I have known that Salt Lake City Mayor's spokesperson, Art Raymond, was posting on local comment boards under the name "WhiskeyPete" for at least a year. That's one-fifth the time that administrators at the Salt Lake Tribune could have had this knowledge.
Last week, the Tribune outed Raymond for posting on their comment boards while using a city computer. Raymond claimed he made the posts while on a break. He has been put on administrative leave pending an investigation.
UtahPolicy.com uses the same commenting system, Disqus, as the Salt Lake Tribune. When someone posts a comment using this platform, they have to enter an email address, which may or may not be valid. As you can see from this screenshot, Raymond's email address clearly uses his full name. Either he was not afraid of using this email address, or was not savvy enough to try and use a false one. Clearly, Raymond took no pains to hide his identity.
After the Tribune's stories about Raymond, I decided to go back through our comments to see if he had made other, ethically questionable posts on our site. He had not, mostly sticking to critiques of our journalistic practices.
I'm also able to look up the comment history of any registered user and see the remarks they've left on any other site using Disqus. That history shows Raymond began commenting on the Tribune's site in 2010. He even had a back-and-forth exchange with Tribune reporter Thomas Burr in his first missive. Raymond began working for Salt Lake City the same year, so it's reasonable to assume his comments and employment were contemperaneous.
The Tribune says they "discovered" Raymond's alias on July 23 of this year after one of his comments was flagged as objectionable. Tribune Editor Terry Orme says the information "fell into their lap" because of the flagged comment. They must not have been looking very hard.
Raymond was active on the Tribune's comment boards throughout the last mayoral election in 2011. He even blasted a pre-election story by Derek Jensen that suggested his boss, Becker, would be vulnerable if he had faced a credible opponent that year. On numerous other occasions he chided Tribune reporters for what he thought were factual errors in their reporting on Becker, often sarcastically calling them "geniuses." Are we to believe that nobody involved with the Tribune's website took a glance at the postings by "WhiskeyPete" to see who the heck this guy was? Nobody was the least bit curious?
Let's be clear – what Raymond did was wrong, and he should face whatever consequences are appropriate for his actions. But, given the information available to them since 2010, the Tribune's explanation for running the story now does not hold water.
There are two possibilities here – either the Salt Lake Tribune pays no attention to who comments on their articles, or they sat on the information about Raymond's identity until they had a story. The first possibility seems like a stunning lack of oversight of what happens on their website. I'm not even going to speculate about the second.
There is the possibility that the Tribune's explanation of the whole affair is truthful, but I'm very skeptical given the information available.
I know of at least one sitting member of the legislature who actively comments on our website, and the Tribune as well. This legislator makes no effort to hide his or her identity apart from an assumed screen name. In fact, there a number of reporters at various news outlets in Salt Lake City who are well aware of this lawmaker's anonymous screen name. We even joke about it sometimes when we talk shop. However, he or she has not been outed by anyone for their activity…yet.