Commentary: A mistake does not constitute the state ‘changing its story’

By Marni Lemons
Special to TheStatehouseFile.com

We at the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) would like to respond and address some serious flaws with an article posted Nov. 24 on TheStatehouseFile.com titled, “State changed story on Syrian refugees.” (http://thestatehousefile.com/state-changed-story-on-syrian-refugees/22953/) It concerns Gov. Pence’s announcement suspending the resettlement of Syrian refugees on Nov. 16 and a phone conversation held with a reporter from TheStatehouseFile.com that morning.

Let me state clearly that I had absolutely no intent to deceive or misinform TheStatehouseFile.com or any journalist. I believe a claim that “the state changed the story” is a serious overstatement of one person’s interaction with one reporter.

In the midst of a discussion of the recent history of resettlements of Syrian refugees in Indiana, TSF’s reporter asked me if there were “pending cases.” I responded to the question in error that there were not. It was widely reported the following day that there was indeed a family on its way to Indiana, who was ultimately resettled in another state. When the reporter followed up with me on Nov. 18, I explained that I didn’t recall her asking about pending cases, that I may have misunderstood her question and I then apologized for mistakenly answering her question incorrectly. This entire exchange, including my apology, was repeated in a third conversation between me and the reporter on Nov. 20. I will say again now as I did on both of those occasions that the answer I gave was a misstatement, a mistake on my part – one I openly acknowledged and for which I have repeatedly apologized. I didn’t – and still don’t – recall the question being asked or answered, and I had absolutely no intention of misleading TSF or anyone else. I responded to a large number of media inquiries on the day of the governor’s announcement, and to my knowledge, this is the only instance in which I misspoke.

How a simple human error of one individual turned into an allegation of the state “changing its story” – which has now been repeated by other media outlets – is particularly disturbing when you know these additional points:

  • The posted article includes recordings of the first and third telephone calls I had with the reporter, and anyone who has a subscription can listen to what was said. These recordings were made without my knowledge or approval. As a spokesperson for FSSA, I am accustomed to being recorded and will almost always oblige a reporter who asks to record our conversation – and I spoke to several reporters that day who did ask, and did record me. However, I was not afforded that long-standing ethical courtesy by TSF’s reporter. That may only be important if one is concerned with ethics, because I would have said yes, had I been asked.
  • However, the article also states, “On Nov. 18 when Lemons was asked why she said there were no Syrian refugee cases pending the day before her agency sent the letters stopping the relocations, she denied making the claim.” Conveniently, there is no recording available of this conversation and I have no recollection of ever making a denial. However, there IS a recording of the third conversation on Nov. 20. Here is a brief transcript of what I said:

“As I told you when we talked on Wednesday [Nov. 18], I apologize, but I don’t recall that question and I may have misunderstood what you were talking about. I took about 50-60 media calls on Monday, so it’s entirely possible I didn’t understand the question you were asking, and if that’s the case I apologize.”

  • How this was then characterized as a denial is confusing.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because the allegation of the state “changing of the story” has been repeated by numerous media outlets, on social media and is being used to political advantage by the governor’s opponents. We are human and we come to work every day to serve FSSA’s clients and taxpayers to the best of our abilities. A mistake is a mistake. We do our best to avoid them, and we own up to them when they are made. I owned up to this mistake. That it was reported and misconstrued as an intentional act to deceive is unfair.

We work daily in our office alongside members of the Indiana media in our efforts to serve the client and taxpayer and ensure accurate information is distributed as appropriate. It is disappointing that a news outlet would choose to turn one acknowledged human mistake into an accusation of a “changed story” when it just simply isn’t the case.

Marni Lemons is Deputy Director of Communications at FSSA

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One Response to Commentary: A mistake does not constitute the state ‘changing its story’

  1. Boo hoo. Obviously trying to cover up the story and keep information from smaller publications.

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