Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Did Cheves's Dog Eat McConnell's Op-Ed?

When it comes to Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, the Lexington Herald-Leader has dropped all pretense of impartiality or even professionalism.

Take, for example, how the Herald-Leader handled a letter to the editor that Senator McConnell submitted to it. The paper gave McConnell's letter to its reporter to use in a story and yet failed to print McConnell's letter. That is, the Herald-Leader allowed its reporter to rebut McConnell without letting readers see the actual letter.

It all started when reporter John Cheves attacked McConnell on Saturday, October 27th for an earmark to fund defense industry jobs in Kentucky. BAE, the British company slated to build the armaments, is under investigation for bribing the prince of Saudi Arabia.

On Monday, October 29th, McConnell sent by email a letter to the editor to respond to Cheves's accusations; Cheves had implied that the BAE earmark was a payback for its campaign contributions to McConnell. These were serious insinuations to which the senator was entitled to respond.

One would expect the Herald-Leader to print McConnell's response, and to do so quickly. Days passed, however, and still the Herald-Leader did not print McConnell's letter. That was not an innocent omission; it turns out that the paper gave the letter to Cheves.

Consequently, on Friday, November 2, the paper printed a follow-up by Cheves. Incredibly, Cheves quoted a snippet of the text of McConnell's letter -- and yet the paper still refused to print the letter itself. This was not an editorial oversight. To the contrary, the Herald-Leader wrote an editorial to accompany Cheves' follow-up.

In his follow-up, Cheves whined that "McConnell's office did not return repeated calls for comment." But McConnell had already commented at length in his letter to the editor -- the same letter that the Herald-Leader was hiding from its readers.

Finally, one week after McConnell emailed his letter, the Herald-Leader printed a redacted version of it on Monday, November 5. The paper did not have the fairness or courtesy to notify McConnell of the substantive changes it made to the senator's op-ed without his permission.

It's instructive to compare the version that the paper published with the original, unedited version of McConnell's letter. Plainly, the Lexington-Herald did not edit the Senator out of a concern for clarity or grammar. The paper deleted all reference, context and background on Cheves:

Reporter John Cheves, the man who did a series of lengthy articles last year attacking me, is at it again. Shortly before those stories appeared in the Herald-Leader, it came to light that the research had been funded by a liberal, out-of-state special-interest group. Once that news broke, the owners of the Herald Leader insisted that the paper return the funds that had been provided to the reporter. Now, the same reporter who was tarnished by the out-of-state special-interest funding, and who recently returned from spending the last year on the staff of one of the most liberal United States senators. . . .

No wonder the Herald-Leader did not want its readers to learn of Cheves's role as a Democratic Senate staffer, or his history of pay for play journalism to attack McConnell. Cheves is not just an author of a series of stories about McConnell: Cheves is the story.

Cheves and his paper delayed McConnell's response for an entire week, without explanation. But the reason -- or at least the consequence -- is clear: that delay bought time for "non-partisan" groups to organize opposition to the BAE earmark.

BAE workers in Kentucky, meanwhile, are left wondering how long they will have jobs -- even though BAE has not even been indicted for anything, and is not alleged to have done anything improper regarding its Kentucky facility. If all it takes to get an earmark dropped is an unproven allegation of impropriety anywhere in the world, then all workers for government contractors should be worried for their jobs.

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