The story behind the story of the presumed death of former Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) CEO Andy Teuber now in the news is looking more and more like the plot line for an episode of the long-running TV franchise”Law and Order:”
A newlywed, 20-something, personal assistant ends up in a sexual relationship with a 50-something boss paid an outrageous $1 million per year to run a “non-profit corporation.” The newlywed is soon a divorcee.
The million-dollar man, meanwhile, turns his back on her to marry someone else, and the company for which she is working decides she isn’t such a great employee and proposes to cut her salary from $89,000 per year to $60,000.
She quits and writes a scathing letter to the company’s board saying she was coerced into sex with the boss. He immediately resigns. Her letter is given to the state’s largest and most influential newspaper.
Pandering to the #MeToo movement, the newspaper embraces her narrative and runs with it, ignoring the divorce and the pay cut, which might suggest to some readers possible motives for her to screw the boss big time.
His reputation in tatters, he takes off in his helicopter to retreat to his old hometown on an island in the Gulf of Alaska, crashes and disappears. Suicide? An accident fueled by emotional trauma?
Nobody knows, but a right-leaning news website in competition with the state’s left-leaning newspaper headlines “‘He said, she said’: Was this a case of journalistic murder?”
All that’s missing here is the suggestion that Teuber’s death was neither an accident nor suicide, but a murder. And a good screenwriter wouldn’t have any problem inserting into the story characters and/or entities who might want him dead.
I won’t do that because this website is dedicated to journalism, not fiction, though the two seem to get harder to tell apart by the day. That said, it’s obvious Law and Order could have used this for an episode, and John Grisham might have managed a whole book.
If you’re the ANTHC facing all this stuff hitting the fan, the best thing you could hope for is that the former chief executive officers dies and just sorts of fades away. Better that than the possibility accusations against him spark a bunch of people to start asking questions about the young woman’s suggestion of past sexual harassment or abuse within the consortium.
Or even questions about the fat salary paid the dead man. ANTHC pay has come under enough fire in the past.
But ANTHC is not the subject here. The subject is the story behind the story behind the story, which is about journalism.
In the old school, there was a fact-finding rule called the “sniff test.” It was a pretty simple rule.
If somebody said something that just didn’t jive with normal actions, behaviors or customs, a journalist had a responsibility to check out the claim. Teuber accuser Savanah Evans, 27, made one such claim.
“Evans and her attorney, Jana Weltzin, said they were not aware that Teuber was engaged or had gotten married,” the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica, a New York-based news organization engaged in a business relationship with the Alaska newspaper. reported after being delivered a copy of Evans’ letter to the ANTHC.
That is a claim that on the face of it fails the sniff test. It might be true, but it demands investigation.
Evan’s resignation letter dates her last sexual encounter with Teuber to Aug. 1, 2020, but she continued as his administrative assistant up until December when she got a bad job review and the ANTHC suggested shifting her assignment to that of special assistant to the organization’s chief financial officer (CFO) and cutting her pay.
It is possible Evans was unaware the man with whom she worked closely and with whom she had been intimate had begun a relationship with another woman over the course of the winter, leading to his March 1 wedding. It is even possible Teuber’s relationship with his wife-to-be didn’t start until after December. Almost anything is possible because when it comes to human behavior, almost anything is possible.
But the Evans claim here doesn’t seem plausible. That is not to say it is untrue. Every word of Evans’ story, most of which Teuber denied, could be true. It could be the opposite. Or the truth could live somewhere between the opposing views.
A lot of the story is impossible to confirm or deny. The claim of lack of knowledge of Teuber’s new paramour is, however, a claim that might be used to establish credibility one way or the other.
Was Teuber’s new relationship and engagement a secret at ANTHC? And what, for that matter, does Evans’ carefully worded statement mean? Does it really mean Evans was unaware Teuber was in a relationship with another woman or only that Evans didn’t know that Teuber had proposed?
Finally, there is the matter of Evans’ divorce.
As an acquaintance of the former couple messaged when the story first broke, the “timing is rather strange. I hope to God my newlywed wife would tell me if another man forced a sexual encounter four months after our honeymoon. Don’t take that the wrong way. I’m just saying what comes to mind…because my spidey sense signals an this could be an affair gone awry.”
Why the rush to print before making an extra effort to find out if Evans told her then-husband or anyone else for that matter, about sexual coercion or harassment at work? Or was something else going on? Did the divorce have anything to do with Teuber?
With Teuber now dead, Evans’ ex isn’t talking. He said his attorney told him to keep his mouth shut because of the possibility he could be subpoenaed, although it is unclear by whom.
The ex is not being named here given that he appears to have no involvement in what happened between Evans and Teuber. Those who are overwhelmingly curious can go find his name in court records.
The divorce “is a public record,” he said Thursday, a public record ADN/ProPublica should have reported. The timing could all be a coincidence. It could be anything,
But readers have the right to be given all the information so they can form their own opinions rather than information being withheld so reporters can steer those opinions toward the narrative of choice
The backgrounds and possible motives of the players are important in these sorts of messy situations. Evans said in her letter to the ANTHC board that her motivation was to end the days of “allowing and enabling those with power to do this to women.
“If I don’t speak up, I am no less guilty than those who have heard the rumors and done nothing. I will be no less guilty than those who have done nothing but swept it under the rug. I will not be part of this cycle. I have documented evidence of this abuse, and I want it to stop. I want this organization to protect the tribal members who we are to serve and all employees.”
This could be true. There are no shortages of sexual harassment and abuse cases that have been covered up in the most misogynistic state in the nation.
But it could also be true, as Teuber claimed, that “I have never, and would never, engage in a non-consensual or ‘quid pro quo’ personal relationship with anyone. The allegations of wrongdoing that I have been made aware of are false, and these allegations and their timing appear designed to portray me unjustly and falsely; to damage my personal and family relationships; but especially to sabotage my recent engagement and new marriage; and to undermine my professional prospects.”
Journalists once had a responsibility to gather and report any information that would help readers weigh these competing claims before publishing. Those days appear to be over.
ProPublica and the ADN ran with this story without even pinning down when this sexual relationship began.
The ProPublica/ADN story says that “soon after she started work as Teuber’s special assistant in October 2019, Evans said she received a request for an ‘inappropriate photo” while on a work trip to Kodiak with Teuber, which she refused to provide. Their sexual relationship began the same month, according to the resignation letter.”
The letter, however, doesn’t actually say when she started working with Teuber. It says she started work with the ANTHC in April 2019, but sometime later the “position of administrative assistant to the president of ANTHC was posted I applied and was hired.”
The letter does not say when that was, but it does date her first sexual encounter with Teuber to Oct. 11, 2019:
“After dinner and a walk at the harbor, President Teuber reached around me and kissed me,” it said. “He then took me back to his room and had sex with me. You may wonder if this relationship was consensual. It is not when the person controls your employment.”
The letter, however, makes no mention of Teuber in any way threatening Evans’s job at that time and goes on to indicate that days later she was comfortable enough with him to accept an invitation to a post-business-meeting dinner at a downtown Anchorage restaurant.
At dinner, she wrote, Teuber drank too much so she offered to drive him home. Once there, the letter says, “he pulled me into the downstairs back bedroom and had sex with me and wouldn’t get off of me to let me leave. I was finally able to push him off and rush out. Later he texted me, simply saying ’I’m sorry; that wasn’t cool.’ ”
Two weeks later, according to the letter, “I made it clear to President Teuber I wanted to end the sexual relationship.”
This would have been near the end of October or the start of November. In the space of a matter of weeks, Evans indicates she went from believing she was required to have sex with the “person (who) controls your employment” to making it “clear” to that person that she “wanted to end the sexual relationship.”
But it didn’t end.
At an unspecified later date, the letter says she took papers to Teuber at home and “he pushed me into the downstairs front bedroom for sex,” a move that sounds like a possible sexual assault. Then, “on November 23 , 2019, I tried to take my own life as I was unable to deal with the depression that took hold of me as a result of the treatment from my direct supervisor,” the letter says.
The letter does not detail how she tried to take her life or whether she sought professional help after. It does not name anyone she might have talked to about the potential sexual assault in November.
It does name some potential witnesses to other encounters between her and Teuber. If ADN/ProPublica tried to contact any of them, there is no mention of that in the story, which is pretty much what Suzanne Downing the editor of “MustReadAlaska” labeled it, “He Said; She Said.”
And it is possible no amount of investigation would change that, that no amount of reportorial digging would make one side of the story any more likely than the other side of the story.
But that’s not an excuse to avoid the work to rush into publication a story that finally ends with a man dead.