Blaming the messenger

Posted: Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The Empire is getting a bad rap.

I mean, since when is it bad reportage to cover an item of obvious public interest? The numerous complaints about a recent story in the Empire are a classic example of wanting to kill the messenger.

The May 2 Sunday paper is a good example. From Egypt: "Shame on the Juneau Empire." From Willow: "I was shocked to see how her hometown newspaper could attack her ... ." From Juneau, in Friday's edition: "The Empire at times seems to delight in undermining those who have done the most to assure our great city remains the capital of this great state." The list goes on.

These blasts at the Empire, of course, stem from its April 25 coverage of a Juneau individual who sent a September e-mail to the chair of the state Republican party suggesting that he contact the Voice of the Times and "beg them to put in a blurb about Botelho's plan for a new Capitol.

According to the story the individual had sent an earlier e-mail in August stating, "If the former Juneau mayor thinks the Capitol is 'inadequate' then maybe the state should be exploring a way to move it, right? We certainly don't have money to spend on a new one."

Since your story broke, both the individual who sent the e-mail messages and a large number of her friends have flooded the Empire with criticism for publishing the story, asserting that she is a stalwart and loyal defender of the capital remaining in Juneau. They cite, as well, a commendable record of civic involvement.

All of which is no doubt true.

But nowhere in her "My Turn" column (space for which you immediately provided), nor in any of her supporters' letters that I've read, has she (or they) stated that your reporter's story was in error.

Unfortunately, she devoted most of her column to accusing the Empire of providing a platform for Democrats. Neither she, nor any of her friends to my knowledge, has said she did not send the cited e-mails.

Those e-mail messages, not the individual's record of service, were, and are, the crux of this issue.

Personally I am sure that this woman did not really seek to spur renewed interest in moving the capital from Juneau. I prefer to think that her e-mails resulted from an excess of political enthusiasm and an unfortunate, uncharacteristic lapse of good judgment.

But, regardless of her motivation let's be clear about one thing: The story was legitimate. To have ignored or killed it would have been a serious breach of editorial responsibility.

Mike Miller

Former House member


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