NAACP: 'Cincinnati Enquirer' should be ashamed

Paper apologizes after civil rights group blasts it for publicizing sometimes minor, long-past tax woes of black Democratic council candidates

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click to enlarge Oct. 23 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer with typical markings by the public library.
Oct. 23 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer with typical markings by the public library.

Should a dustup with the taxman over a few hundred dollars land a candidate on the front page of the daily paper? How about six African American candidates?

The Cincinnati branch of the NAACP last night slammed The Cincinnati Enquirer for a story the daily ran Oct. 23 about tax woes of nine Democratic Cincinnati City Council candidates. Seven of those candidates are black and two are white. Six of the candidates, all black, were featured on the front page.

“The Cincinnati Enquirer should be ashamed of their racially insensitive and divisive hit piece,” a statement from the civil rights group read. “The Cincinnati NAACP calls on all Cincinnatians to demand better. If the Enquirer can’t provide balanced information maybe others will begin to get real informative news from more reputable news sources.” 

Some candidates and incumbents owe significant amounts in taxes, according to the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts website. Councilman Wendell Young, for example, has almost $25,000 in tax liens open with the state of Ohio. His office says he is on a payment plan to resolve those issues.

Other candidates highlighted in the article, however, once owed minor debts that have been paid off for years. One candidate, Erica Black-Johnson, owed less than $300 almost a decade ago. She paid that debt, records show.

“The fact that the Cincinnati Enquirer took the time and ink to release the tax history of a $280.46 state lien that was paid off in 2009 shows the depths they will go in a veiled attempt to smear,” the statement reads.

Another candidate in the article, Lesley Jones, owed $207 on a lien issued in 2010. She says she has paid that debt, which was the result of a correction on previous tax returns. Another candidate, Ozie Davis III, says the almost $3,000 he owed in 2015 has been paid off.

Jones and Davis ended up on the Enquirer’s front page under the headline “Tax Troubles Dog Council Candidates,” while Brian Garry, a white candidate who has owed as much as $15,000 in tax liens between 2006 and 2016, didn’t. Garry says his taxes are paid off as well.

The Enquirer today published a note on its front page apologizing for its presentation of the story.

"I want to apologize profoundly for the front-page design in Tuesday's newspaper," Enquirer interim editor Michael Kilian wrote in a separate statement. "It was an approach hurtful to many. It was racially insensitive. This is not how we should have illustrated the news story. We have had numerous internal conversations about this to ensure we avoid such an approach in the future. Anyone wishing to have a dialogue on this is welcome to email me at [email protected]. We will do better. Separately, we will reach out to the NAACP and others regarding their dismay and concerns.

Rob E. Richardson, a prominent labor leader with ties to the Democratic Party, is the local NAACP president. His son, Rob Richardson, Jr., ran as a Democrat in Cincinnati’s mayoral primary and is currently seeking the party’s nomination for Ohio state treasurer.

The story comes days after a poster calling himself Jack Todd began posting the tax information on the Enquirer’s Greater Cincinnati Politics Facebook page. Todd’s posts caused big debate in the online community, with many users saying they were trolling. Multiple candidates explained their tax situations on Todd’s Facebook group posts before the Enquirer published its article. The Enquirer says it was working on the story before Todd's posts.

“I feel like all this is doing is pointing out just how easy it is to have a mistake made in filing taxes at some point in your life,” a user with the handle Dina Krause Schmid wrote on one of Todd's posts. “It happened to my husband and I with a paid preparer when we lived overseas. Those who are willingly trying to avoid paying taxes will have more than one infraction from years ago.”

A frequent commenter on the forum, Todd has in the past made edgy statements about race. In response to a comment on a post about white nationalist Richard Spencer’s potential appearance in Cincinnati, Todd wrote sarcastically, “Really?, but Pro white =nazi, racist? Yeah that makes sense.” In another post, Todd offered admission to Spencer's Cincinnati appearance, promising that he had a "way to enter without repercussions" but also saying he wouldn't help "nazis" get into the event.

The tax story comes as the Enquirer continues to receive criticism from opponents of Mayor John Cranley for its coverage of the mayoral election. The Enquirer employs a opinion writer, Jason Williams, whose pieces have a strong pro-Cranley bent. A recent column bashed Simpson for cancelling on a community forum, but the Enquirer didn't write similar articles for past forums Cranley has cancelled on. Those include one Oct. 16 at Mount St. Joseph and his controversial last-minute cancellation of a candidate's forum in Walnut Hills during the mayoral primary. The paper doesn't have a pro-Simpson columnist and some critics say many of its news articles are also biased toward Cranley.

This story has been updated to include the fact that the Enquirer says it was working on the tax story before a user made tax-related posts on its Greater Cincinnati Politics Facebook page.

Here's the NAACP's full statement:

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