The Reading Eagle launched a defense of criticism it’s received over its failures to disclose conflicts of interest in its City reporting bureau. Harry Dietz launched a pathetic defense in today’s issue. He began by saying “Our credibility is crucial.” True, but the real issue here is the newspaper’s integrity. It launched a specious attack on the Mayor with a front page, headline article which announced that Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer’s campaign finance report was under investigation. They did this the day after the Mayor accused the Eagle of failing to disclose that its City Hall reporter Don Spatz reported directly to Spencer’s longtime political nemesis’ husband.
The Reading Eagle never, to my knowledge, disclosed this relationship in any of its reporting on the principles involved. Journalist integrity and ethics demands such disclosure. I’m sure my readers tired of my constantly disclosing my being a member of the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood whenever I wrote about the organization, the political attacks upon it and women’s reproductive rights. I didn’t keep doing that to bore anyone, ethics required my disclosing that relationship when I wrote about the organization.
Conversely when City Editor Tom Knause directly supervised the reporter writing about Reading City Council and Councilwoman Donna Reed, Knause’s spouse, it had to be disclosed in the newspaper articles. Mayor Spencer has done considerably much for the Eagle to be writing about and Spatz devoted many of his columns to the Mayor and never disclosed the conflict of interest. Spencer took the opportunity and attacked the paper for its failures of disclosure. Councilwoman Reed discloses the relationship on her City Council website but that doesn’t absolve the Eagle from its ethical obligations.
The Eagle doesn’t seem to grasp this. Dietz discloses in his treatise today that the paper went to lengths to prevent any conflicts but no readers of the paper were aware of any of it until today. Perceptions are reality and the paper built the perception, due to its failure to disclose, that conflicts may have been happening.
The paper’s worst offense, however, which goes to its integrity, was the specious attack upon the Mayor done in retribution. This was an unforgiveable offense and one Dietz failed to address today.
Last August Eagle reporter Mary Young reported that the Berks County Board of Elections had voted 2-0 (with the lone Democrat abstaining) to authorize $8,000 of taxpayer money to investigate a campaign finance violation. The county District Attorney had opted not to investigate so the County Commissioners, acting as the Board of Elections, hired a top GOP operative in Philadelphia to investigate.
It took me little time to deduce the target was a Democrat and had run for election the previous year. I deduced the subject campaign finance report to be that of newly elected Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer. From the Eagle article on a Friday I discovered the facts of the matter by that Sunday. On the next Tuesday I went to the County Commissioners meeting to ask Mark Scott about the target: IBEW union chief Johnny Dougherty. The previous day I had pulled the campaign finance reports for Mayor Spencer and for Scott.
The issue being investigated is whether the Spencer campaign conspired to violate Philadelphia’s campaign finance laws. The union gave the Mayor $30,000 for GOTV work shortly before election day (about a week out). They only needed $10,000 to pay poll workers so the remainder was given to two Philadelphia City Council candidates. Philadelphia limits PAC contributions to city candidates to $10,000 and the IBEW had already maxxed out. The Spencer contributions were seen by mark Scott as an attempt for the IBEW to circumvent those limits.
Here’s the crux of the problem: Berks County has no jurisdiction in Philadelphia elections. The Philadelphia City Commission has that authority. In order to prove Scott’s supposition intent would have to be proven and Spencer’s campaign consultants deny any such conspiracy. The lawyer hired by Berks County is a Republican who does much work for the sate GOP. He has no subpoena authority and has been unable to even convince anyone to attend a deposition.
This is why the Eagle’s attack on the Mayor was specious: the allegations are bogus because the Board of Elections has no authority to investigate its allegations. Interestingly the Eagle never followed up on its initial report between August and March until Mayor Spencer embarrassed them for their ethical lapses. Suddenly they rediscovered this non story and ran it on their front page.
That is what cost The Reading Eagle its integrity and Harry Dietz failed to address that issue at all.