Readers who had hoped The Cincinnati Enquirer might impose a more watchful eye on local corporations and their business practices with the hiring of a new executive editor probably shouldn’t proceed any further. They will only get depressed.
It’s well known that The Enquirer has been timid about calling out businesses on possible misconduct or shady dealings ever since the newspaper paid $14 million to Chiquita in 1998, when the produce giant threatened to sue following the publication of a damning special section on its alleged practices in Central and South America.
In the years since, The Enquirer’s business coverage has been tepid, and some reporters have alleged they were told to not pursue certain stories after advertisers complained to the publisher.
Last year, in another move that raised media eyebrows, the newspaper named Josh Pichler — the son of Joseph Pichler, Kroger’s retired chairman and CEO — as business editor. The elder Pichler remains fairly influential in business circles, including trying to drum up opposition behind the scenes to the city of Cincinnati’s proposed streetcar system.
Now, with the hiring of Carolyn Washburn as the paper’s editor in charge of all news operations, history suggests that situation could get worse.
Back when The Gannett Co. owned The Idaho Statesman, and while Washburn served as that paper’s executive editor from 1999-2005, it became embroiled in a controversy involving conflicts of interest and journalistic integrity that caught the attention of The Washington Post and media watchdog groups. Gannett also owns The Enquirer.
The Statesman was criticized for being too deferential to Micron Technologies, one of the largest employers in Boise, Idaho.
As Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting wrote in 2001: “The Idaho Statesman has a curious definition of ‘fact checking.’ The business editor of the Gannett-owned daily, Jim Bartimo, resigned when he was told that a story he had worked on about Micron Technologies, the area’s largest employer, had to be sent for pre-publication ‘review’... to Micron Technologies.”
Previously The Statesman’s business news practices were examined by The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, in articles from January and February 2000. Kurtz’s article revealed that The Statesman reporter covering the Micron beat was married to a Micron employee.
When Kurtz asked Washburn about the paper’s Micron coverage and whether it was afraid to be too critical, she replied, “It’s not that it has anything to do with their being the biggest employer.
What we write can affect a lot of people in this community. It can affect the stock price.”
Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan — the newspaper’s top boss — was publisher at The Statesman while Washburn was there and is responsible for bringing her to the Queen City.
Because Buchanan sits on the boards of such groups as the University of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Business Committee and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC), we’re betting she’s just fine with Washburn’s old attitude.
All of which begs a vital question of considerable ethical importance: Would Washburn still let the subject of an article examine the content before publication?
Cincinnati is losing a brave, thoughtful and conscientious politician, truly a rare commodity, at least for the foreseeable future.
Former City Councilman Greg Harris has accepted a major, high-profile job in Detroit. Harris, 39, was hired Jan. 10 as the first executive director for Excellent Schools Detroit.
The new organization is comprised of various education, community and philanthropic leaders who have developed a 10-year, citywide education plan to improve Detroit’s public school system. The $200 million, one-of-a-kind initiative’s goal is to ensure the school system is graduating 90 percent of its students by 2020 and having them enroll in colleges or other post-secondary training programs.
Harris has his work cut out for him: The system is the worst-performing in the nation. But it’s nice to see someone not shy away from a tough challenge.
“Education policy is a really exciting field right now, and it’s an area where I can make a real difference,” Harris said.
From 2000-05, Harris served as executive director of Citizens for Civic Renewal, which built public support for smart growth policies.
A West Price Hill resident, Harris was appointed in January 2009 to fill the unexpired term of Democratic Councilman John Cranley, who was facing term limits. After publicly challenging spending and deployment issues in the city’s Police and Fire Departments as part of budget talks in summer and fall of 2009, he was targeted for defeat by the police and firefighters unions.
That November, Harris placed 10th in balloting for the nine-member City Council, missing the final spot by about 3,400 votes. Reportedly, his willingness to challenge public-sector labor unions was one of the factors that helped him win the Detroit job.
Sometimes it pays to stick up for your convictions, despite the odds.
• • •
Talk about a study in contrasts.
Whereas in Harris, we have a thoughtful Democratic politician who thinks before he speaks and remains true to his principles, the opposite can be said about longtime Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes.
The ex-radio disc jockey, who’s been auditor for 20 years, just won reelection in November and never seems to go away. Just like a cockroach.
Rhodes is known for using his office as a bully pulpit to go after politicians he feels have slighted him and — although ostensibly a Democrat — writes a blog for the Cincinnati Tea Party, has implied that President Obama was born in Kenya, ridicules county efforts to conserve energy and wants to repeal the heath-care reform law.
But even some of Dusty’s supporters were taken aback by his latest diatribes. Two days after the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., involving a congresswoman and a federal judge, Rhodes posted a series of statements on Twitter about alleged shooter Jared Loughner.
“Only question now should be whether to use a firing squad or a good stout rope for the shooter,” Rhodes tweeted. “Either one should be soon.”
For good measure, he added, “First court appearance of that nutcase who shot the folks in Tucson. Why must we spend millions on his sorry self.” Later still, Rhodes tweeted, “The best response is to put him before a firing squad at sunrise. And carry it on all the networks.”
See, this is why you should never give your grandparents access to social media. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Maybe someone can remind Dusty about constitutional rights like the right to a fair trial and equal protection under the law. These guarantees don’t only apply when it’s convenient or to likable suspects.
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