Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Without Fear or Favor

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Adolph S. Ochs, took over the struggling New York Times 103 years ago. In an era of sensational yellow journalism, he wrote a set of principles including the promise that the paper would report the news without fear or favor.

Saturday morning I was sitting in a meeting next to Bernailillo County Democratic State Senator Tim Eichenberg, left, who made a statement before the group of about 30 people. He said he had withdrawn his name from consideration in the run as a Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate. I wrote on this blog:

He talked with current Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who is the only declared gubernatorial Democratic Party candidate, telling her that because of her “complacency or complicity with the ‘pay-to-play’” atmosphere surrounding the administration of Governor Bill Richardson, and standing quietly behind him, Eichenberg was unwilling to invest a half million dollars in a losing campaign.

"I looked her square in the eye when I said that,” Eichenberg said. “I told her I didn’t think she was going to win.”

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Now I’m not the New York Times. Though I like Ochs’ “without fear or favor” philosophy, I do not follow The New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism. Don’t take that wrong, I just can’t abide by the strict code the Times imposes; some Times employees also have difficulty complying. I believe in journalistic ethics, practice them too. I just can’t quite do it at the same high level required to work at the Times; wish I could.

Apparently my reporting set the local political blogs, especially those of Democratic Party leaning, all a twitter. There were over a dozen posts, which have spun off of my reporting.

It started with my blogging buddies Ched MacQuigg and Peter St. Cyr who added their particular takes to the story.

St. Cyr fired the first salvo at Eichenberg when he posed the question did he commit 'political harakiri'.

The editorial side of political blogging took off. In the blogging world, there is a similar sensational aspect of our own "yellow journalists."

New Mexico Independent’s Danielle Bauer wrote a story entitled “The Monday blogosphere: Diane Denish Edition,” in which she referred to my “claiming” that Eichenberg made the statements, as if it were not provable.

NMFBIHOP’s Matthew Reichbach wrote an article, "Eichenberg responds to questions about his Denish comments," with the e-mail response.

Reichbach also writes for New Mexico Independent where he often simply reposts work from his personal blog. However, in this case he editorialized.

Democratic State Sen. Tim Eichenberg recently made waves throughout the New Mexico blogosphere when he said that he didn’t believe that Lt. Gov. Diane Denish could win the gubernatorial race next year. Now he’s backing off, with a statement e-mailed to political bloggers saying, “I find it unfortunate that my comments were used to create division among Democrats and the Democratic Party…”

Barbara Wold at Democracy for New Mexico wrote a post entitled, "Sen. Tim Eichenberg: Sour Grapes on Abandoning Lt. Governor Hopes?" in which she wrote that I had, "described a purported conversation he had with Sen. Eichenberg."

Republicans, State Party Chairman Harvey Yates Jr. and Gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez made public comments.

Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer Sean Olson wrote an article today headlined, “Dem Joins Attacks on Denish?

In a Journal interview Monday, Eichenberg wouldn't confirm or deny making the statements. He did say he spoke with Bralley at a weekly bipartisan discussion group held by Republican gubernatorial candidate Janice Arnold-Jones, but didn't know Bralley was a blogger or that the conversation was part of an interview.

My Take

You don’t get to kill this messenger without a fight.

I wasn’t going to comment on the stir my reporting caused. Eichenberg said it, I reported it and I stand by my story.

However, when other bloggers suggest that I “claimed” Eichenberg said something rather than acknowledging I had simply reported his statements. Bauer then has a due diligence obligation to establish the difference.

I have been seated near Eichenberg on several occasions during Conspiracy Brews meetings and I often refer to events I have posted on this site during the meetings. I have taken his picture several times. He knows I am a blogger.

Eichenberg met me at the July 12 Martin Chávez mayoral announcement where he introduced me to his mother. I was loaded down with cameras and explained why I was not inside the building.

I followed Eichenberg out of the August 22 Conspiracy Brews meeting and talked about his getting into the Lt. Gov. race. He always seems initially perturbed about having his picture taken but then allows it. I’ve told him I need multiple pictures of the political players, of which he is one, for my archives.

Eichenberg knows who I am. He knows my work.

There was another interesting little thing, for all the press releases by all the politicians; I did not receive a single e-mail or press release. No blogger or particularly the Journal called me to get my side of the story once Eichenberg implied I was not straight forward.

More importantly, Eichenberg didn’t make his comments to me in a private conversation as he told the Journal. He made his remarks to the entire group of about 30 participants. It was his turn to speak and we listened.

Even if Eichenberg didn’t know who I was, it wouldn’t matter; he said it in a public meeting, where anyone could have repeated it. I didn't interview him, I simply quoted him.

The statement he made qualifies as news under several tests of newsworthiness. This is a man bites dog scenario. I wrote it because it is a profound story about which the public needs to know. He raised the issue of the perception of ethics in government, now is the time to take up the conversation.

As a journalist, I don’t always get to chose what story I have to report, this was one, without fear or favor…

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