Monday, October 27, 2003

The Implications of Innuendo

If Greg Korte is auditioning for the role of Woodstein in Gannett's version of "Watergate: The Musical," then I am sure he will get the role if he can hit the high "C". "Follow the Money?" Hal Holbrook would be turning over in his grave, if he were dead that is.

In Greg's column yesterday he brought forward the public facts that 2 CityBeat staff members contributed to Nick Spencer's campaign. In case you want to see this for yourself, all of Nick's contributors are listed on his website.

The implication that one could draw from his column, incorrectly of course, is that CityBeat paid for the Elkington Story.
Stephanie Dunlap, a writer for CityBeat, contributed $20 to Spencer's campaign on Oct. 13.

Dunlap wrote "No Chinese Allowed," the Oct. 1 story that caused quite a flap over Main Street developer John Elkington's alleged bias against Chinese restaurants. The story quoted Spencer and advanced his case that Democratic Councilman John Cranley's plan for Main Street should be jettisoned.

"I can see how people might see a conflict of interest," Dunlap said. "I don't pretend to always be objective. Nobody is."

Dunlap said Spencer tipped her off about Elkington.
That of course did not happen. Was Korte making that implication? I don't know.

The timing of this story implies something itself. Did the Enquirer intentionally run this story just a few days before the debut of its own weekly newspaper designed to compete with CityBeat? Is a perceived innuendo of a quid pro quo by a competitor enough to show an intentional smear? Well, no, there is no evidence of that. I at this point would guess it is just a poorly timed coincidence. I hope the Enquirer does a better job of editing in the future. Appearance matters however, just as Greg's story indicates. Implications can be a bitch, especially when they implicate you.

UPDATE 11:25PM: I sent an email with questions on this story to Greg Korte. Those questions were:
I was wondering why you singled out Nick's Campaign to name campaign donors?

Is it a coincidence that you named two CityBeat staffers the same week that the Enquirer's Cin Weekly, a direct competitor for CityBeat, debuts?

Were you tipped off to these contributors, or did you go looking over all candidate's financial reports for local media contributors?
Greg responds to those questions and my original post as follows:
Mr. Griffin:

In answer to the questions in your e-mail dated 7:46 p.m. today:

I have not singled out donors to Mr. Spencer’s campaign. I could refer you to several stories and columns in which I discussed contributions to political campaign. To wit: “Finance Reports Foreshadow Upcoming City Council Race,” July 8, 2003; “Candidate Contributions Grow,” September 5, 2003; “Lynch Donors Expand,” October 5, 2003; “Lindner Family Leading Contributions,” October 23, 2003; “Candidates Opening Wallets,” October 24, 2003.

Of course the timing with regard to Cin Weekly is coincidence. To suggest otherwise would be to think I have some influence over either campaign finance reporting deadlines (set by the Ohio General Assembly) or the date of the tabloid launch (set by the publisher, who has been planning it for months.) I have not been involved at all in the young reader initiative, and I think it’s a stretch to think that my reporting of campaign contributions by City Beat staffers will have any effect on the competitive situation. Had I been solely interested in attacking City Beat, as your message seems to imply, I would not have reported on a much larger campaign contribution by an officer of the company I work for.

I came across the contribution on Nick Spencer’s campaign finance statement, filed with the Hamilton County Board of Elections last Thursday. The connection was clear as soon as I saw it. I put it in my next column, which was Sunday.

Finally, let me say this: I haven’t always agreed with what City Beat writes, but I do respect the role of an alternative press in a vibrant city. As I told Ms. Dunlap on Friday, my interest was not in starting an ink war (although, regrettably, it may be inevitable). However, given City Beat’s reporting on L’affair Elkington -- a story that soon crossed over into the “mainstream” media — I believed it was important for readers to know all the facts surrounding that story. Beyond that, I encourage you to take the story at face value: Like John McCain in 2000, Nick Spencer is the uncontested “media darling” of the 2003 Cincinnati City Council race.

I agree with Mr. Korte that it is a stretch to think the timing of his reporting of the facts involving CityBeat could have been deliberate to coinside with the release of CinWeekly. I also think that is even more preposterous to imply (however subliminally) that CityBeat had some kind of quid pro quo with the Spencer campaign, especially over such a small contribution. I don't want an ink war either, so I hope this can be the end of it, but if Flannery gets wind of this, which I know he will, I am sure something will be said, assuming their deadline has not yet passed. It could be fun for blogging geeks like me however.

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