Unfortunately I was one of the subjects in Judith Lewis’ story “The Bird Lady vs. The Tree Outlaw” [March 30–April 5], which both surprised and angered me. Lewis asked me to go on the record about Roy van de Hoek and the tree crime he perpetrated, and that is what I agreed to. Instead, Lewis came to my home, ate my food, drank my “home-brewed” lemonade, used my batteries for her recorder, then quoted personal things said that were never intended, expected or appropriate for a piece on the subject she said she was covering.
At no point did Lewis intimate that her piece had turned into a profile about me or that she was pitting me against Mr. van de Hoek, neither of which I would have agreed to. Moreover, she agreed to tell me in advance the substance of what she was using and how she was quoting me.
Lewis told me she had enormous respect for me and my work as a journalist, shared many of my values, and above all didn’t want to make me come off as a “tree hugger or nutty bird lady” and yet that is the story’s header. Whether Lewis wrote the title or not, her name is on the piece.
Equally alarming are the number of inaccuracies:
• Regarding the case against van de Hoek, the charges were continued rather than dropped: According to the city attorney on the case, if van de Hoek doesn’t follow the guidelines outlined by her office for the next 18 months (regarding his not cutting anything in the wetlands), he will face the original charges.
• I reiterated several times that I did not dislike van de Hoek. Yet I was quoted as saying “no one dislikes him more than Mira Tweti.”
• I am misquoted as saying that van de Hoek said he planned to kill the lagoon’s resident flock of geese. What I said is that he threatened to kidnap them and relocate them. I said that if he did so it would be paramount to a death sentence because they would be prey in an unfamiliar environment.
• Lewis quotes me as saying I don’t feed the ducks and geese anymore, which is not accurate and was an unnecessary inclusion (as it has nothing to do with the story), except that Lewis included van de Hoek saying he saw me feeding them, which makes me out to be a liar.
• She also has me criticizing people who don’t pick up after their dogs in the park. I am quoted as saying they think the feces “is organic.” That is not what I said and it’s erroneous. Dog feces is organic but it is also a pollutant when 60-plus dogs are leaving droppings daily. That is what I told Lewis.
There’s more: I don’t live below Roy, I live above him; my parrot doesn’t sleep in my bedroom with me but in the den. These are minor errors, but I pointed out van de Hoek’s apartment to Lewis myself so it’s sloppy that she got them wrong.
Also, the issue of whether the lagoon birds need water to drink shouldn’t have been he said/she said, further pitting me against van de Hoek. A city parks and rec official could have cleared up the question and stated the obvious: As freshwater-drinking animals they do need clean water. And they can be seen drinking throughout the day from the permanent water feature the city recently installed. For two years I supplied drinking water before I began working with the city to get a permanent water feature installed.
I trusted Lewis as a colleague to be true to her word and I feel both inexcusably exploited and betrayed. The larger problem is that behavior like this on the part of journalists gives our profession a bad name.
Mira TwetiLos Angeles
Judith Lewis responds: After Mira Tweti generously supplied me with a fresh AAA battery for my digital voice recorder when mine ran out, the recorder sat in front of her with its red light glowing the whole time we talked over lunch. Several times she asked me to keep something out of print; every single time I respected her wishes. I faithfully reviewed with her the substance of her quotes, and I spoke to her many times before and after the story ran about the content of the story. I’m sorry Tweti feels “exploited and betrayed,” but it’s she, after all, who supplies the media with four pages of sources and e-mails with which to investigate her neighbor, and then expects other reporters to act as her proxies. What she’s really disappointed about, I suspect, is that I found all the subjects in this story to be both more sympathetic and complicated than either side wants to believe. Including her.
CorrectionApologies to Daisy Eagan for the misspelling of her name in last week’s issue (“No Exit,” April 6–12); also, the correct source material of Eagan’s Tony Award–winning performance is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Secret Garden, adapted for the stage by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon.
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