EXCLUSIVE: Reporters Who Published Story On Okla. Deputy Resign Suddenly From Newspaper

The Tulsa World's executive editor confirmed to TPM that reporters Dylan Goforth and Ziva Branstetter resigned from the newspaper and departed Monday, April 20th.
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April 20, 2015 3:03 p.m.

Two reporters have resigned from an Oklahoma newspaper after publishing an article that alleged supervisors in the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office were ordered to falsify training records for a white reserve deputy charged with manslaughter in the shooting of an unarmed black man, the newspaper’s executive editor confirmed Monday to TPM.

Staff writer Dylan Goforth and enterprise editor Ziva Branstetter of The Tulsa World newspaper published a report Thursday that cited multiple anonymous sources alleging supervisors had signed off on firearms certifications and field training that Reserve Deputy Robert Bates did not complete.

The sheriff’s office had pushed back on the report, arguing that its reliance on anonymous sources discredited the information.

But one of the reporters told TPM that the pair had merely gotten another job offer, which had been in the works for months.

Earlier, the newspaper’s executive editor, Susan Ellerbach, told TPM by phone that the reporters left the publication on Monday.

“They turned in two weeks resignation and said that they had another opportunity,” Ellerbach said. “So we accepted their resignations and they left today.”

Asked whether management at the newspaper had any conversations with Goforth and Branstetter about problems with their sourcing, Ellerbach took a 10-second pause.

“Well, I’d say their leaving was not related to the article,” she replied.

So was The Tulsa World standing by the report on Bates’ training records?

“That’s all I’d like to say right now,” Ellerbach told TPM.

Goforth told TPM in a direct message over Twitter that he, Branstetter and two other The Tulsa World reporters had another job offer in the works for a few months. The offer came from a local news website that hasn’t been launched yet.

“Word got out Friday night, and they told us stay or go today. So we’re officially at the new job today,” he said.

Branstetter was named Monday afternoon as a 2015 Pulitzer Prize finalist for local reporting alongside Tulsa World reporter Cary Aspinwall. The Pulitzer committee cited the pair’s “courageous reporting on the execution process in Oklahoma after a botched execution – reporting that began a national discussion.”

Aspinwall confirmed to TPM by phone that she had also left The Tulsa World for the local news website on Monday. She was adamant that the reporters’ departure had nothing to do with the article about Bates’ training records and that none of the reporters were asked to leave the newspaper.

“It looks very salacious, I understand it,” she told TPM. “But they are in no way related. This has been in the works for months.”

As for Ellerbach’s response, Aspinwall speculated: “She had a rough day because she just lost four of her reporters. She was probably just caught off guard by your calling.”

This post has been updated.

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