Tuesday 28 January 2020

Lauren Trager: Back Alley “Journalist” Behind the Greitens Set-Up

More than two years ago, KMOV investigative reporter, Lauren Trager, broke the story that then Gov. Eric Greitens had had an extramarital affair with his hairdresser, Katrina Sneed.
Trager’s reporting included an allegation that Greitens took a non-consensual nude or partially nude photo of K. Sneed to “blackmail” her into silence over their affair. The allegation of a non-consensual photo ultimately led St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner to indict Greitens on a charge of felony invasion of privacy.
The charge was dismissed several months later over prosecutorial misconduct, including potential criminal conduct. The alleged photo was never found. No witness, including K. Sneed, had personal knowledge the alleged photo ever even existed.
The fact Greitens had an affair had been widely known for several years due to K. Sneed’s, now former husband, Philip Sneed (aka Moon Valjean), secretly recording her discussing her relationship with Greitens.  Those who were aware of the affair included Greitens’ 2016 General Election opponent and then Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who was also K. Sneed’s client and former Chairman of the Missouri Democrat Party Roy Temple, who according to Trager was “not an official source” in publicizing the affair. The reality is the story lacked corroboration, particularly for the most salacious aspects involving the alleged non-consensual photo and blackmail.
However, there was one reporter who would not allow the absence of corroboration or professional ethics to stand in her way. That reporter was KMOV’s Lauren Trager.
Trager was not just any reporter. Trager left her position at KMOV in March 2014 to become spokeswoman for then St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce. There Trager worked alongside Susan Ryan, who served as St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gardner’s spokeswoman, until her resignation on October 31, 2019, after 16 years of service to the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office. Joyce became business partners with Ryan in the Vera Causa Group, which provides communications and management training for prosecutors’ offices, after her term ended. Ryan herself was a former employee of KMOV. Trager left the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office and returned to KMOV in April 2015.

Trager’s sole source for the allegations of a non-consensual photo and blackmail was an unauthenticated recording that was made secretly by P. Sneed. Trager had no corroboration of any aspect of the story, except for the fact Greitens and K. Sneed had engaged in an extramarital affair, which was corroborated by Greitens. Trager cited K. Sneed as a source of corroboration. However, Trager declined to elaborate what K. Sneed told her “off the record,” but Trager claims she “was able to read [K. Sneed’s] body language” that the allegations of a non-consensual photo and blackmail were true.
And [Trager] said, . . .  I am working on a story. I’m a reporter from Channel 4.
And I just started crying. I said no. No. You cannot go here, please.
. . .
Yeah. I just started crying. I said, you have to understand my — because I knew — again, because back when my — one of– part of one of his [Philip] threats was, you know how many people I know in the media. I know people at every news station. You know, so I –because I knew he was shopping around for the story.
So I just said to her, you have to understand, my ex-husband is extremely vindictive.
And she said, yes, I understand that. All right you know, I’m sorry to hear that or whatever, but there are these allegations that, you know, are disturbing.
And I said, that was a really, really traumatic period of time in my life. I cannot relive this again. I don’t want to relive any of it. Please, I have kids. I go to school full-time. I own my own business. I take care of my house. Like, please, you have to just leave me alone.
And she brought up a couple of the allegations, which, of course, were directly from my ex-husband’s mouth, meaning it’s –you know, even if somebody was following me around, they wouldn’t have known these things except for I told him in private about, in particular the blackmail.
. . .
She asked if he had paid me off. That was the only thing I did say, no, I have seen him [Greitens] at all. You know, none of that since – it’s been years, but I really — I – whenever she left that night, she left at –
Trager knew from the outset K. Sneed wanted nothing to do with her. Indeed, Trager was only able to get close to K. Sneed by fraudulently booking an appointment with K. Sneed using a fictious name and wearing a disguise. Sadly, Trager’s fraudulent conduct deprived K. Sneed a single mother of three of the opportunity to book a paying client. Journalism ethicists have long been highly skeptical of journalists engaging in deception and fraud to get a story, according to an article in the Columbia Journalism Review.

There are practical reasons for that wariness [of undercover journalism]. As other observers have noted, while the use of deception in reporting can yield sensational results, it also lends the subject a weapon to wield against the journalist. The ready-made complaint: If the reporter has forfeited the high ground of transparency and honesty, how can his conclusions be trusted by the public? The fallout may not be limited to the case at hand. During the Food Lion controversy, Marvin Kalb of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center worried that widespread use of deception “demeans journalism and damages badly the journalist and the public.” (This is not a theoretical problem. In announcing the verdict in the Food Lion case, the jury foreman told ABC, “You didn’t have boundaries when you started this investigation…. You kept pushing on the edges and pushing on the edges…. It was too extensive and fraudulent.”)
According to K. Sneed, the day after Trager ambushed her, Rep. Stacey Newman, a Democrat, and longtime friend and client visited her and pressured her into speaking out, but K. Sneed declined. Was it merely a coincidence that Newman appeared hours after Trager was turned down by K. Sneed to try and reverse her decision not to speak out? Newman would later prove to be one of the first links between K. Sneed and Gardner.
[O]n January 11, 2018, Ms. Newman said to K.S., “my House Dem leadership insist you need a lawyer fast.” Two hours later, Ms. Newman says, “I may need to talk w your lawyers.” Then a week later, Ms. Newman sent a text to K.S., providing K.S. the name and phone number of “STL Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, she said you can have your attorney call her.”
Even more troubling is Trager’s failure to give Greitens an opportunity to comment on the allegations of a non-consensual photo and blackmail prior to publishing the allegations. According to a high level source within the former Greitens’ Administration, Trager only sought  comment regarding the affair, which resulted in the release of a public statement admitting to the affair, and she never inquired about the core allegations of wrongdoing—the alleged non-consensual photo and blackmail. Trager’s conduct was contrary to the ethical standards imposed by The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which provides that a journalist shall “[d]iligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.
Of course, Trager is the same “journalist” who watched the sole source for her story P. Sneed’s lawyer, Al Watkins, take delivery of $50,000.00 in cash literally while she was interviewed P. Sneed. Watkins, admitted he “direct[ed] KMOV’s reporter to have her cameraman shoot footage of a delivery of cash.”

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