Thursday, September 21, 2006

Paging "Senator" Ashcroft?

On October 16, 2000, Missouri governor Mel Carnahan was killed in a plane crash, while campaigning for the Senate against incumbent John Ashcroft. Under Missouri law, Carnahan's name couldn't be removed from the ballot; after a several-day hiatus, Democrats announced a "Stick with Mel" campaign. On November 7, a narrow majority of Missouri voters cast ballots for Carnahan, meaning that the governor would appoint the state's next senator. Governor Roger Wilson named Carnahan's widow, Jean, to the seat.

Under the logic employed by the Durham Herald-Sun, John Ashcroft won the 2000 Missouri Senate race; indeed, he ran "unopposed." Or so you'd have to conclude from the Herald-Sun "votebook" page on D.A. Mike Nifong. The heading? "Candidate is Unopposed."

This revelation will, no doubt, come as news to Mike Ashe, director of the Durham Board of Elections. Last month, Ashe indicated that two, not one, names would appear as candidates for Durham district attorney: Nifong and County Commissioner Lewis Cheek, who collected more than 10,000 signatures to appear as a petition candidate. (The ballot also will contain a space for write-in Steve Monks, a spoiler candidate whose goal seems to be to split the anti-Nifong vote.) For his part, Cheek announced in July that, if elected, he would not serve, leaving Governor Mike Easley to appoint a replacement for Nifong. The replacement would serve until 2008, when another election would occur.

The "votebook" inaccuracy isn't the first time the Herald-Sun has wildly distorted news regarding the Cheek effort. In a July 30 editorial, editor Bob Ashley opined,
On Thursday, Cheek said being district attorney would be too much of a distraction from the business of his Durham law firm, so supporters shouldn't vote for him after all.
In fact, Cheek had said exactly the opposite regarding how his supporters might vote. As N&O reporter Benjamin Niolet noted after the county comissioner's press conference,
Cheek . . . said anyone dissatisfied with Nifong could vote for him. Cheek said that he would vote for himself but would stay out of the election and the campaign.
Why would Ashley misrepresent Cheek's statement? This error, unfortunately, forms part of a pattern of the Herald-Sun distorting developments that call into doubt Nifong's crusade to bring about a trial. The paper, in fact, never even reported a variety of events that couldn't be spun in a pro-Nifong direction, including but not limited to:
  • That Durham city procedures contain General Order 4077, which requires all eyewitness ID lineups to contain five fillers per every suspect, an independent investigator to run the array, and informing the eyewitness that the suspects might or might not be in the array; and that nothing in the General Order allows police, as occurred in this case, to conduct a photo ID lineup with the accuser whose results are then ignored.
  • That because of these procedural improprieties, Duke law professor James Coleman, a former chief counsel to the House Ethics Committee (when the Democrats controlled the House), publicly demanded appointment of a special prosecutor.
Meanwhile, following up on Ashley's false description of Cheek's press conference remarks, the Herald-Sun published an August article that John in Carolina correctly deemed a "fake" story. The article claimed to have revealed "previously undisclosed matches" of DNA to Dave Evans and Matt Zash--even though, as the N&O noted, this information had been disclosed by defense attorney Joseph Cheshire in April.

Perhaps Ashley's insistence on describing Nifong as "unopposed" and informing his readers that Cheek said "supporters shouldn't vote for him after all" suggests that he fears the strength of the Recall Nifong-Vote Cheek movement. The group looks and acts very much like a campaign that is urging Durham County residents to vote against the "unopposed" district attorney by selecting the other name on the ballot:
  • The RN-VC effort is raising money.
  • It soon will be distributing campaign signs.
  • It has received public endorsements from Durham residents.
  • Its coordinator, Beth Brewer, has made public appearances urging voters to select Cheek, the name on the ballot other than the "unopposed" district attorney.
The Recall Nifong-Vote Cheek effort has the potential to be this year's Carnahan campaign--performing the unprecedented by unseating a sitting district attorney through a petition campaign. Perhaps Durham residents should begin a petition campaign directed at Paxton Media Chain to unseat Editor Ashley as well.

[Update, 1.18pm: John in Carolina has a revealing comparison between how the N&O (fairly) and the Herald-Sun (with bias) covered the Nifong motion of yesterday.]


Anonymous said...

Paxton Media of Paducah, Ky., owns the Durham newspaper. Ashley has a boss. Contact the boss.

Anonymous said...

High-quality research and reporting! Keep the information coming.

Anonymous said...

Oh, definitely, Ashley's bosses in Paducah loves hearing from people about him. I can vouch for that.

David M. Paxton President, CEO Paxton Media Group
(doesn't read email)

Jim Paxton is Vice President and Editor of The Paducah Sun

Anonymous said...

If the head guy doesn't read e-mail, send a polite, fact-filled letter via snail mail.