Monday, October 30, 2006
The Boston Globe's Romney/Mormon Church Conspiracy Theory: Journalism or Politics?
I live in Utah and write political commentary. I’m also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—commonly known as the Mormon Church. So it shouldn’t be surprising that recent reports in The Boston Globe caught my attention. Allegations of Mitt Romney’s political action committee and Mormon Church leaders collaborating in a sinister plot to drum-up support for Romney’s unannounced presidential campaign sounded interesting.
But my interest soon shifted from alleged campaign infractions to obvious journalistic infractions. Theoretically, news is published only if it’s factual, balanced and fair. I guess in this case The Globe thought one out of three was close enough.
I’ll give The Globe credit for printing the facts, though I had to wade through a lot of innuendo to find them. What’s the factual bottom line buried in the more than 3000 words that comprise the two stories? It’s that the dean and associate dean of a Mormon Church-owned business school sent an e-mail to 150 graduates and friends of the school. The e-mail asked recipients to respond if they were interested in participating in Romney’s campaign. The school is part of the Church’s nonprofit, tax-exempt business structure and such political engagement can invalidate tax-exempt status. School management was informed of the potential violation, admitted the mistake, vowed it would not be repeated, and agreed to ignore all responses to the e-mail.
It’s also factual that before the e-mail was distributed, Don Stirling—a consultant for Romney’s political action committee—was in a group who met with Jeffrey Holland—a high ranking official of the Mormon Church. A few days later, Stirling was in a dinner group that included the associate dean of the business school. Stirling also wrote an e-mail of his own to the chief executive of the Church-owned publishing company, and in that e-mail, implied that Holland supported using the business school mailing list to enlist support for Romney.
It’s with this second group of facts that unbalanced Globe innuendo comes into play. When you read the account, you can’t escape the impression that Holland was orchestrating a sinister plot on behalf of the Church, despite the fact that Holland emphatically denies it. Romney’s political action committee agrees with Holland, attributing the mistaken impression to the fact that political consultant Stirling “got over enthusiastic and overstepped his bounds.”
The Globe neglected to point out that a political consultant might have a tendency to “spin” a meeting as something more than it really was. And there was no mention of the fact that nearly everyone has had a meeting experience where every participant left with a different opinion of what was said in the meeting. The Globe’s failure to provide this context makes it a very unbalanced account.
As to the fairness of the reporting, consider that The Globe ran an Associated Press report on July 11, 2004 that opened with this sentence:
“NAACP chairman Julian Bond condemned Bush administration policies…. imploring members of the nation's oldest civil rights organization to increase voter turnout to oust the president from office.”
The NAACP enjoys the same nonprofit, tax-exempt status as the Mormon Church. It has more than 500,000 members. Chairman Bond’s comments were made in a heavily attended NAACP meeting and were widely distributed through the media to millions of Americans.
So, if The Globe thought a politically oriented e-mail sent to 150 Mormons was a significant violation of tax-exempt status, how did The Globe react when the NAACP communicated its political agenda to millions? I think you know the answer. Let’s just politely say that the response to the Mormon e-mail was disproportionate and unfair.
I hope it’s as clear to you as it is to me that The Globe only objects to political engagement by nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations when the political ideology engaged in is not acceptable to The Globe. So the next time you read something about Mitt Romney in The Boston Globe check to see if it’s factual, balanced and fair. You’ll need to, because The Globe has proven that sometimes journalistic standards mean nothing when political ideology is at stake.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Rapid Growth Is Inevitable Only If It's Encouraged
Several weeks ago I decided to write a series of columns expressing my opinion that growth in Washington County is close to being out of control, and if it continues unabated, it will soon turn this red rock haven into an unsightly and unaccommodating corridor of strip malls, fast food joints and rooftops.
This project has given me the opportunity to ask many of my friends and neighbors what they think about growth. The most often expressed opinion can best be summarized as follows:
“I don’t like it, but growth is inevitable. It’s a function of supply and demand. As long as land is available and newcomers are willing to pay the asking price, there is nothing we can do about it but manage it wisely.”
It’s probably true that some reasonable level of growth is inevitable and even desirable. But I respectfully disagree with the assertion that the kind of growth we are experiencing is inevitable and is strictly a function of supply and demand. Growth is actually a function of three variables: supply, demand and the attitude of local government. There are many communities around the country that have managed to restrict growth despite tremendous demand for development. To think otherwise seems either uninformed or disingenuous to me. Developers, builders and residents who have experienced this elsewhere know that certain communities are unfriendly to development and others roll out the red carpet and encourage it.
I’ve also learned there are residents who not only think rapid growth is inevitable, they think it’s wonderful. It shouldn’t be surprising that developers, builders and real estate agents dominate this group. I’m not cynical about their motives. I don’t think it’s only about earning a living to them. I think they are good men and women who believe that rapid growth is a good thing for all of us. We just have an honest difference of opinion on this issue.
Of course, I hope you are in my camp and agree that rapid growth is inevitable only if it is tolerated or encouraged by elected officials. And with elections just around the corner, we have the opportunity to put this claim to the test. We can either elect candidates who are willing to apply the brakes or we can elect candidates who are certain to push the accelerator.
Unfortunately, I’ve found it nearly impossible to determine where local candidates stand on growth. I need more information to make truly informed choices. For example, I would like every candidate for local office to answer the following four questions:
Do you think rapid growth is inevitable or do you think it can and ought to be reigned in by elected officials?
Are you or members of your family involved in development? If not, do you or members of your family own land that might be sold to developers?
Are you or members of your family involved in construction or property sales?
I don’t know if The Spectrum or other local publications have the time and resources to put these questions and others of importance to each candidate and then publish the responses. I hope they do. If not, perhaps you will have an opportunity to personally question candidates as they participate in public forums in the next few weeks.
It could very well be that my own desire to significantly slow the rate of growth is a minority opinion. I can live with that. That’s how democracy works. But I do hope that you have access to information that will allow you to select candidates who represent your views. And remember. If you vote for candidates who think that growth is inevitable, it will be.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Washington County Residents Should Vote on Growth and Conservation Act
Senator Bennett and Congressman Matheson are sponsors of a bill now wending its way through the Congress of the United States. It’s called the Washington County Growth and Conservation Act. Soon, all 535 members of Congress will have the opportunity to vote on the proposal.
I understand why Congressional action is required. Uncle Sam is a major landlord in southern Utah. But as a resident of Washington County, I’m disappointed that I didn’t hear about the proposal before it made its way to Washington, D.C.
At first I was disappointed in myself. But then I took a look at the process that produced the bill. Alan Gardner, a Washington County Commissioner, described it in a recent editorial:
“The original committee of 20 represented a broad spectrum of interest groups and stakeholders. The county was divided into geographic areas, and open public meetings were advertised and held to discuss each area in detail.”
I believe that Sen. Bennett and Rep. Matheson hoped to include as many residents as possible in the process. But how many do you think actually participated? Was it a few hundred or a few thousand? I don’t know, but I’m willing to bet it was a very small sampling of the 130,000 residents of the county.
I’ll accept my share of the blame, but let’s also be realistic. Experience has shown that public commissions and hearings bring out only the most vocal and active in the community. I’m sure the two protagonists—environmentalists and developers—were well represented. But people like me were not engaged, and never will be, in that kind of process. My fellow members of the silent majority only show up when it’s time to cast a vote that actually gets counted.
Is that lazy? Is it wrong? Maybe, but that’s the way it is.
Commissions and public hearings are inadequate for an issue of this magnitude. The quality of life of every resident of Washington County is at stake and the voice of every resident should be heard.
So, let’s put the proposal to a countywide vote.
We should also unwind the unwieldy conglomeration of proposals in the current bill. It’s a typical political ploy. Some of the proposals have no chance of passing unless they are attached to other proposals in the bill which are very popular. We should require that each component stand on its own merits.
For example, the two primary proposals might look something like this:
Proposition A. Add 219,725 acres of land to the National Wilderness Preservation System. No new public lands will be created. Every acre in question is already managed by the federal government. This designation does ensure the land in question will be maintained in its natural state and not be significantly altered. This is pretty much a vote for the status quo, but it can’t hurt.
Proposition B. Sell 25,000 acres of public land to developers. The specific land is unknown at this point, but rest assured it will be prime real estate. Most likely it will be in, on or very near the most scenic parts of the county. Why else would a developer buy it? The land will easily accommodate 80,000 new homes and 160,000 new residents who will more than double the current population of 130,000. A handful of developers will get very rich. Everyone else will be much poorer as spectacular and irreplaceable wilderness is converted into urban sprawl and strip malls.
You’ve probably figured out by now that I won’t be asked to write any ballot initiatives. But at least you know where I stand on the Growth and Conservation Act. Unfortunately, 535 members of Congress don’t have a clue where the other 129,999 residents of Washington County stand. And that doesn’t seem right to me. When the future of Washington County is at stake, votes in Washington County should be counted before votes in Washington, D.C. are cast.