November 28, 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. 

Book Review: Mia Love — The Rise, Stumble and Resurgence of the Next GOP Star, by Matt Canham, Robert Gehrke and Thomas Burr

A Review of Mia Love -- The Rise, Stumble and Resurgence of the Next GOP StarWith Mia Love: The Rise, Stumble and Resurgence of the Next GOP Star, a biography of Mia Love by Salt Lake Tribune reporter Matt Canham,  with Robert Gehrke and Thomas Burr, readers are fortunate to find a glimpse into the history and biography of Utah’s newest Representative to Congress, the first black, Republican woman to be elected to the United States House of Representatives. The book (which you can find at mialovebook.com or at the Amazon link below) is not authorized by Mia Love or her campaign.

Americans should be so lucky as to have such books about every member of Congress. With an incumbency reelection rate above 80%–and often much higher even—for over a half a century, it’s rare that new members join Congress. It’s even more rare that voters have any opportunity to learn the behind-the-scenes backstory before they even take office.

Over the last three years, first Utah and then America has watched the meteoric rise of Mia Love from relative obscurity to the brightest new light in the Republican constellation of stars after the midterm elections of 2014. With any new politician comes a narrative, a story that brings them to office and becomes their brand. With Mia Love — The Rise, Stumble and Resurgence of the Next GOP Star voters get to go beyond the carefully crafted and controlled messages to learn who Love is, where she came from, and, well, how she got here. The authors neither pull their punches nor swing them. Their intent seems to be to tell a story, present the facts, and let readers form a picture on their own.

The research seems thorough and the narrative doesn’t seem to depart far from what’s already been reported in the press and by Love campaign during the 2012 and 2014 races. However, what the book adds is details about her childhood, conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also called the Mormons or LDS Church), courtship with Jason Love, and some of the backstage drama preceding her speeches at the 2012 Utah Republican Party Convention and the 2012 Republican National Convention.

The reporting is great, even if it does come off as a really long news piece at times. The authors stick to what they know best, and the writing at times feels like an extended article that might appear on any given day in the Salt Lake Tribune. In many respects this choice of how to tell the story lends it a greater air of credibility. It’s hard to fault the book as biased, slanted, or otherwise critical of Love. Rather, the authors appear to take pains to keep the writing anesthetized of comment, critique, and color.  It’s not a bad way to go and it leaves all of the drama to Mia Love’s story itself.

Because there is drama here.

The upshot of a drier writing style is that Mia Love’s story stands on its own.  There’s plenty in her sometimes unlikely trail to Congress give it Hollywood scale proportions and plot twists (and I’m waiting every day to hear that she has optioned the rights to the story off). It’s hard not to see echoes of Erin Brockovich at points, or Robert Redford’s Bill McKay at others. Mia’s story stands on its own, and the authors’ style stays out of the way.

The authors are careful to consider areas and provide helpful description of subjects in which the reader may not be well-informed. For example, Canham and Co. take pains to explain aspects of the LDS Church to outsiders who may not be familiar with the often insular faith that Mia shares with former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The result is explanations that are concise, but helpful and fair. As a Mormon myself, it can be difficult to watch others describe my faith, but Canham, Gehrke and Burr deserve props for their treatment of the LDS faith.

When Mia Love gets past early biography–youth, college, conversion, and courtship–and finally arrives at the politics of Love’s runs for Congress, the narrative occasionally puts a fine point on how small Utah’s political community really is. If everyone on Earth is just six degrees of separation apart, then degree of separation in Utah politics is smaller still – no more than one or two degrees, perhaps. It’s no wonder that interference from Washington, D.C. consultants puts such a bad taste in Utahns mouth—we all know each other, and it rubs when someone who doesn’t know Utah shows up and tries to dictate how campaigns should be run. In Mia’s rise, it becomes clear that she did great when she stuck with local talent, winning the 2012 Utah Republican Convention with Casey Voeks and the 2014 General Election with Dave Hansen, but struggled when she spent time listening to consultants who parachuted in for the 2012 general election.

After filling out Love’s biography, political history, and election story, the authors spend a few pages laying out the geography that Representative-elect Love will face when she reaches Washington. For me, though, reading to know the history of Utah’s newest Representative, her past was more interesting than predictions about her future. Only time will tell whether Love is a flash in the pan or continues to rise as a leader in Washington and Utah.

Mia Love: The Rise, Stumble and Resurgence of the Next GOP Star is an interesting read, a must read, even, and not only for political junkies like myself, but for anyone curious about Love’s story as a fulfillment of the American dream and promise.

With any luck, this won’t be the last book that Canham, Gehrke and Burr write, but will be just the first to expand on the stories and biographies of Utah’s elected officials. Writing this book is a good thing for the public, and well in line with their roles as journalists. That said, I can’t help but wonder why they haven’t done this yet for other Utah politicians. Take, for example, Speaker Becky Lockhart. As Utah’s first female Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, she was arguably the most powerful woman in the state during her term, and I know we haven’t seen the last of her, yet. Or another might cover former Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff, two conservative politicians who once enjoyed a high level of popularity in their own right, only to be brought down by hubris and corruption.

Few are as well-positioned to write these stories as this trio of authors, and Utah, and the country, could only be served by the effort.


 

Posted previously at Utah Politico Hub. Reposted with permission. 


Mia Love: The Rise, Stumble and Resurgence of the Next GOP Star is available on Amazon for $6.99 for the e-book and will be available in print for $12.99 later this week.

Cutting Non-Defense Discretionary Spending Just Isn’t Enough

Cutting discretionary spending alone is not going to solve our fiscal woes. Entitlement reform must happen if we’re to maintain our economic strength.

That, or raise taxes. A lot.

When the LDS Church shows up for a press conference, does it jeopardize tax exempt status?

I’m expecting an Utah paper editorial separation of church and state any day now. I’d bet dollars for donuts that it’ll be in the Salt Lake Tribune, too. The Deseret News just doesn’t roll that way.

Yesterday, the LDS Church openly supported Governor Herbert’s signing of HB 116 by sending Presiding Bishop H. David Burton to the ceremony. While many detractors will argue that the Church regularly engages in political activity, citing the Proposition 8 battle in California, it is actually quite rare for the LDS Church to openly engage in politics. Typically, the LDS Church prefers to work in the background, if at all, when it feels the need to support or oppose legislation. (I do not believe that the Church has supported, in recent memory or indeed the last century, any candidates for public office).

When it does engage, actively or otherwise, it is usually because the cause aligns with what LDS Church leadership believe is in the interests of the Church membership. In California and Proposition 8, it was defense of the institution of traditional marriage. In Utah and HB116, it was the family.

Proponents of the bill were grateful for the LDS Church’s support. Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, told the Tribune that

There is no question that the Utah Compact, with the church’s endorsement, made a significant difference to me and others in the Legislature who helped craft immigration legislation. It provided the inspiration for our efforts to negotiate and compromise, enabling us to create principle-based legislation the majority of the Legislature eventually supported.

Paul Mero, Director of the Sutherland Institute, speculated that if Utah had been in legislative session right after the Arizona law passed last year, we would have seen an Arizona style enforcement law passed here.

But this is not about immigration. This is about the LDS Church’s involvement in the issue. Almost immediately after the press conference featuring Bishop Burton, questions began to arise, on Twitter and Facebook: did the LDS Church cross the line? Can it engage without forfeiting its tax exempt status?

http://twitter.com/curtbentley/status/48106635754881024

It’s an issue that comes up every few years, at least here in Utah. Uniquely in this country, Utah is dominated by members of the LDS faith. No other state is so religiously homogeneous and few faiths, with perhaps the exception of Catholicism, place such a value on following the guidance of church leadership. They believe that they are lead by a prophet and apostles that are, like the ancient Christian church, called directly by God and are in communication with Him. With that kind of faith, every action taken by LDS Church officialdom is given that much more credence than might otherwise be granted. As is often said in Sunday School–usually about gospel doctrine, not religions–“when the Prophet speaks, the discussion is over.”

The Salt Lake City LDS Temple in the heart of downtown Salt Lake, with the state capitol up the hill behind it.

So what happens when a prophet speaks about politics? Although it was only Bishop Burton at the signing, and not a declaration from the LDS Church’s current prophet and president, Thomas S. Monson, it was a clear signal about where the LDS Church stands on immigration, and it will change the political discourse in the state, if it has not already.

Legally, the LDS Church is not permitted to support of a candidates for public office under any circumstances. The LDS Church is a tax exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code. The IRS website states that such organizations cannot participate in support of a candidate for public office without risking tax exempt status.

The law, however,  is more lenient with regards to lobbying, which in this case would be what the LDS Church did for HB116. Again, the IRS website on lobbying for 501(c)(3) organizations:

In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying).  A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.

At what point does “some lobbying” become “too much lobbying” and risk loss of tax-exempt status? What is a “substantial part” of its activities? The IRS explains that the “substantial part” test looks at

Whether an organization’s attempts to influence legislation, i.e., lobbying, constitute a substantial part of its overall activities is determined on the basis of all the pertinent facts and circumstances in each case. The IRS considers a variety of factors, including the time devoted (by both compensated and volunteer workers) and the expenditures devoted by the organization to the activity, when determining whether the lobbying activity is substantial.

So were the LDS Church’s efforts a “substantial part of its overall activities” or not?

Previous to Bishop Burton’s appearance at the signing, the LDS Church’s support has been minimal. The LDS Church did support the Utah Compact, the guiding principles upon which the bill was written, but actually avoid public appearance or direct support when it was announced. There are allegations that Bill Evans and John Taylor spent a significant amount of time at the Capitol during the last ten days of the session; however, the presence of two lobbyists looking out for the LDS Church’s interest is hardly a substantial part of the LDS Church’s efforts. As Curt Bentley noted on Twitter

http://twitter.com/curtbentley/status/48112712072429568

With tens of thousands of missionaries world-wide, millions of members, a laity priesthood, farms, dairies, canneries, and charities, the work of two lobbyists is hardly substantial.

So, in the present case, the allegations against the Church retaining its tax exempt status will probably fail. When a church provides guidance to its members, whether lead by a prophet or by a pope, it may indeed present some internal conflict for those who do not agree with it but who ascribe to its faith. However, church’s aren’t founded to make people feel good about themselves–their purpose is to help them become better people. If that means they have to be more compassionate about their fellowmen–including those who were not born here or do not have a legal status here–then churches should, and ought, to do that.

On the other hand, whether the law will survive federal constitutional review is an entirely different question. On that, Democratic state Senator Ross Romero may have the right stance.