Sunday, June 12, 2011

Covering a scandal

Let's say you're the editor of a prominent newspaper covering a competitive election. Your reporters are hearing rumors about a sex scandal involving one of the leading candidates, but your newspaper has endorsed the other candidate. It's just a few days before the election. Do you run the story, potentially affecting the outcome of the election? If you do, what if it turns out the rumors were wrong? On the other hand, if you sit on the story, what happens if it turns out the rumors were right, and through your passivity, voters elect a time bomb?

Well, we needn't speculate further, because this is happening right now. Last Tuesday, Denver voters elected Michael Hancock as their next mayor over Chris Romer by a 58-42 margin. Yesterday's Denver Post, however, detailed a story that the Post had clearly been sitting on for some time: the records of a defunct prostitution service known as Denver Players show that a "Mike Handcock"* who worked for the city and had the same cell phone number as the mayor-elect had hired hookers from them on at least three occasions.

This is actually a pretty interesting case study in media politics in a one-newspaper town. These allegations were first publicized by a local Drudge-style blog shortly before the election, but were never circulated in the print or televised media or even most major blog coverage. I was following the mayoral race pretty closely, and I never heard anything about this until election night, when a reporter made an offhanded comment about it to me (even though he didn't actually report on the story). And one can certainly sympathize with the Post's awkward position** -- this could have tipped the race. Yeah, I know Hancock won by 16 points, but my impression is that a lot of those votes were pretty malleable and would have been swayed by this sort of news.

I'm curious where this goes from here. Does anyone know of a similar situation, where a candidate is elected but a serious scandal emerges before he/she takes office? What happens?

*Hee hee.
**Interestingly, the Post's coverage yesterday was not "Hancock has a hooker problem" but rather "Hancock promised us his phone records and is now reneging."

No comments: