Mr. Lundell goes to Romania (and the Union-Eagle follows)

There are some people that just shouldn’t try to write about Romania. Joel Stottrup from the Princeton Union-Eagle is one of them. Granted, there’s not much to expect from a paper serving a little over 4,000 people in Princeton, Minnesota, but the disastrous story the paper ran a week ago is a gem of horrid journalism.

The story is an epic poem dedicated to local 25-year-old Princetonian, Mike Lundell, who has been to Romania eight times in the past five years, and who believes more church initiatives could save the country from capitalist depravity. After all, Mr. Lundell says (and the paper doesn’t bother to check) Romania has the second highest rate of abortion in the world, and the largest number of children with HIV/AIDS.

Mr. Lundell loves the idea that he can one day save Romania from the hell it got itself into. His ministry will salvage all the post-communism orphans that live in Auschwitz-like conditions. I didn’t say this, he did:

“Lundell described orphanages not having sufficient diapers or food and seeing some of the children who were ‘too energetic’ tied to their cribs. Lundell said that conditions at some Romanian orphanages reminded him of Auschwitz, the infamous World War II German Nazi concentration camp.

Romanian officials are getting some pressure to correct conditions in their country, Lundell said. Romania wants to become part of the European Union but the EU says Romania must first clean up its human rights abuses, including its orphan situation, according to Lundell.”

Luiza pointed this story out to me, and I decided to send a letter to the editor, which you’ll find below. Still Luiza’s critique remains more furious and sarcastic than mine. After reading a quote in which Mr. Lundell offers his expertise on Romanian children with HIV, Luiza writes:

“[This] leads me to believe Lundell should be shot, Stottrup and his editor fired out of journalism and the Princeton Union-Eagle burned to the ground.”

I can’t say I disagree.

Here’s my letter to their editor, Luther Dorr. Feel free to share your thoughts with him as well. He can be reached at:

>> Dear Mr. Dorr,

I had the unfortunate displeasure of reading a story your paper published on Sept. 1, 2005. The story, “Romania has lure for PHS graduate,” is fraught with gross inaccuracies and fails to meet basic journalistic standards, such as verifying the information you publish.

Both as a Romanian citizen and a journalist living in the United States, I express my disbelief that an American newspaper could print a story without checking the facts (and even names) contained in it. Mr. Stottrup should work as Mr. Lundell’s spokesman, because his blunders have failed the craft, and have certainly failed any reader interested in learning about Romania.

Here is a sample of the mistakes that destroy the credibility of both this story and its author:

1. Transylvania, as maps will show you, is a region located mostly in the center of of Romania, with only a marginal area touching the Western area.

2. Romania’s communist dictator was named Nicolae Ceausescu and not Nicolae Ceausesecu. Also, he lead the country from 1965 to 1989, not from 1974 as your story suggests. More details here.

3. Romania had indeed troubling policies regarding child bearing. The communist government encouraged child bearing and outlawed abortion, but your story offers nothing more than anecdotal evidence as hard facts. Painting such issues with a broad brush is speculative journalism. Mr. Lundell cannot possibly be considered a valid source to say 200,000 children were institutionalized at the time of Ceausescu’s death. There are very few reliable statistics, as this BBC story proves, but Mr. Lundell is taken at face value for all the numbers he provides.

4. Mr. Lundell’s comparison to Auschwitz is shameful and should not have been printed. This type of moral equivalency has no place in journalism.

5. The reporter has not taken any steps to determine whether Mr. Lundell provided accurate information regarding the number of foundations working in Romania or the number of workers in orphanages. As a journalist I hate to say this, but one hour spent on Google would have made the story better and would have spared Mr. Stottrup the embarrassment.

6. The deeper we go into the story, the more loose the facts are. There is no source confirming Mr. Lundell’s speculations that Romania has the highest abortion rate in the world. A quick Google search would have brought up different results, such as those displayed here.

7. Probably the worst and most damning misuse of facts is Mr. Lundell’s suggestion that Romania has the highest rate of AIDS among children in the world. I don’t know where Mr. Stottrup learned his journalism, but I can guarantee you he was sound asleep when fact checking was taught. If he would have paid attention, maybe he would have thought of visiting the Web site of an organization called UNICEF, which tracks HIV/AIDS prevalence. This site might help him.

While I appreciate your paper’s decision to present life in a foreign country, you’ve done a disservice to your readers and the credibility of your publication. The errors you published call for a correction if not an editor’s note, and I would suggest disciplinary action against your careless reporter. It’s hard to believe that any newspaper that wants to serve its community can confuse opinion and third-hand information with facts.

3 Responses to “Mr. Lundell goes to Romania (and the Union-Eagle follows)”

  1. Did you really send them links, too? That’s hilarious. I know this upsets you…but it’s still pretty funny. I mean, that small town paper didn’t know what they were getting themselves into!!

    Please let us know if you get a response or they run a correction. They damn well should run one.

  2. 🙂
    I don’t know where from you get the energy for this kind of things. 🙂 I gave up years ago fighting stupid people.

    You should (or maybe shouldn’t) see the threads on freeex and romania_eu_list these days. roma should shut up, no one is discriminating them, people with disabilities should rot in their houses, they’re useless to the community… really charming. makes you wanna move to a remote island.

    let me know if they answer… then you’ll know if it was worth it or not.

  3. i just read the story in union-eagle and i noticed another stupid thing. it says there that “the churches are struggling to pay a pastor”. hahahahhahaha

    all pastors, priests, ministers, muedins, rabbis, etc from all religions recognized in Romania are payed by the state. there is a law about that. and that’s no minimum wage.

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