Column – Vines shows true colors with attack on reporter
Published 5:30 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2022
Until last week, I considered Isle of Wight County School Board member Michael Vines to be an unimportant side show — loose-lipped, quick-tempered and beleaguered, but mostly well-intentioned and undeserving of recall from public office, as his critics have sought.
Then came Thursday night’s School Board meeting, where Vines revealed a deeper flaw and rendered himself, in these eyes, unworthy of elected service to the important cause of public education in this community.
Vines’ attack on the integrity of this newspaper — and one of Virginia’s best journalists, Stephen Faleski — might rate as the most shameful act by a public official I’ve ever witnessed. And, in four decades of editing and publishing community newspapers, let’s just say I’ve seen some doozies.
Under the glare of the political spotlight and the prospect of a defamation lawsuit by his chief critic, Windsor resident Lewis Edmonds, Vines showed his true colors, throwing Faleski under the metaphorical bus to try to save his own hide.
Confronted by Edmonds about his comment in last week’s edition attributing Edmonds’ latest, unsuccessful recall effort to petitioners’ contempt for Black board members, Vines claimed he didn’t say it. In other words, that Faleski, for whom fabrication would be a career-ending offense, just made stuff up.
“I believe The Smithfield Times misquoted me,” Vines said in response to Edmonds’ public comments at the end of the School Board’s Aug. 11 meeting. “They wrote a lot of things that I did not say. And I apologize for them misquoting me, and for that very reason that’s why I declined to, not to give them an interview this entire year. But Mr. Faleski, Stephen Faleski, came to me, called me on the phone while I was at work. And he took key words, and he put his words to those words. I don’t believe you are a racist. I never stated that. And if it’s an open apology what you want, I will apologize for The Smithfield Times for what they wrote. But I did not say that, what they wrote.”
For the record, the Times doesn’t need anyone, especially Vines, to apologize on our behalf. We own our mistakes when they occur, as evidenced by occasional corrections and clarifications published prominently on this page. In this case, there were no mistakes. Faleski reported what Vines said.
Now that Vines has publicly defamed him, here’s what you should know about Stephen Faleski. Many of you already know, because you stop me on the street, call me and send me emails to tell me so. Faleski works tirelessly to keep the citizens of Isle of Wight and Surry informed about the activities of their local governments and the people who lead them. His journalism is regularly recognized among the best statewide by the Virginia Press Association. He is meticulous and, like the best journalists, values accuracy above all else.
I’ve employed dozens of journalists over the years, and Faleski rates right at the top. I also know him to be a man of impeccable moral character who is appalled by racial bias of any degree. Knowing just how much racial hatred exists in this world, he’d never fabricate someone’s allegation of racism.
What Vines didn’t mention Thursday night is that Edmonds sent him an email last week seeking a public clarification or retraction of his racism claim. Such a request is a prerequisite to a slander lawsuit under Virginia law.
Instead of manning up and taking responsibility for his words, Vines took the coward’s way out and falsely blamed a journalist who was simply doing his job. The citizens of Isle of Wight deserve better representation on their School Board.
Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.