There were no winners in last week's WW reader photo quiz, least of all The Oregonian's Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tom Hallman Jr.
Last week, we asked readers (see “Where There's Smoke, There's a Contest,” WW, Feb. 28, 2007) to look at photos of this car and its license plate (reprinted here) and answer the following questions:
1. Who owns the gray 1992 Cadillac?
2. What's the significance of the “SMKE” license plate?
3. Where's the car parked (in the photos and on most business days)?
4. What's the significance of the parking space?
Well, here are the answers:
1. The car belongs to Hallman.
2. The personalized license plate alludes to a line in Hallman's Pulitzer-winning profile of Sam Lightner, the 2000 series “The Boy Behind the Mask,” describing how the facially disfigured teenager “moves like smoke.”
3. For some time, Hallman has been parking his Caddy at no charge at 1410 SW Jefferson St., headquarters of Fog Cutter Capital (seven blocks west of The Oregonian's offices).
4. The significance of this is that Fog Cutter's CEO is Andy Wiederhorn, the entrepreneurial wunderkind whom Hallman profiled glowingly in a piece titled “The $100 Million Dad.” Hallman followed up in 1999 with a seven-part series detailing the challenges Wiederhorn faced as his empire collapsed. Then in 2004, Wiederhorn pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return and paying an illegal gratuity, charges stemming from an investigation into the largest pension-fund fraud in U.S. history.
We sent Hallman and Oregonian executive editor Peter Bhatia written questions asking whether they thought it was appropriate for the reporter to park his car in a spot owned by Wiederhorn's company. Neither man responded. But apparently management at the daily has since taken action.
According to sources and an email sent Monday by Oregonian Editor Sandra Mims Rowe to staff, Hallman faces multiple punishments.
The reporter has been suspended two weeks without pay, his senior reporter's salary (estimated by one newsroom insider to be $90,000, or about $12,000 more than top scale for an average reporter) is frozen, and he will be moved from the paper's plum-assignment enterprise team to a less prestigious, still-to-be-determined beat.
Hallman was also told that he can't represent the paper in public forums for the foreseeable future and must undergo ethics training with managing editor Therese Bottomly. And Hallman must repay Wiederhorn $500 for use of the parking space, even though Wiederhorn doesn't charge for spaces in the lot.
“As most of you have heard, we took a series of disciplinary steps last week involving Tom Hallman. Tom had accepted an offer from Andy Wiederhorn last year to park in the lot at his Goose Hollow offices,” Rowe wrote.
“Tom did so over a period of months. Tom has acknowledged that accepting this offer was a serious ethical breach, given Wiederhorn's controversial past, the fact he continues to be in the news and because Tom did a series on Wiederhorn eight years ago,” Rowe added. “At the time, it didn't occur to him this would be a problem, as he no longer reports on Wiederhorn or had any plans to do so in the future. Tom acknowledges his failure in judgment, is extremely contrite, has apologized repeatedly and deeply regrets any impact this may have on the paper.”
Rowe also wrote: “Tom is a loyal and talented 26-year employee whose work at The Oregonian has established his place with readers as well as among journalism's best narrative writers. This does not change. When he returns we will welcome him back and support him, just as this newsroom does when any of our colleagues face personal or professional difficulties.” (To read Rowe's entire email, click here