THIS NEWSPAPER IS guilty of slinging considerable ink at the contested races for Hemphill County Sheriff and Precinct 1 and 3 Commissioner. But to the charge of mudslinging, issued by DeeDee Crosgrove in a half-page endorsement ad for candidate Nathan Lewis two weeks ago—and widely-touted on social media, as well—I answer emphatically, “not guilty.”
Since I am about to sling some more ink at the May 7 city, school, hospital and water district elections—all of which are contested this year—I thought this might be a good time to explain the difference between the work I do as a journalist, and the mudslinging with which it has been equated.
In our Feb. 11 coverage of the locally contested primary races, we published 13 pages of interviews, photos, bios and Q&A responses. That was pretty valuable real estate to devote to the subject, but I’ve long believed that elections should be more than popularity contests, and that candidates should be held to a high standard of accountability if they hope to earn the public’s trust and confidence—and to spend their tax dollars.
In this particular case, I felt that the three candidates seeking election to this county’s top law enforcement post warranted particular attention. So in addition to drafting a set of questions to submit to the county commissioner candidates, I conducted lengthy, one-on-one interviews with all three sheriff’s candidates.
The preparation for those interviews was laborious and time-consuming. It involved extensive research, numerous conversations with former employers and coworkers and others, and scrutiny of each candidate’s history in law enforcement. In fact, the extra effort I gave to fact-checking had a lot to do with the mudslinging and rumors from others I had already heard and read—much of that on social media. I don’t much care for mudslinging or rumor, preferring instead to depend on well-researched facts and direct and honest questions to back up my reporting.
After my research was done, I spent a considerable amount of time drafting our interview questions—most of which were the same questions submitted to each Sheriff’s candidate, some of which were off-the-cuff questions in response to their answers, and a few of which were tailored to the particular candidate based on the results of my research.
In those interviews, I gave each candidate the opportunity to express in their own words—not mine—who they are and how they would approach the job of county law enforcement. Following the interviews, I spent more hours than I’d like to admit transcribing those conversations, culling what I felt were fair and accurate representations of their often lengthy answers, and then editing those for further clarity and brevity. Those transcripts are available in their entirety at my office, by the way, for anyone who wishes to review them.
To see all of that work and time and expense dismissed as “mudslinging” directed at one candidate is pretty disappointing, and while the accuser may not be deserving of a response, the more discerning public certainly is.
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)—of which I am a member—has written a Code of Ethics for journalists (published online and on display at The Canadian Record) which helps guide my work and that of my employees. As a journalist, I am responsible for the information I report and for the words I write, to a degree that others are not, though perhaps they should be. I take that responsibility seriously, acknowledging the importance of my credibility and accountability in reporting the news, and the impact those words can have on other’s lives.
I will not sling mud—regardless of its often-abundant availability and the public’s sometimes insatiable appetite for same, judging from what I see these days on social media and in presidential campaigns. Nor will I be deterred from reporting the sometimes unpleasant or uncomfortable truth, despite what it may cost me personally or professionally.
TRUE TO OUR INK-SLINGING ways, next week we will publish a Candidate Q&A with responses from all candidates running for public office in the May 7 election. We hope each registered voter will take this opportunity to read the candidates’ answers before casting his or her ballots, and will ask their own questions of the candidates should they seek more information. Early voting begins on Monday, April 26, and ends on Tuesday, May 3. Our campaign coverage is provided by The Record as a public service, and involves considerable expense and time. In return, we ask only for the public’s always-essential support as subscribers to and advertisers in this newspaper.