December 18, 2014

KSL’s Sheryl Worsley Files Ethics Inquiry Over Trib’s Mia Love Biography

KSL’s Sheryl Worsley Files Ethics Inquiry Over Trib’s Mia Love BiographyIn a coup for raising the standards of professional journalists (who are disappearing like dinosaurs after a giant meteorite hit), KSL’s News Director Sheryl Worsley (not apparently acting in her capacity as a KSL employee) sent an “ethics inquiry” to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) to complain about the Salt Lake Tribune’s publication of a biography on newly elected Mia Love.

Unauthorized by Mia Love or her campaign, the biography tells Love’s story, from her birth in Haiti through to election day on Tuesday November 6, 2014, and was written by Tribune reporters Matt Canham, Robert Gehrke, and Thomas Burr.  (Read my review on the biography here).

After the book was published, it didn’t take long for naysayers to cry ‘foul.’

“This whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth,” said Bryan Schott,  Managing Editor of UtahPolicy.com, on November 8.  The Doug Owens campaign did not receive notice of the book until mid-October, he argued. “Probably because [the Salt Lake Tribune] didn’t want to jeopardize their access to Owens.”

That’s entirely possible…though more than a bit improbable given that the Tribune: A) was the first to break the stories about Mia Love’s problematic policy positions on federal student loans, B) had expressed concern about her depth of experience, and C) ultimately endorsed Doug Owens.

I just can’t see Owens cutting off access to the Tribune. The paper was his best asset in the race.

In the email from Worsley to Andrew M. Seaman, who covers ethics at SPJ, Worsley refers him to the book and asks question relating to the appropriateness of writing a biography on a candidate.

Hi Andrew-

Please review the following link: http://www.sltrib.com/news/1793432-155/love-com-mia-iframe-www-tribune

A newspaper or any other journalistic entity writing a biography about a politician raises some key questions which need to be answered. Should a journalistic entity write a biography for a candidate? Mia Love was criticized for changing her position on federal student loans and the eliminating the Department of Education. Did the Tribune pursue that story with vigor or were they worried about upsetting Mia and messing up their book deal? Who requested the biography? Was it Mia’s campaign or the Tribune’s idea? Will the reporters be paid for their book? When did the Tribune disclose they were writing a biography about Mia? Why are they holding it until after the election?

Final judgment should be withheld until after we see what is in the book, but some of these questions won’t be answered in its pages. We are the in the process of reading it now. The initial pages indicate the Tribune reporters convinced Love to do the story, so it was their idea and that they agreed to protect some anonymous sources.

I find this disturbing. I wondered your thoughts. Please let me know if you have any insights.

Thanks. -Sheryl Worsley

Past President, Utah Headliners

Seaman, who has not read the book, responded:

Hi Sheryl:

Thanks again for the email.

I don’t think I can make any specific statements unless I read the book.

In general, you do raise appropriate concerns. Additionally, I wonder when the process of the book began. If the paper put considerable resources into writing the book before the election, they would appear to have a vested interest in her winning. For example, how many people would buy the book if the candidate lost. Also, as you mention, did the paper disclose that it was publishing a book in their other reporting?

Either way, journalists should avoid conflicts of interest – real or perceived.

It’s an interesting scenario. I wonder if other news organizations may move in this direction to raise revenue.

Let me know if I can be of any more assistance!

Best, Andrew

Pretty blasé an answer to an ethics inquiry.

Despite these communications, or maybe because of them, we are left with these remaining issues:

  • Worsley issued her complaint before reading the book. I wonder if she’ll be as concerned after she has finished her reading.
  • It appears that Worsley may be misrepresenting to Seaman, or assuming more than she knows, for whom the book was being written and at whose request. To my knowledge, the book was not for” candidate Love, nor did she easily acquiesce to interviews. Rather, she had to be persuaded to sit down to talk. From my reading of the book, it’s clear that she only gave limited quotes and in all cases the authors were willing to fact check and present conflicting facts when they arose. In all likelihood, the campaign recognized the potential liability of giving access to the press outlet that had been most critical of her policies, campaigning, and qualifications for office, but gave access anyway.
  • Worsley raises the issue of student loans and questions the “vigor” with which the Tribune pursued that story. A quick search shows that on Tribune’s site are 172 stories about Mia Love and student loans, while KSL’s site has only 96 stories.
  • It appears that the Tribune broke the story about Mia Love’s positions and comments on student loans first, as well as that of Love wanting to end federally subsidized student loans.
  • This, too: the Tribune was also the first to break that Mia Love had paid off her student loans during the campaign.
  • A video of the press scrum after the Fourth Congressional District Debate by the Utah Debate Commission shows Love getting testy with Matt Canham, the main author on the book, when he calls her out on the issue. I would be interested to know whether Worsley, or anyone else, sees any evidence of the Tribune’s reporters pulling their punches.
  • Seaman agrees that there are potential journalistic conflicts in the process in which the book began. Further, at least on the face of it, it could be argued the Tribune had a vested interest in the outcome of the race. If they did–and maybe they did–it’s hard to see how the Tribune acted on it. The paper endorsed Doug Owens, rerunning the endorsement just days before the election.
  • Seaman agrees that journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real and perceived. If this is the case, it is possible that the optimal outcome would have been to wait until after the race was over, or to disclose the intent to write the book to both Love and Owens early in the process. Does the failure to do so diminish the value of the book? Not in the slightest. In the balance, the value to the public is much higher than the potential harm to either candidate. See the previous point for whether Owens was harmed by the Tribune’s reporting during the case.
  • Seaman seems to suggest that publishing books on their reporting–or working on books on the subject of the reporting–is a direction that other journalists may take to raise revenue in the future. In other words, get with the times, Worsley. Yes, reporters should avoid conflicts of interest, but they gotta eat, too. And, really, this doesn’t seem to be that bad of an idea. Quite the contrary.

Previously posted at Utah Politico Hub. Reposted with permission. 

Male, middle-aged, moral, and…miserable? No, not the Republican Party.

Liberal Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 3.51.53 PMWhat is predominantly male, middle-aged, miserable, underpaid and over-educated?

Journalists, according to an Indiana University study reported in The Atlantic.

They’re also predominantly liberal. Somehow, though, that left leaning bias (this is among all journalists, not just the politicos) hasn’t led to income parity between male and female reporters, for whatever reason.

According to the study:

Among the more negative findings are that U.S. journalists today are less satisfied with their work, less likely to say they have complete autonomy to select stories, much more likely to say that journalism is headed in the wrong direction than in the right one, and much more likely to say that their news staffs have shrunk in the past year rather than remained the same or grown.

Among other interesting findings, the report found that journalists rely increasingly on social media, and not only to collect news, but to monitor what other news organizations are doing.

After all, there’s nothing like trying to keep ahead of your competition, is there?


 

See graphs from the report below.

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Courage shown in speaking up against John Swallow [KSL]

The following is an op-ed piece that I wrote for KSL as posted this afternoon.


 

John Swallow

SALT LAKE CITY — I’m sure there was a moment when Traci Gundersen wondered if making a bar complaint against Utah Attorney General John Swallow was a wise step for her career.

As far as I can tell, she’s the only person who has been inside the attorney general’s office and has come forward to call “foul” on the attorney general.Unlike others who have publicly accused Swallow of wrongdoing in recent months, Gundersen is unique in that she is not under indictment, in jail or anonymous. In other words, unlike other Swallow accusers, she seems like an honest person with nothing to gain by the claim. Rather, she is a reputable and upstanding attorney who worked in the Utah attorney general’s office during Mark Shurtleff’s term.

Not only has she worked in the attorney general’s office — where she was when Swallow was first brought on by Shurtleff to be groomed as his successor — but her work there caught the attention of others in state government and she was lured away to a job as director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection. Her job, from 2010 to until last week, when she left the office voluntarily, was to protect Utahns against scam artists and pyramid schemes.

A longtime employee of the state and a well-respected attorney, she must have known that accusing the state’s chief legal officer of violating the attorney/client relationship — one of the most important tenets of the legal profession — would put her on dangerous footing.

Unlike Jeremy Johnson, who is under indictment, accused of a litany of scams, Gunderson is an attorney in good standing with the Utah Bar.

Unlike Marc Sessions Jenson, who is currently interned at the Utah State Prison for failing to pay $4 million in restitution for scams, Gundersen has nothing to gain by attacking Swallow.

But she does have everything to lose.

By taking her complaint straight to the Utah Bar, a body that has the ability to discipline, disbar or impose sanctions on any member of the Utah Bar — including Swallow — she added yet another dimension to the layers of Swallow’s difficulties. Swallow will now need to undergo review by the Utah Bar Association.

With everything to lose, and nothing to gain, Gundersen’s bar complaint, filed quietly and without fanfare, is an act of true courage.

What makes Gundersen’s charge against Swallow so compelling is that it lies in an event that Swallow does not deny. On the contrary, in an interview with Doug Wright, Swallow said, on the air, that he was “proud” of the phone call.

The event in question is a recorded conversation between Swallow and what City Weekly described as “the owner of a telemarketing sales floor” by the name of Aaron Christner.

Recorded while Swallow was still running for attorney general — and still collecting checks for his campaign — Swallow is heard promising to take over the Utah Division of Consumer Protection — housed in the Utah Department of Commerce — and move it into the attorney general’s office.

What makes the call suspect is that at the time the Division of Consumer Protection already had a $400,000 civil penalty imposed on Christner and his business partner Ryan Jensen, as well as an order to cease and desist operations. Further, the Division of Consumer Protection was Swallow’s client, which Swallow readily acknowledged during the call. As his client, Swallow was under a duty not only to tell them that he had been contacted by Christner, the target of their efforts, but to consult with the division on how it would want to proceed.

In the real world, clients give direction on how to proceed with a case to their attorneys, not the other way around. Sure, attorneys know the law, but they cannot act without consulting with their client.

To collect on the penalty, the division referred the case against Christner, and the $400,000 penalty and cease and desist order, to Assistant Attorney General Jeff Buckner, who filed a case with the 2nd District Court in late 2011. However, Christner and Jensen were difficult to find, and throughout early 2012 the division continued to look for them.

Meanwhile, in defiance of the cease and desist order, Christner and Jensen opened another telemarketing company, the last of several proxy companies they are accused of using to hide alleged scams.

Meanwhile, during this time the Republican nomination battle to replace Shurtleff as attorney general was in full swing, and an associate of Christner’s suggested that he should get in contact with Swallow, specifically to attend a fundraising breakfast at Mimi’s Cafe. Christner took the advice to heart and called Swallow, then chief deputy attorney general under Shurtleff with oversight of “the civil divisions and all litigation involving the state of Utah.”

After a few preliminary questions, including Christner informing Swallow that he was being pursued by the Division of Consumer Protection for $400,000 in civil penalties, Swallow offers to help Christner sit down with Shurtleff and then bashes into the Division of Consumer Protection, his own client:

“(T)he way Utah’s so dysfunctional right now, is the client is the Department of Commerce and Consumer Protection, and that is something we, uh, control or even influence greatly, it’s because the work for the governor’s office, and now when I’m attorney general you know, this is kind of confidential, I will try to restructure it so consumer protection is under the attorney general (office) and the attorney general has more authority over those investigations. In fact, complete authority over that,” said Swallow, according to the complaint.

If you can’t tell, Swallow is telling Christner that while Swallow can’t do anything now — because Swallow’s client is the Division of Consumer Protection and they’re calling the shots — once he’s in charge, he’ll flip the relationship and start telling them who they can and cannot pursue.

It’s like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. The lawyer will take over the client’s organization and start calling the shots.

But that’s not even the rub, not yet. Swallow never told his client — the Division of Consumer Protection — that he had had a conversation with the guy that they had been chasing. The first they heard about it was from the newspaper when City Weekly published the recording of the conversation online.

If you’re looking for a rule — and I know you are — look no further than Rule 1.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which requires that an attorney “inform” the client and “consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished.”

Clearly, Swallow has not consulted nor informed his client of relevent and important communications with an accused malfactor.

Worse, Swallow is expressing an interest in the outcome of the case, a clear violation of another rule, that of Rule 1.8(i):

(i) A lawyer shall not acquire a proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject matter of litigation the lawyer is conducting for a client.

In this case, Swallow has been introduced to Christner through a fundraising function, has explained that when he is elected he will attempt a take-over of the government agency that is chasing Christner, and seeking political favor for the action.

If exchanging political contributions for a desired outcome in violation of the law is not a proprietary interest, I don’t know what is. Whatever it is, it isn’t honest.

And the complaint goes on.

Gundersen has now done what no honest person has yet done: she’s made a claim and backed it up by filing charges with the appropriate body. She’s put her name, and her reputation, on the line against a powerful man with powerful friends. Whether it results in moving the Utah Bar to take action against Swallow remains to be seen, but what is not in doubt is her courage.

I hope more like her will step forward in coming weeks and months. It’s time for the attorney general’s office to move out from under the cloud of scandal and restore its integrity, and I fear that we won’t see it happen while the current occupant retains his office.

 

Where is the investigation John Swallow requested?

Swallow

It’s been almost two weeks since a Salt Lake Tribune’s article showed connections between indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson and Utah’s new Attorney General John Swallow.  Despite calls for an investigation from almost everyone–including Swallow himself–we have yet to see one.

Accusing Swallow of offering to bribe US Senator Harry Reid, Johnson provided emails, photos, financial records and a transcript of secretly recorded conversation between Swallow and Johnson in April 2012. In an email response to the Tribune, Swallow denied Johnson’s accusations and called for an investigation by the US Attorney for Utah, David Barlow.

“I deny that I have ever participated in a scheme to bribe a member of Congress,” Swallow wrote. “I expect no special treatment. I do not hold myself or anyone else above the law. … I urge your office to look into these allegations and I pledge my full support and cooperation.”

Calling for an investigation is a good move. It also followed my recommendation earlier that day.

At the time, the Barlow’s office said they would respond to the letter, but would not release that response. If Swallow has received that response, he hasn’t released it, either.

Which leads to the question: will there be an investigation into the allegations? Or will the Utah Attorney General’s office continue to operate under a cloud of scandal?

It’s not the first time Swallow’s been tied to unethical behavior, as I have indicated in previous posts. In addition to Swallow’s history in headlines there, Swallow has had problems keeping his campaigns on the right side of the law. In 2007, Swallow’s campaign was found by the Federal Election Commission to have violated federal law for failing to disclose donations received.  At the time, Swallow’s campaign wasn’t the only one investigated. Similar to now, it was Swallow’s donors that were investigated and that led to the finding that Swallow’s campaign had broken the law. You can find out more by search on the FEC’s website.

With a history of troubling behavior relative to his financial backers, Swallow should be a high priority for the appropriate investigative body. In addition to Swallow’s call for an investigation, Utah Democrats have also called for an investigation, seeking it from  US Attorney General Eric Holder.

Enid Mickelson, who did not agree that Holder would be an appropriate party to launch such an investigation, did agree there should be an investigation.

“It’s necessary for the public trust that there be an independent investigation. If John Swallow hasn’t done anything wrong, it’s an opportunity for him to clear his name,” she said. “The other issue is, I think, that we are lacking in ethics laws and the campaign finance laws we have in this state.”

In a somewhat more delayed response to the allegations against Swallow, Utah GOP chair Thomas Wright called for a series of reforms to address gaps in Utah’s ethics laws because “It’s clear that, while some actions might not have been against the law, some, at a minimum, were mistakes for a state employee and a candidate for attorney general[.]”

Wright’s proposal includes disclosure of all meetings involving public officials, a limit on campaign contributions, a ban on gifts and the creation of an independent commission to hear ethics complaints against state officials. While citizens may file complaints against legislators, currently no mechanism exists under state law  for making similar complaints against state officers, such as the governor, auditor, treasurer or attorney general.

It’s a gap in Utah’s ethics laws that is causing more than a little trouble. Not only has it allowed Swallow to make “mistakes” that skirt the line of what is ethical, it also has provided no mechanism for recourse when such behavior is found. As a result, Utah’s attorney general begins his term in office under a cloud on his integrity. If Swallow acted appropriately, or at least legally, the citizens of Utah deserve to know. Or, as has been summarized elsewhere, Utahns deserve to know their attorney general is not a crook.

Which brings us back to the beginning. Where is the investigation?


 

APROPOS: If nothing else, this whole affair has burnished the credentials of the Salt Lake Tribune’s journalists, especially Robert Gehrke and Tom Harvey. Despite a general knowledge among Utah’s political insiders about the events, persons, and issues that have surrounded Swallow from before his election to the Utah Attorney General’s office, Gehrke and the Tribune alone have provided any amount of sunlight into the affair. It’s unfortunate that no one with any kind of responsibility to Utah’s voters has stepped forward to lead or call for an investigation.

 

Publius Online on Utah Political Capitol’s podcast

Utah Political Capitol podcastOn Monday, I was a guest on Utah Political Capitol’s weekly podcast. A new venture in the Utah political landscape, my conversation was with Eric Ethington and Curtis Haring, by their description two “long-time Utah politicos.” They are friends, and though we often disagree on public policy (I met Curtis during his time in leadership at the Young Democrats of Utah organization and Eric was communications director for the Utah State Democratic Party from October 2011 to January 2012), I always find conversation with them interesting and insightful.

Listen in to the podcast here. We discussed the recent allegations against newly elected Utah Attorney General John Swallow and the gun regulations and legislation (proposed, suggested, and otherwise).

Lee opposes UN treaty and passes an NDAA amendment protecting civil liberties

English: Grover Norquist at a political confer...

English: Grover Norquist at a political conference in Orlando, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even as the fiscal cliff has dominated headlines this week, there has been other news. While a small group of top legislators and White House officials have been hammering away at a compromise that will avert the near certain recession that the fiscal cliff will bring, and news media have been making hay by accentuating the conflict between President Obama’s proposal to raise taxes $1.6 trillion (instead of the $800 billion he proposed during the campaign) and Republicans’ pledge not to raise taxes without corresponding off-sets in spending (Google also: “Grover Norquist“), other lawmakers have continued the work of governing.

Conflict sells papers, but it doesn’t do much for good governance.

Among the stories that caught my attention this week are two about Utah’s Senator Mike Lee.

On Monday, as Donald “I’m actually an alien in a bad disguise” Trump was blaming Romney’s loss on a “maniacal” position on immigration, Lee also made headlines by opposing what looked like a perfectly reasonable UN treaty on disabilities. Joined by Rick Santorum, Lee argued that, while the idea sounded good on its surface, seeking treaty ratification during a lame duck session was problematic, at best.

Citing Article 6, Section 2 of the Constitution, Lee went to lengths to point out that it was not the topic of the treaty that caused him concern, but other more far-reaching effects it would have on US law.

“Our concerns with this convention have nothing to do with any lack of concern for the rights of persons with disabilities,” Lee is quoted as saying in the Salt Lake Tribune. “”They have everything to do with protecting U.S. sovereignty, protecting the interests of parents in the United States and the interests of families.”

On his blog, Lee laid out five reasons for opposing the treaty, including the impact on US sovereignty (treaties become the supreme law of the land under the US Constitution), the potential to shift parental rights and responsibilities to UN established committees, unprecedented establishment economic, social, and cultural entitlements by way of a UN treaty instead of domestic policy, and  abortion rights. Further, the treaty would be “superfluous” to already established US law.

Meanwhile, Washington Post opinion writer Dana Milbank called Lee’s opposition “contentious” and said that the opposition to the treaty is more grounded in conspiracy theories than legitimate concerns.

Dianne Feinstein, member of the United States ...

Dianne Feinstein, member of the United States Senate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If Lee is trying to be contentious, his behavior on other issues doesn’t show it.  On Thursday night, joined with Democrat Senator Diane Feinstein to sponsor an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) that would assure that American citizens and permanent legal residents apprehended on American soil will be charged and have access to a trial. The amendment was the result of more than a year of work by the two senators, each generally thought  ideologically distant from the other.

Rather than looking contentious, Lee comes out looking more principled and careful.

In a statement previous to the vote, Lee said that while national security is important, “it must not be acquired at the expense of our individual liberty. It may well be said that government’s most important basic responsibility is to protect the liberties of its citizens. Our nation has fought wars on American soil and around the world in defense of individual liberty.  And we must not sacrifice this most fundamental right in pursuit of greater security, especially when we can achieve security without compromising liberty.”

To Dave Montero: When did “one” become “some” Republicans?

Controversy sells papers. If you can’t catch people by the headline, you won’t get them to read your story.

But what happens when journalist have to stir the pot a little themselves to keep the controversy going? Today’s story by Dave Montero may be just that–something to keep a story going another cycle or two. In “2nd District turmoil has some GOP looking at Democrat,” Montero manages to turn one  Republican into “some” Republicans.

On April 21, 2012, Republican delegates at the Utah Republican State Convention chose Chris Stewart as their nominee after Milt Hanks, also a candidate for the nomination, railed from the pulpit against several other candidates for conspiring against Stewart. As Dan Pope might say (or, actually, did say):

“It was a tornado that hit without any warning,” Pope said. “Doppler radar didn’t see it coming and it was gone in six minutes, doing damage to about 35 percent of the property.”

Seriously. You can’t make quotes like that up. Unless you’re Dan Pope. Also, he’s right. Hanks’ 11th hour rant was a bombshell that had the effect of helping Stewart avoid a primary.

In the aftermath, many GOP candidates and activists alike have been understandably angry, but is the premise of the article correct? Are “some” Republicans looking to support a Democrat over Stewart?

It is, as a former journalist friend of mine says, the “oldest trick in the book.”  The trick goes like this: the reporter–Montero in this case–finds one person who says what they want.  Then he runs over to the Democrat, the Jay Seegmiller  who, of course, says “Yeah, there are tons of Republicans who are joining us now.”

Actually, what the Seegmiller campaign said was

“Some of them are so mad they would support just about anybody other than Chris Stewart,” Seegmiller said. “But most that have called have asked ‘What are your positions on this and that?’ And after we talk a little bit, they say ‘you sound like you’re moderate enough that I’d be comfortable enough supporting you.’”

And just like that, Seegmiller earned some free media to tell the state how moderate he is. Just don’t ask Jay why he still has, with all of this new found support, less than $7,000 in the bank.

A simple read of the Salt Lake Tribune story shows only one citation of the supposed “some” that Montero claims are looking to vote Democrat instead of Republican this fall. After one quote from that one person, Montero says that “the fallout has left some Republicans looking to discover who Stewart’s Democratic opponent is.” And then he never cites any of those Republicans.

Why would Montero set up a faulty premise? Was he having a hard time getting Republicans to return his calls? Did the editor like the article written this way? Did Montero, or the editor, or both, need to run to a kid’s ball game (as my reformed reporter friend suggests)? Who knows. But it sets up a faulty premise to the story and plays slight of hand to the reader.

Controversy sells, and to date, Utah’s news media has been all over the 2nd District kerfluffle. I count over ten stories since April 21 that are either about the controversy or make a substantial mention of it. But selling controversy is not the same thing as creating or amplification of  it.

There’s no doubt that there’s real news in here somewhere, but unfortunately, the Salt Lake Tribune is playing a piece of trickery with readers in not holding the story until they could show that “some” really is more than just “one.”

[Salt Lake Tribune]