When activism masquerades as journalism, everybody loses

[UPDATE: Utah Political Capitol has taken down the post I referenced in this article].

Amid the furor surrounding news that Attorney General John Swallow would not be prosecuted by the feds, something very curious happened.

The folks over at Utah Political Capitol posted an article headlined “Media Statement: AG Swallow was NOT Cleared of Wrongdoing.” (It has since been changed to an “editorial,” but the URL still contains the title “media statement”)

A media statement? That’s weird. Maybe they just got mixed up because of breaking news. That happens sometimes.

But, then – a reporter friend of mine forwarded a very interesting email to me. It’s an actual media statement from the “staff” of UPC sent out as a press release. My acquaintance, who has never received anything from UPC via email before, was taken aback as this was clearly targeted at reporters.

Here’s the email:
UPC Swallow Email


In my 20+ years in the media, I’ve never seen a news outlet send out something like that before. Maybe a press release touting an interview or a big story coming up, but never an out-and-out press release with the goal of inserting themselves into the story.

It calls into question the motivations of UPC.

I’ve said it before – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with partisan media, as long as they’re honest about who they represent. In this case, UPC is masquerading as a non-partisan group, but they clearly have a lefitst axe to grind here. I’ve even had one prominent Democrat tell me UPC is nothing more than “a bunch of stooges for the Democratic Party.” Clearly, UPC is not being honest about who they are and what they are trying to do.

This blurring of the lines between news and activism is troubling. Inserting themselves into the John Swallow story, as it’s clear they were trying to do with their press release, is not acceptable if they want to be considered a legitimate news outlet. What’s worse is they are treated as such by other organizations, frequently appearing as commentators on local TV news broadcasts.

In my role as Managing Editor for Utah Policy.com, I come up against this all the time. Our publisher, LaVarr Webb, is a longtime Republican and now is on the board of Count My Vote. Whenever we do a story about CMV, we are careful to point that out, lest people question our motivation for reporting on a story. We also run “sponsored articles” paid for by advertisers from time to time, but we make it abundantly clear it is a sponsored story.

What’s even more alarming is this happens on the very day the Salt Lake Tribune announces another round of layoffs.

All in all, a very troubling day for journalism in Utah.

How to Fix the John Swallow Problem

Here’s an easy fix to the John Swallow situation I’m surprised nobody has thought of before now.

The easiest way to get a government official in Utah to resign is to find them a job so they can support their family and pay off some legal bills.

Didn’t former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff just form his own consulting firm?

The Shurtleff Group isn’t much of a group unless you have more than one person.

The Utah GOP should push Mark Shurtleff to offer a job to his former right-hand man, Swallow.

I’m sure there’s enough business Utah Republicans could throw at Shurtleff’s new venture to make it worth Swallow’s time to leave.

Think about the selling point. The past two Attorneys General from Utah teaming up in a lobbying firm. Not many other organizations could boast that kind of roster.

If Mark Sessions Jenson is to be believed, the two would have zero trouble finding the operating capital they need to really make this company flourish.

They already have tons of connections in the call center and wealth building industries. This new arrangement would allow those companies to give Shurtleff and Swallow money without all of the nasty headlines that have accompanied their contributions in the past.

But, you may say, Shurtleff and Swallow have a huge cloud hanging over them. Who would ever want to hire them?

Don’t you think I’ve thought this through?

Enter Mike Winder. The outgoing Mayor of West Valley City has already proved his ninja-like skills in public relations by writing “good news” articles about his city under the nom de plume “Richard Burwash.” He should have no trouble spinning this new working arrangement in a positive light.

Plus, Winder is looking for a job.

This is a true Utah political “triple threat.”

Shurtleff, Swallow and Winder/Burwash. Kinda has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Let’s make this happen, people!