A Bad Omen for News

It's well-known that The Enquirer has been timid about calling out local corporations on possible misconduct or shady dealings ever since the newspaper paid $14 million to Chiquita in the late 1990s when the produce giant threatened to sue following the publication of a damning special section on its alleged practices in Central and South America.

In the years since, The Enquirer's business coverage has been tepid, and some reporters have alleged they were told to not pursue certain stories after advertisers complained to the publisher.—-

Last year, in another move that raised media eyebrows, the newspaper named Josh Pichler — the son of Joseph Pichler, Kroger's retired chairman and CEO — as business editor. The elder Pichler remains fairly influential in business circles, including trying to drum up opposition behind-the-scenes to the city of Cincinnati's proposed streetcar system.

Now, with the hiring of Carolyn Washburn as the paper's editor in charge of all news operations, history suggests that situation could get worse.

Back when The Gannett Co. owned The Idaho Statesman, and while Washburn served as that paper's executive editor from 1999-2005, it became embroiled in a controversy involving conflicts of interest and journalistic integrity that caught the attention of The Washington Post and media watchdog groups.

The Statesman was criticized for being too deferential to Micron Technologies, one of the largest employers in Boise, Idaho.

As Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) wrote in 2001: “The Idaho Statesman has a curious definition of 'fact checking.' The business editor of the Gannett-owned daily, Jim Bartimo, resigned when he was told that a story he had worked on about Micron Technologies, the area's largest employer, had to be sent for pre-publication 'review'... to Micron Technologies.”

Previously The Statesman's business news practices were examined by The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, in articles from January and February 2000. Kurtz's article revealed that The Statesman reporter covering the Micron beat was married to a Micron employee.

When Kurtz asked Washburn about the paper's Micron coverage and whether it was afraid to be too critical, she replied, “It's not that it has anything to do with their being the biggest employer. What we write can affect a lot of people in this community. It can affect the stock price.”

Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan — the newspaper's top boss — was publisher at The Statesman while Washburn was there, and is responsible for bringing her to the Queen City.

Because Buchanan sits on the boards of such groups as the University of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Business Committee, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) and the Commercial Club, we're betting she's just fine with Washburn's old attitude.

All of which begs a vital question of considerable ethical importance: Would Washburn still let the subject of an article examine the content before publication?

Board members at Procter & Gamble, Cintas and Chiquita are probably smiling and high-fiving each other right about now.

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