Monday, November 19, 2007

Whoops, They Did it Again

It's a recurring pattern. The Lexington-Herald's John Cheves writes an "investigative" piece, accusing Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of some impropriety. McConnell writes an op-ed to set the record straight. The Herald-Leader, however, doesn't print the McConnell letter without first redacting information that might undermine the paper's credibility.

Earlier this month, the Herald-Leader delayed printing and then excised a chunk of a McConnell op-ed. McConnell had questioned the impartiality of Cheves, who had written an article complaining about a Congressional earmark to a Louisville defense contractor, BAE. (See John David Dyche's column and related coverage).

Cheves is now "investigating" federal funding of a financial data retention site at the University of Kentucky, though his real focus is McConnell's motive for securing the funding. The senator wrote to address Cheves's innuendo.

The Herald-Leader printed McConnell's response -- but once again, only in part. The paper did not warn readers that it had redacted a large portion of the senator's response, let alone explain why.

If McConnell censored the Herald-Leader, First Amendment advocates would protest the prior restraint. But when a liberal paper censors a conservative, it's business as usual.

Here's the portion of McConnell's letter that the Herald-Leader failed to print, according to an anonymous source:

If readers knew that Mr. Cheves worked as a staffer to a liberal Democratic Senator in Washington, D.C., until just two months ago, they would understand his partisan slant.

Before working for a Democrat, Mr. Cheves wrote a series of one-sided articles funded by a liberal special-interest group. When word of the shady funding leaked last year, the Herald-Leader’s owner, the McClatchy Co., embarrassingly—but correctly—made the paper refund the group’s money.

Bob Steele, who teaches journalism at the respected Poynter Institute, called the Herald-Leader’s actions “ethically problematic.”

A number of people interviewed by Mr. Cheves for those articles dispute his description of their discussions. Wendy Baldwin, formerly of UK, called Mr. Cheves’s characterization of their conversation “very misleading.” A former Treasury Department official interviewed by Mr. Cheves said he “certainly misrepresented what we told him. In fact, he lied.”

I sat with Mr. Cheves for hours of one-on-one interviews for those articles and refuted every one of his charges. My staff provided documentation backing up my positions. Not surprisingly, Mr. Cheves’s stories included virtually none of my side of the story.

Instead, they merely repeat the preconceived conclusions that he and the liberal special-interest group funding his attacks have clung to for so long.

Interestingly, the Courier-Journal gave the Herald-Leader an opportunity to respond to John David Dyche's column about the first redacted op-ed. The C-J printed the Herald-Leader's response as a sidebar to the column, the same day.

One liberal paper offered another an advance opportunity to rebut a charge of bias. It was easier for the Herald-Leader to get its response published in the C-J than it is for Kentucky's senior senator to get his letter printed in the Herald-Leader-- that is, without the Lizzie Borden-like editing.

The Herald-Leader's response to the C-J stated that when Cheves worked for a liberal Democrat senator until recently, his "work was not political in nature." The paper noted that Cheves was paid by a fellowship from a "non-partisan group that has run a congressional fellowship program for more than 50 years."

If Cheves's fellowship was so above-board -- so prestigious, even -- then why does the Herald-Leader keep chopping references to it from McConnell's letters to the editor?

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