This week VTDigger published a hit piece on the Autosaver Group, Abel Toll and his family.

We don’t suggest you read it because it’s the shoddiest excuse for “journalism” we’ve seen from Digger (an otherwise welcome, necessary, innovative and professional addition to the Vermont news-scape).

Managing Editor Colin Meyn’s name is on the piece. That makes sense since we’ve come to know him as “most likely to get VTDigger sued” for yellow journalism.

The piece is predicated on a “high” number of consumer complaints against the Autosaver Group. One glaring, immediate and unforgivable problem is that VTDigger screwed up their simple math. They almost doubled the number of complaints filed against the auto empire. Then, when called out for their egregious mistake, they published a “correction” on top of the story that was still incorrect.

So the single most material fact in the article is a wholesale fiction.

The actual fact is that the rate of formal complaints filed against the Autosaver Group is significantly less than the number of irate commenters on an average VTDigger article.

Through our own digging, we learned that Digger ignored important rebuttals provided by the Autosaver Group. It also cherry-picked decades-old affidavits, and comments from a handful of disgruntled customers - often with frivolous complaints. All of these one-sided efforts reveal an aggressive and obvious effort to lead their readers to a single, prescribed conclusion - Abel and his family are shady.

Those aren’t the people we’ve known for our entire lives.

The people we know built a tremendous company from the ground up. That company employs over 500 people who it treats like family. It’s a company that makes enormously positive contributions to local and state economies and never (as far as we know) rejects a charitable request. Abel isn’t successful because he’s a predator. He’s successful because he tirelessly runs a customer-centric operation built on repeat business. It’s the only place from which we buy cars and, in dozens of transactions, have never suffered a single hiccup.

The piece also - by inference and association - implicates Abel’s politically powerful wife (Kitty) and sister-in-law (Jane Kitchel). “The sisters wield significant influence over the state’s budget,” the article offers as non-sequitur. Then it gives the reader this - “the Tolls and the Beatties also own more than 700 acres of land distributed across 31 properties” - without any context or mention of all the rest of the successful family members who contribute to those holdings.

There’s an irony to all this. For some reason the article wants people to believe that this powerful family preys on the poor and vulnerable. It fails to mention all the endless charitable work or the liberal politics of Kitty and Jane. We would argue - by virtue of their longevity and consistency - that the aforementioned pair has been among the staunchest defenders of Vermont’s underdogs for generations.

We should know - we’ve often criticized them on this page for their liberal sympathies. But we’ve never once questioned their character or integrity, which we know from a lifetime of experience is above reproach.

The bottom line is that these people, collectively, are shining pillars of their communities. VTDigger did an enormous disservice to them and their readers with this cheap-shot brand of tabloid journalism.

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(2) comments

MichelGuite

This little shouting match between Caledonian Record and VTDigger is fun to observe, and the spirited editorial criticism by Caledonian Record regarding VTDigger's recent reporting on Vermont's Autosaver Group seems excellent.

But Caledonian Record's editorial places the reporting blame squarely and solely on VTDigger's Colin Meyn, whom they enthusiastically accuse of "yellow journalism", and then, a few paragraphs later, of "this cheap-shot brand of tabloid journalism".

But oops..... the VTDigger article was seemingly written by Iris Lewis, and not by Colin Meyn. It appeared clearly under Ms. Lewis' byline, with an accompanying photo, and a bio telling us Ms. Lewis is an undergraduate at Harvard, and a reporter at The Harvard Crimson, and was a 2019 VTDigger summer intern.

A more balanced Caledonian Record editorial might have applauded a young Vermont reporter-intern for spending so much time writing an article that sought to uncover Vermont wrongdoing, but to explain that all journalists have an obligation to cover two sides fairly. And perhaps to add that reported statistics later proven wrong are bad for everyone, and that facts aren't always as they seem, and aspiring young journalists have an obligation to represent our ideals for fairness and integrity. But using Ms. Lewis' summer-intern reporting to accuse Colin Meyn of "yellow journalism" seems in the category of "two wrongs don't make a right".

Todd Smith Staff
Todd Smith

Thanks for your observation, Michel. It's fair.

I purposefully noted Meyn name "was on the piece," because it says he was a contributor. As VTD's managing editor, he's also likely to be the single most influential guide for staff. I spared Ms. Lewis largely because, as a bright young intern, she might not yet know any better. Meyn sure should.

Yours,

Todd M. Smith

Publisher

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