January 6th, 2011 By | News | Posted In: Media, Ethics, Business, Community

A Bad Omen for News


It's well-known that The Enquirer has been timid about calling out local corporations on possible misconduct or shady dealings ever since the newspaper paid $14 million to Chiquita in the late 1990s 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.

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 (FAIR) 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, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) and the Commercial Club, 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?

Board members at Procter & Gamble, Cintas and Chiquita are probably smiling and high-fiving each other right about now.

01.06.2011 at 04:45 Reply
And I didn't think that things could get any worse at the Fishwrap. They keep running the same anti-streetcar COAST bullshit week after week, and do their best to stir up hatred for the City amongst the denizens of the exburbs, which is the area that the Enquirer now panders to because it's the only area that the paper has any hopes of growing it's business. The Enquirer can't go out of business soon enough.


01.07.2011 at 10:13 Reply
According to the 3CDC website Joe Pichler is a major stakeholder in 3CDC. As they own a bunch of property along the streetcar line, why (and how) would he be drumming up opposition to it? http://www.3cdc.org/who-we-are/otr-work-group/


01.07.2011 at 10:36 Reply
Neilworms, there was some initial division among 3CDC about the streetcar project because some people were worried that it would require TIF money that 3CDC was eyeing for its own projects.


01.07.2011 at 10:42 Reply
Also, the elder Pichler is a devotee of the Cato Institute's Randal O'Toole, and genuinely believes that rail projects are a bad idea -- which he tells to anyone that listens.


01.07.2011 at 03:18 Reply
Thanks for providing some great reporting that takes us far beyond the self-congratulatory "news story" that the Enquirer ran on the new editor. It strikes me as strange that the Enquirer has gone so lame on its business coverage when there are so many newer sources of business news online give impressively deep scrutiny to companies and executives. Look at the recent Rolling Stone cover on how the banks are trampling on the legal rights of homeowners in the foreclosure process. No such coverage here. It doesn't take a keen eye to notice that some companies here are pathetic private-sector players. The stock prices of Kroger, Cintas and Convergys are the same today as they were in 1998! Cincinnati Bell? Try 1988. But can we expect Mr. Pichler or Ms. Washburn to spend the time needed to explore the fundamental problems of these community pillars? Cintas and Convergys should be easy, since they don't advertise. But Kroger and Cincy Bell are oxen not to be gored.