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.”