Corrections & Amplifications
Investment firm Fairfield Greenwich Group said it hasn’t had any dealings with a Chicago-based charity called December Rain. A Jan. 20 Deals & Deal Makers article said that investors of the firm sold inaugural-event tickets to December Rain, but the Journal didn’t reach any Fairfield Greenwich investors or the firm for comment before the article was published. The Journal can’t verify that December Rain paid investors, whom the charity declined to name, for the tickets. December Rain did auction off what it said were inaugural tickets and promised winners access to inaugural events sponsored by political organizations and lobbying groups. However, some of those organizations, including the Democratic National Committee, the American Medical Association and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, deny that they held the events promoted by December Rain. Paul Saulnier, the executive director of December Rain, whom the Journal incorrectly identified as Philip Schein in the article, said Tuesday that he stepped down from the organization. He didn’t return calls and emails Wednesday, and he didn’t put the Journal in touch with his lawyer, as he offered.

The reason? The support for the assertion that Fairfield Greenwich was in any way involved rested on Saulnier alone, and other claims he made could not be independently verified. His refusal to return phone calls impaired whatever credibility he may have had, considering, remember, that he was the one who reneged on the bargain.

Fairfield Greenwich’s connection to December Rain disappeared with Saulnier.

For his part, Howry, the Star’s’s editor, defends his paper’s decision-making in publishing and in declining to run a correction.

He says that in reporting the story, the paper was mediating between competing claims, as newspapers often do, and that the proper course was to include all the known facts and let both sides have their say.

“We’re sitting here in limbo, trying to report it as best we can,” he says. “You can only go so far.”

Upon hearing Saulnier’s accusation, Howry said, the paper did all its could to vet December Rain, including pulling its public tax records, and found nothing untoward. He said the paper took the extra step of holding the story for a day and a half while waiting for a response from Fairfield Greenwich, which issued a two-sentence statement, but provided no background or context.

“Had December Rain had a spotty past, had we found problems, would we have gone ahead? Heaven sakes, no,” Howry says.

He says that by reporting that Saulnier couldn’t later be reached and that his group had suspended operations, the paper gave readers enough information to decide whom between the two sides to believe.

“A reasonable person would assume that with Fairfield Greenwich’s denial, and suddenly this guy disappeared, who are you going to think is the guilty party?” he says.

He says the Star and the Journal faced different situations since the Journal never called Fairfield Greenwich, and the Star did.

Still, Howy concedes that the headline is wrong. “There should probably be a clarification in terms of that headline. In terms of the text, there’s nothing to correct there.”

He says the story is not over, and that the paper is still trying to find out the truth.

“It continues to unfold, you continue to try to find the truth, and you try to do it as honestly as you can,” he says. “With any daily newspaper. If we had to nail everything down to the last detail, we’d never have anything to print.”

December Rain’s phone still has the same message, though its website is up and running
including the page that takes your credit card for donations. I’d say hold off on that.

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014).

Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.