Tulsa World Investigative Reporter & Editor Ziva Branstetter is accused of having gathered information for a local businessman’s vicious personal Twitter attacks on a blogger critical of his company. [Originally published 6/6/13, Updated 6/17/13]
by UnhappyFranchisee.Com blogger Sean Kelly
It started last summer when I first asked the Tulsa World newspaper to investigate the franchise company, Beautiful Brands International (BBI), that they had unabashedly been praising for years.
While TW business writer Kyle Arnold was eventually persuaded to do a more realistic article on the company in question, a leaked email indicates that Ziva Branstetter, the editor in charge of Tulsa World’s 5-person investigative team, did an aggressive investigation of me, compiling personal, family, and financial information while searching for a hint of a criminal record or other impropriety.
Ziva Branstetter then secretly turned over the personal information to the hot-headed and vindictive CEO of the company, David Rutkauskas, who publicly posted the sensitive information as part of an ongoing Twitter campaign intended to humiliate, intimidate and discredit me… and to punish me for daring to speak the truth about his company’s controversial track record.
Urban Tulsa Weekly writer Jaime Adame broke the story in an article entitled Stranger than Fiction Silence over Tulsa World editor doing digging for CEO.
Writer Holly Wall would also cover the story for This Land Press: New Tulsa World Publisher Faces Troubles in First Week.
While no one at Tulsa World would comment on the alleged misconduct by Enterprise Editor Ziva Branstetter, Adame quoted a senior faculty member at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies as saying “you would not expect one of your journalists to be using the resources of the newspaper to do private research for somebody else… That would be for the most part considered inappropriate.”
Editor Ziva Branstetter’s Email to CEO David Rutkauskas
Here is the complete text of the email Tulsa World editor Ziva Branstetter allegedly sent to BBI CEO David Rutkauskas.
Note her disappointment at not being able to find any evidence of “criminal activity” to use against me:
Here are the reports I pulled on him. It may be hard stuff for you to interpret but if you look at it long enough you can pick out the pieces of info you are interested in. The first two should pull up web-based links to the reports I ran on him individually and his business. The third is a word document that I pasted some info into that I found on various sites and the pdf is the list of creditors from his 2006 Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy. (It has since been closed.) I didn’t see any evidence of criminal activity and there was one lawsuit listed by Cannon copiers.
Basically he doesn’t have a lot of assets and doesn’t appear to have any connection with franchising so it makes no sense that he started this crusade. He’s a self-employed father of four who lives in Pennsylvania. The business is supposedly marketing or consulting of some type but like I said, I see very little evidence that it’s an active business.
The email contained four attachments, two of which were labeled a “Comprehensive Report Date: 05/07/13 Report processed by: TULSA WORLD / WORLD PUBLISHING CO.”
- Personal financial information
- My wife’s name
- Names & ages of my children
- Details of my 2007 bankruptcy, including creditors
- Estimated revenue & current assets
- Private cell phone numbers
- History of past residences, going back 30 years
- Home address, valuation, loan information
- My Social Security Number (partial)
- Detailed information on extended family members & my past and current neighbors, including ages & phone numbers
Some of the information contained startlingly personal details, such as the names of my in-laws and their ages, and personal information about my neighbors.
[Photo, above, Ziva Branstetter’s photo on Facebook, and the flirty message David Rutkauskas posted to it. This was just about a week after Branstetter emailed Rutkauskas personal information he used in his Twitter attacks.]
However, numerous errors call into question Branstetter’s investigative skills:
- She stated I don’t “appear to have any connection with franchising.” I have 25 years of experience in franchising as VP of an international franchise consulting firm, Director of Marketing for an international franchise company, President of a franchise marketing firm, writer for national franchise magazine, and an expert witness in franchise cases.
- I have 5 children, not 4 (an error that would appear in Rutkauskas’ tweets)
- My bankruptcy was in 2007, not 2006
- Her business searches were for the wrong corporation, not the corporation that owns UnhappyFranchisee.Com
Ziva Branstetter’s Reports Fuel Vicious Twitter Attacks (NSFW)
Ziva Branstetter’s email to David Rutkauskas is date and time-stamped May 8, 2013 11:34:06 AM CDT.
Within hours, David Rutkauskas posted the content of the reports in a barrage of insulting and disparaging tweets over several days to his alleged 500,000+ twitter followers.
The tweets included my home address, pictures of my house, a reference to my “4” kids, references to my 2007 bankruptcy, and other attempts to intimidate and embarrass me.
A warning: David Rutkauskas’ tweets contain profanity, vulgar references, homophobic and racist remarks.
Rutkauskas Apologized, Branstetter Hasn’t
June 12, 2012, David Rutkauskas apologized for his 6 week Twitter attack. In his apology, he states that he was unstable, filled with rage, and drinking heavily:
“Over the last few months I’ve not been myself. I’ve said many horrible, vulgar and hurtful things that I’m so ashamed of. I know my apology can’t undo what I’ve said and can’t overcome the shame and embarrassment that I’ve caused… The last few months have been difficult. I’ve been accused of wrongful things, and while I strongly disagree with what has been said, it has nonetheless hurt me and caused anger to build within me. At the same time I nearly lost my father. He suffered a major heart attack on March 12, 2013, that left him in a coma clinging to life. This led me to make some terrible choices. After MANY, MANY years of sobriety, I chose to drink away my pain. Obviously this was such a poor choice that caused much more pain. It resulted in approximately 6 weeks of extreme lows in my life. I did and said things I can never take back.”
Ziva Branstetter has not denied that she sent a man on an alcohol and anger-fueled vendetta the personal information about the family and location of the man who was the target of his rage.
Ziva Branstetter has ignored my requests for an apology or explanation.
In fact, just hours after she ignored an email I wrote to her [ZivaGate: Letter to Ziva Branstetter], a Twitter request for an apology, and emails and phone calls from writer Holly Wall, Ziva Branstetter tweeted that she was off to Vegas with her husband.
She tweeted a picture of the 6 bottles of liquor [pictured, left]she was taking on the trip – apparently a message that she and Tulsa World don’t answer to anyone.
Ziva Branstetter has refused requests from two other publications for comment, citing that Tulsa World/BH Media policy forbids her from answering questions about the issue.
Apparently, Tulsa World/BH Media policy is OK with their senior editors using company resources for personal vendettas – as long as they don’t comment or act like they give a damn once they get caught.
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Tags: Ziva Branstetter, Tulsa World, David Rutkauskas, Beautiful Brands International, BBI, David Rutkauskas Twitter, Unhappy Franchisee lawsuit, Sean Kelly Lawsuit, David Rutkauskas lawsuit, BBI lawsuit, Beautiful Brands lawsuit, SLAPP lawsuit