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VTDigger Bans F-35 Opponent Op-Eds In Identity Controversy

A leader in the movement to ban the F-35 from Vermont has himself been banned by

The Montpelier based policy and politics news site banned James Marc Leas from submitting opinion pieces after a Leas identified himself as a “freelancer” to a U.S. Air Force spokeswoman.

A freelancer is commonly understood to be a professional journalist who is not on the staff of any one news organization, but writes news articles for multiple publications and is paid on a per-article basis.

In 2015, Leas contacted VPR with information about the U.S. Air Force's official definition of a freelance journalist and said that the Air Force had qualified him as a representative of the media based on their definition.

As part of a request for information, Leas told Air Force Spokeswoman Ann Stefanek that he was a freelancer working on an article for VTDigger. Leas has never written for VTDigger as a journalist, nor has he been paid by VTDigger for the 39 opinion pieces he has written or co-written that VTDigger has published.

The publication announced Tuesday that it will no longer accept opinion pieces from Leas.

“He’s pretending to be a reporter,” said Anne Galloway, editor and co-publisher of VTDigger. “He’s a lawyer and he’s misrepresenting himself and he’s using us to do so,” she said. “And it’s completely inappropriate.”

Leas claimed in a press release that VTDigger was using the “misunderstanding” as “mere pretext for shutting down a voice in opposition.”

Leas also released a letter he wrote to Stefanek in which he clarified his relationship with VTDigger and said his use of the word “freelancer” to describe himself was “an innocent mistake that was made without any intention to deceive or misrepresent myself.”

Leas called a post on VTDigger about the incident a “hatchet job” and accused the publication of working to silence him. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday.

In a second release Tuesday afternoon, Leas said Stefanek may have taken advantage of "an opportunity to get an F-35 opponent in trouble."

Galloway said VTDigger welcomes “any and all op-eds on the subject of the F-35 ­– for, against, indifferent. Just none from James Marc Leas at this time.” She said op-eds from Leas about other issues besides the F-35 will not be accepted either.

Update 11:50 a.m. Dec. 2, 2015 The original version of this story misstated the number of opinion pieces Leas wrote for VTDigger. The above text has been corrected. The story also has been updated to reflect Leas' information that he met the U.S. Air Force definition of a freelance journalist.

Disclosure: Taylor Dobbs was a paid intern for in the summers of 2011 and 2012. He no longer works in any capacity for the publication.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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