David Rodeback's Blog

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Saturday, November 5, 2005
One Part Shallow Fairness, One Part Ineptitude, One Part Malice

We'll start with with shallow fairness. The local weekly newspaper, the American Fork Citizen, does a good job reporting on local government, thanks mostly to the able, seemingly ubiquitous Barbara Christiansen. (Barbara is unusually diligent, thorough, and accurate. A small local paper and its readers are quite fortunate to have her.)

But the Citizen doesn't even try to report election campaigns. Proclaiming a desire to be fair, they mostly refuse to report anything at all about the campaigns, except for a couple of articles briefly mentioning each candidate, one article (or one per race) before the primary and general elections. No reporting from meet-the-candidates events, no investigation of candidate claims, no examination of voting records, no analysis of the campaigns as they proceed. In fact, if they can help it, they won't even report on candidates who make news during their campaigns as something other than candidates (such as volunteers reporting in a City Council meeting, in their volunteer committee capacity, on park upgrade completion).

True, political reporting is a lot of work and mostly thankless. No matter how well you do it, someone will think you're not being fair. (Even blogging is like that.) Maybe this abdication in the name of fairness is really an economic decision; it requires considerable time. Or maybe they just want to live in peace in the community, and don't like the heat of the fire. This gap in coverage certainly is not malicious, but it is regrettable. Good political coverage would be good for the political process.

On to a recent bout of ineptitude. The Citizen and the Daily Herald (owned and run by the same company) sold advertising to our candidates for this week on the following clear terms.

  • No political ads would run in the regular front section of the Citizen this Thursday.
  • More expensive ads would run in a special election section, to be distributed with both the Citizen and the Daily Herald this Thursday.

Two things went wrong.

First, many copies of the Citizen came without the election section. I don't have overall statistics, but my unscientific poll of American Forkers suggests that the fraction was rather large. Both of the copies I picked up at a local convenience store were missing it, too, but I did see the section in the Daily Herald. This problem was quickly and responsibly corrected: Citizen subscribers reportedly found a special copy of the election section in their mailboxes today, meaning that it was mailed yesterday. So rather than delivering a lot less advertising than they had been paid for, they fixed the problem as well as they could. (There was nothing they could do about those of us who bought the paper at the local convenience store or elsewhere and didn't get the section; they have no record of who we are.) There was a sort of apology and a murky explanation in today's Daily Herald by Randy Wright, the Executive Editor.

Second, the Citizen printed a full-page ad for mayoral candidate Shirl LeBaron in the main section after all. No other political ads appeared in the section. Ironically, the newspaper that wouldn't think of endorsing a candidate ends up looking like they endorse, or at least strongly favor, LeBaron.

Finally, malice. When I wrote Thursday evening about the malicious full-page attack on American Fork council candidate Terry Fox, I was unaware of one salient fact, according to my sources. The article was signed by "Jerry Harris," ostensibly a retired police officer. At least it was not anonymous, I thought. This is me on anonymity, from a recent piece on political courage:

In our relatively free, relatively democratic society, political courage does not wear a sheet over its head. In print, it signs its name. In person, it wears a nametag or at least its own face. In such a time and place, anonymity is typically the refuge of cowards and the exploiter of fools, and serves no honorable purpose. It should not be suppressed, unless it is libel or slander, but it deserves to be ignored.

I guess I should have written, "It signs its own name." My sources say that there is a Jerry Harris, but he does not live in American Fork and may not be the one responsible for the ad's appearance. As a voter, if I cannot evaluate the real source of the questions (charges, really) and the credibility of that source, I have to reject them as unproven and irrelevant to my vote.

But the soup thickens. Watch Caleb Warnock's byline in tomorrow's Daily Herald for some discussion of who paid for the ad. I think I know whom he will name, but I won't scoop him. Just a thought: If it is one of our current candidates or one of our current elected officials, he or she should seriously consider publicly withdrawing from the campaign or resigning the office, as the case may be, if for no other reason than to help clean up American Fork politics. At the very least, he or she owes Fox and the voting public an immediate, very public apology, an honest explanation, and a firm, public resolution never to play dirty again.

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