include this information. His reporting seeks to cast PACC in as negative of a light as possible even though the facts do not support his contentions.
Therefore, Pima County staff will not agree to on-camera interviews with Sam Salzwedel, or his reporting surrogates dispatched by KVOA.
Nevertheless, Pima County does have a responsibility to provide media accurate and factual information when requested.
Pima County can’t tell KVOA which reporters to use for its stories. But if that reporter has proven to be agenda driven and lacking objectivity, and KVOA’s actions, like those of today, are shown to be deceptive, the county has a right to take steps to ensure it is not deceived into participating in unethical and biased reporting. If KVOA submits questions to PACC staff about PACC operations, PACC and County Administration will prepare and return timely, accurate and factual information in response."
Mark B. Evans
Pima County Public Communications Manager
As is the industry standard, KVOA usually does not submit specific written questions to interviewees.
Meanwhile, the News 4 Tucson Investigators are working on another report on PACC, scheduled to air later this month.