Vol 1 No. 3 November 18, 2004
Jackman Wilson is an acquaintance, and seems a decent and honorable man, in his capacity as director of the REGISTER-GUARD’s editorial page. So, when he emailed me regarding an error in my “Democrats” article, I felt obligated to correct my mistake.
This was what I had written: “In one prominent case, a local senator has been ‘endorsed’ by the local newspaper time and time again, without the newspaper’s ONCE mentioning that her husband works there in a managerial position. Conflict of interest?”
I replied to Wilson:
It is the obligation of the journalist to get his facts right, and when they are in error, to make a public correction. I, therefore, went to the Eugene Library and researched Mr. Wilson’s claim in the microfilm records available there.
The first mention of Vicki Walker’s political aspirations came in an article (no byline) on January 14, 1998, page 3C, that gives a short biographical sketch, including this: “She and her husband Steve have a 19-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter.” No mention is made of Steve Walker’s employment by the R-G.
On October 2, the R-G ran a story on the two candidates for the HD 41 seat, on pages 1B and 6B, noting that Walker had made a big issue of her daughter Sara’s senior class trip to Mazatlan, and alcohol and wet t-shirt contests by the charter operator. No mention of her husband.
That October 24, on page 18A, the R-G endorsed Walker for House District 41, noting that Walker was “a 42-year-old self-employed Lane County court reporter.” Again, no mention of her R-G connection, even though it was perfectly well known from countless company picnics, etc. that Walker’s husband worked for the R-G. The editorial was either written, edited or approved by Wilson.
In 2000, running for re-election to her House seat, there were three articles in October. On October 4, page 1B and 4B, bylined by Jeff Wright, the candidates were compared, with a sidebar noting “Family: Husband Steve, two grown children.” No mention of Steve’s employment.
On October 10, an article with a David Steves byline notes Walker’s contributions and top contributors, but, again, no mention of her R-G connection, i.e. that a significant portion of her family income comes from an R-G paycheck to her husband.
On October 19, on page 14A, the endorsement editorial debates the relative merits of the two candidates, noting that Walker was “a 44-year-old court reporter” before narrowly endorsing her opponent. Again no mention whatsoever of husband Steve’s R-G employment.
Jumping to the Senate race in 2002, Walker is compared to her new opponent in an article by Joe Mosely on October 1, pages 1C and 5C, noting that Vicki Walker was “a longtime activist in Democratic politics and two-term representative for the former House District 41 ...” You guessed it: no mention of Walker’s R-G connection.
Finally, on October 18, 2002, on page 12A, the REGISTER-GUARD endorsed Walker in the race for Senate District 7 (featuring the catchy headline: “Senate District 7: Walker”) calling Walker: “a 46-year-old self-employed court reporter who is completing her second two-year term in the Oregon House.” Does the R-G mention husband Steve’s connection to the R-G, as alleged in Jackman Wilson’s letter to me, stating “You're probably referring to Vicki Walker, whose husband, Steve, works here. We've noted this fact in endorsement editorials ...”?
No. There is no mention of husband Steve, nor is there mention of his R-G employment. That’s three out of a possible three endorsement editorials (two yea, one nay) that do not make this statement of disclosure.
One might, at first blush, consider this a mere oversight, but the fact that her husband is named at least twice, by name, without adding his R-G connection in articles relating to the various races cannot reasonably be construed as anything better than slovenly journalism, and at worst, a conscious oversight. I did not make either charge in my statement. But, as a matter of fact, and a matter of record, I am afraid that I have to stand by my original story.
I will gladly make the enhancement (NOT correction, please note) that Walker was not ALWAYS endorsed by the R-G, but two out of three (she never faced a primary opponent, so no endorsements were made) could safely be construed as “time and time again,” so I was entirely accurate, if not perfectly clear. Still, the focus of my article was not on the reprehensible state of local political coverage -- that is a subject for another day.
If Mr. Wilson would like to correct me, or point out WHERE the R-G made the disclaimer he states it did, I will, again, be perfectly happy to correct my error. I hope that the R-G will do the same.
I stand by my story.
A member of the National Writers Union, AFLCIO, Hart Williams has been in print since 1973, and has written for THE WASHINGTON POST, THE KANSAS CITY STAR, THE SANTA FE SUN, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, THE OREGONIAN and many others.