I arrive home from a vacation this weekend to find a personal sadness.
A former colleague of mine at the Deseret News, Art Raymond, a man I consider a personal friend, has been put on leave for writing a number of anonymous comments on Salt Lake Tribune articles dealing with the Salt Lake mayor’s race.
Raymond serves as Mayor Ralph Becker’s official spokesman, an appointed position.
I’ve known Art for a number of years, and always found him to be an honest person, a fine journalist when he worked with me at the News.
You can link here and here to two Tribune stories about the incident.
I don’t defend Art’s decisions – he should probably have written the comments under his name, and he should have done so outside of regular city business working hours.
But this latest journalism by the Tribune shows that its editors have, at times, turned a blind eye towards what I consider libelous comments attached to its stories, and carried a holy-than-thou attitude on others.
Raymond states in one of his emails that UtahPolicy – my employer – has been “eating the lunch” of the Tribune in recent stories concerning Becker’s main opponent, former legislator Jackie Biskupski, whom the Tribune endorsed recently in the mayor’s race from its editorial pages.
There is no doubt that UtahPolicy Managing Editor Bryan Schott, my boss, has indeed broken stories about Biskupski and some of her campaign financing/supporters.
And when a news organization has a full-time reporter on the city hall beat and he doesn’t get these stories first, it’s an embarrassment – to the reporter and the news organization.
But these things happen.
I know first hand. I’ve been beaten on stories on my beat plenty over my 35 years in political reporting in this town.
Now, I want the Tribune to succeed and survive in Utah – I’ve written that many times.
But as of late some the newspaper’s most veteran, and good, reporters and editors have been leaving.
A former Deseret News colleague and friend, Wendy Ogata, is just the most recent to jump from the Tribune’s leaky ship.
Morale at the Trib is poor, I’m told. And there’s good reason for it.
While Trib editors and reporters are trying hard, working long hours for unjust pay, to keep the “independent” voice going, it does little good to step outside of the paper’s normal operations in an attempt to draw more attention to “the great work we are doing.”
And I think this is the case with Raymond.
It has become – unfortunately – routine to have on one’s comment pages outlandish personal attacks, on organizations and on individuals.
The Trib’s comment pages have been known for this for years – dirty, spiteful, mean-spirited.
Many of the stories they publish – from a music revue to a legislative bill debate – at some point the story comments turn into an anti-Mormon tirade – often with no real connection to the story in the first place.
Libelous, you ask?
I say just compare the Trib comment page to the letters to the editor they print.
You will find a huge difference.
In short, the editorial page editors – in keeping with staff reductions there are but two of them now when there used to be four – would NEVER print most of the comment section drivel.
It’s simply too vile and beneath them, thank God.
So why then is it OK to “print” electronic comments that are so far below the standard of the editorial page?
In truth, it isn’t.
But story comments mean page hits, and page hits mean more advertising and/or bragging rights on how popular your online edition is.
It’s not only the Trib, of course, that faces this.
At one point KSL TV Channel 5 just took down its comment page rather than deal with all the crap submitted to it.
And the “new” Deseret News is supposedly heavily editing their comment pages, I’m told.
The Trib wrote a kind of reply to criticism over the Raymond affair, in which they laud the high number of comments they get each day and week.
Even saying their comment volume advantages the “public discourse.”
But "crap in" doesn’t equal “public discourse” out.
It just equals "crap in."
When the Trib online editor saw some of the complaints about how the Trib was handling the mayoral races, he decided to look deeper. And found out that Raymond was the source of the anti-Trib, anti-Biskupski comments.
I wonder if he’s looking as hard at some of the anonymous blathering about the LDS Church and its members?
Who really is writing that stuff?
Better yet, why is it even up on the Trib’s comment pages?
It can hardly be termed as advantageous to the public discourse going on in Salt Lake City and Utah.
Hate speech is more like it.
When minorities – racial or political – attack Mormons and/or Republicans in this state – it seems to be OK. At least on the Tribune comment pages.
But when Mormons and Republicans step out of line, well, that is a very different story. Or non-story.
A year ago, after Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, began a webpage seeking to “Save the Tribune,” Schott demonstrated that Dabakis was in fact using email addresses he got from STT in fund raising letters.
But did the Tribune do a story on that political gaffe?
I never saw one.
Self-interest, and too often personal grudges, is found in every publication and news organization – no matter how highbrow and self-important they think they are.
(This includes UtahPolicy, I’m sure.)
Was Raymond wrong to use a city email address and computer to write anonymous criticisms of the Trib’s mayoral coverage and Becker’s opponents – even if he did ask some legitimate questions in those comments?
But was he also singled out by naming him – when tens of thousands of Trib anonymous attacks are regularly allowed on their website, many much worse in language than Raymond’s?
I hope that Raymond’s fate won’t be the same as former Police Chief Chris Burbank’s. I’m less hopeful that the Tribune’s comment pages will become less spiteful and hateful.
[Editor's note: UtahPolicy.com uses the same system as the Tribune to handle reader comments on our site. Mr. Raymond was using the pseudonym "WhiskeyPete" to comment on our site for at least a year.]