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Yewell’s Quarter Column On Virtuous Politicians, Poor News Judgment and Credibility Called Into Question

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Is it time to give up on honesty in politics? Call me Pollyanna, but I think not, and I’m going out on a limb and say James Evans will prove it.

The District 1 Senator-elect’s victory in the last election was tainted, some believe, by a last-minute hit-piece mailing that included a newspaper clipping of a story from a right-of-the-right advocacy tabloid. The article took a dubious shot at Nisa Sisneros, Evans’ opponent in the traditionally Democratic district, over her role in a health clinic’s decision to remain in the district.

With the article was a note from one Howard Dickson, who wrote: “This has made me so mad, I had to send it to you. Because of this, I won’t be voting straight party Democrat this time.”

The only problem, as previously pointed out by Paul Rolly, is that no one can find this Howard Dickson. Inquiring minds suspect someone affiliated with the tabloid, in the Republican Party or in Evans’ campaign (or Evans himself) invented Dickson and prepped the mailing with the goal of scuttling the Sisneros candidacy.

I bumped into Evans at the Main Street Plaza hearing Dec. 10 and asked him about it. Evans disavowed any prior knowledge of the mailing. After accusing the media of inadequately covering the sins of his opponent, he finally admitted to a passing interest in who might have handed him the election with this favor.

I suggested he dispel suspicion of his involvement by clearing the air with his own investigation. Evans is better situated to root out the conspirators than anyone. Hell, it might only take a single phone call. Strike a blow for integrity, I suggested. And quickly.

I’m holding my breath out here on this limb.

• Once he stood outside the parapets and inveighed against the “mainstream” media whores, calling them to account for their toadying to the almighty dollar. As the alternative newsweekly editor he once was, current Tribune reporter Glen Warchol (for whom I wrote one story 12 years ago at the Twin Cities Reader) might have cried “Shill!” over the story that appeared under his byline (“Emerging Wine Advertisements in Utah Are Low-Key”) Dec. 9.

The subject was a wine ad in the newspaper that employs him—the first in the state, claimed Warchol, since the ban on wine and beer ads was struck down last year.

Forget that there have been plenty of liquor, wine and beer ads in print and on the airwaves in that time (perhaps Warchol no longer reads the alternative press). Although the story stopped short of giving the page number of the ad, it did quote the buyer swooning over its effectiveness, leaving the impression that the Tribune used its editorial department to chum for more of the same.

• Two-newspaper towns are disappearing from the landscape faster than elected Democrats. Residents of the Salt Lake Valley can be grateful they still have two, especially the Deseret News. The LDS mouthpiece harkens back to a golden age in America’s newspaper history when editors were not shy about mixing news and commentary.

Take for example a story that appeared on Dec. 14, which reported on the legal opinion by city attorney Ed Rutan, in which he supported Mayor Rocky Anderson’s position that the Salt Lake City Council does not have the authority to unilaterally give up the public-access easement through the Main Street Plaza. The council had previously solicited the opinion of University of Utah law professor John Martinez, who had supported the all-LDS city council in its barely disguised desire to give the easement to the church. In its story, the Deseret News made a point of questioning Rutan’s credibility.

“Since Anderson is essentially Rutan’s boss,” the News wrote, “and given that Anderson disagreed with the Martinez opinion, [City Council chairman Dave] Buhler said he figured Rutan would agree with the mayor.”

There was no similar dismissal of Martinez’s opinion on the grounds that he had been hired by the city council.

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John Yewell

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