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Thursday, November 1, 2007
Further Notes on the Statistics that Weren't and the Press Release that Wasn't

The latest non-avian flap in American Fork -- and then a few words about the avian one.

In last Friday's post I described American Fork City Council candidate Jason Porter's public assertion that American Fork's violent crime rate is among the highest in Utah. I reported extensively on American Fork Police Chief Lance Call's memo, written in response at the request of a City official whose identity I do not know. Call offered actual data from the FBI, which demonstrates the error of Porter's statement. The Daily Herald picked up the story (not from me) and published it (somewhat inaccurately and rather sensationally) yesterday under the byline of Caleb Warnock, who frequently covers American Fork. A flurry of communication ensued among officials and candidates. Some feathers were seriously ruffled, and some apologies were offered.

If you'll forgive a brief look backstage at the blog, I wrote 2275 words for today's post, a fairly thorough account of the matter, laced with my commentary as usual. I included some things the Herald has not reported, based mostly on available documents on the Web and elsewhere, and partly on some personal communications with officials. But that is far too many words to devote to a tempest in a teapot, and far too much to impose on my readers. It's just another little bump in the political road, exaggerated in the mind of an inexperienced candidate, exacerbated by a good reporter who had a bad day, and enabled by a city councilor who sent a reporter a copy of a public document. Accordingly, I have eliminated about 1250 words. It feels much better, if you must know.

I have also added a brief on an unrelated local matter, at the end, to reward you for getting that far. (Hint: I use the word pheasant.)

If you really do want more words on the subject, read the following at your own risk:

  • My initial blog post.
  • Yesterday's Daily Herald article.
  • The comments on yesterday's article. Some are scurrilous or crazy, but one is from Porter himself, after he learned what really happened, and one is from American Fork City Councilor Heidi Rodeback (MFCC here at the blog), the one who forwarded the memo to Caleb Warnock.
  • MFCC's blog post from last evening, where she explains and apologizes for her role in the tempest.
  • An American Fork Citizen article which partly rehashes the other article, but also adds some new material. (Forgive the illiterate headlines in these articles; the reporter doesn't write them.)

Here are a few comments of my own:

Confusion: Porter mistook statistics about property crimes (e.g. theft and burglary) for statistics about violent crimes (e.g. battery, rape, murder). Unlike violent crime, which is very low in American Fork, property crime runs about average. Property crime isn't trivial, especially when most of it is committed to finance methamphetamine addictions, but the difference matters. It's the difference between, on one hand, locking your car and home and watching for shoplifters (avoiding property crime) and, on the other hand, not being able to walk the streets safely at night (because of violent crime).

Likely Effects on the Porter Campaign: Even though the initial error was his, Porter's campaign will not suffer negative effects. All publicity is good publicity, at least for a low-profile campaign. It helps that he has apologized for his original error. It would help even more if he would renounce the scurrilous things his supporters wrote in their comments on the Herald article and apologize to the officials about which they wrote them. (I don't think he told them what to write.)

It's a Public Document: The memo was not leaked to the newspaper; nor should their having it and reporting it have been a public relations problem. The memo is a public document, which anyone is entitled to request and receive. Otherwise, I wouldn't have had it myself, and I certainly wouldn't have quoted it. Even had it been one of Porter's opponents who sent the memo to Caleb Warnock, which it was not, and had the sender's motive been campaign-related, which it was not, it would still not have been wrong. No candidate can reasonably expect a serious opponent -- or the leaders of a city that is potentially harmed by the candidate's erroneous statement -- to give him a free pass when he publicly says negative things which are easily proven false. This is not dirty politics. It's just politics.

Not a Press Release: The Herald and Citizen stories, and Porter's own comments published on the Web, call the memo a "statement to the media," "a press release," and "a news release." But it was not a statement to the media; it was an internal (though legally public) memo. Nor did the fact that the memo was forwarded to the media make it a press statement. The memo in no way resembles a press release, and it surprised me that it would be mistaken for one by professional journalists. What it looks like is the sort of document that I myself have fed to the media many times, either because they wanted it as background, or because I wanted them to have it.

Apologies: As far as I can tell from the stories and other documents, and what I've heard from some City officials, almost everyone is apologizing to almost everyone. Some apologize for more than they're guilty of, to prevent others from getting blame they don't deserve, and to heal the breach, so to speak. Some apologize reluctantly and try to turn apology into a defense or a political statement. Some don't apologize at all. Life goes on.

Campaigning Is Hard: It's a high-stress activity. It's physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Even intelligent people with much life experience find that there is no substitute for experience actually campaigning. The second time a person runs for office, he or she usually is much more seasoned and politically mature, and therefore a much better candidate. For what it's worth, one of the things that is hard about campaigning is resisting the temptation to believe the most paranoid possible explanation of a campaign misfortune, when the facts are not yet in. The paranoid explanation of a thing is rarely the true one.

Non Sequitur

The other little tempest in American Fork's teapot just now has to do with a visiting high school football coach who mangled a wayward pheasant. I do not advocate or excuse animal cruelty, but the temperature of some published responses has me wondering, Would some people be less angry about this if the victim had been a peasant instead of a pheasant?

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