The Enquirer and the Art of the GOP Smear

People who read The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Politics Extra blog might get the idea that David Pepper, Democratic candidate for the Hamilton County Commission, supports building a new jail in Colerain Township.

There are a few problems, however, with the claim: There is no record that Pepper ever made such a proposal, he doesn’t know anything about the site mentioned, and — in what’s become a typical Enquirer trait — the posting doesn’t present any comments from sides of the issue other than the group that issued the press release.

The blog entry posts verbatim a five-paragraph press release issued by the Hamilton County Township Association. It quotes Kathy Wagner, a Symmes Township trustee who is the group’s president, and lists Tom Weidman, a Sycamore Township trustee, as the media contact. Both Wagner and Weidman are Republicans active in the local party.

According to the Enquirer blog and the press release, “Pepper proposed that the Educational Service Center, which commissioners (Phil) Heimlich and (Pat) DeWine would like to sell to the Educational Service Center Board, be the site of the new jail.”

The township group cites two press releases issued by Pepper, on June 2 and 6, as its source for the claim. Pepper’s releases, though, criticized commissioners for selling numerous county-owned properties without competitive bids. Pepper’s release stated the county could make more money to put toward the jail by using a bidding process.

Pepper’s release proposes “tabling the decision made by Heimlich to sell county-owned property that might be useful for the jail location.” But it continues by endorsing an engineering analysis to determine the proper site for a jail, adding, “If that analysis shows that a purchase of property is necessary, swiftly move forward to conclude the siting and purchase of the necessary property.”

Pepper said today, “There’s no specific site in mind. My comments were responding to a general practice by the county. I’ve never proposed (the Colerain site) and (Commissioner Todd) Portune never proposed it. It’s literally a lie. It’s the art of a smear.”

The blog entry is the latest example of what many local officials have said is biased or unbalanced reporting in the Enquirer.

As an example, they cite the page 1A story that ran June 12 about Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory’s city manager nominee, Milton Dohoney Jr. The article proclaimed Dohoney “a hit” at every stop on a weekend walking tour, but quoted no one else besides Dohoney.

— Kevin Osborne

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9 Comments on “The Enquirer and the Art of the GOP Smear”

  1. The Enquirer blog entry about Pepper has been updated.

    Notice the placement of the paragraph about Portune. It is designed to discredit Pepper, still.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Tom Wiedman, the Sycamore Twp. Trustee who is the contact person on the press release accusing Pepper of the proposal is Phil Heimlich’s Campaign Manager.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Nice job, Kevin!

  4. one advocate Says:

    O:K Brainiacs, Here’s the missing link ( best of my memory)

    Heimlich proposed to sell off county owned properties and USE THE MONEY for a NEW jail’s location!! The missing prepositional phrase ( for those of you who are not news junkie or Enquirer reporters on local politics) is inserted in the quote below so it makes sense for everyone;

    …the decision made by Heimlich to sell county owned property TO GET THE MONEY that might be useful for the NEW jail’S location…

    That is what Pepper and Portune were referring to , and the Educational Service Center was one of the properties that had been discussed that wasn’t being used OR ANTICIPATED TO BE USED IN THE FUTURE for ANY county service.

    So, Heimlich cannot correlate his own plans for raising the revenues to build a jail with the statement made by Pepper and Portune stating that they wanted to “table” those plans at this juncture.

    When Heimlich asks Portune “what site might be useful for the jail location” he further demonstrates that he cannot remember what BS he last fed to the public about his plans for financing a new jail, thinking the press release is referring to a site for a jail rather the a property to be sold – which he, himself, proposed.

    Portune, actually, is answering two differnet questions – what property would be beneficial for a jail ( which is not the context of the press release being referenced) and what property he, Heimlich, proposed to be sold as Heimlich hands him the press release.

    Heimlich, Honey, you proposed selling the Educational Service Center among other properties — don’t you remember? Thank goodness Todd knows what YOU’RE talking about and can keep track of your BS!!!

    Now, I understand why the average Joe might not be able to follow the line of politics of Heimlcih – but these people being paid to report to us the proposals(news) -and the persons making the proposals (Heimlich) — why they can’t decipher a reference to Heimlich’s own proposal — I don’t understand.

    Todd’s answer was correct. Someone please explain to Heimlich and the Enquirer what this exchange was about – in simple terms with lots of footnotes.

    Then, Pepper should file an elections complaint citing Heimlich’s own proposal,the tape of the meeting, Heimlich’s website ( making known false statements) and put the Township official under oath as well as her “informant” —

    Let the games begin!

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Watch the June 7 video. Heimlich knew exactly what he was doing. Heimlich raises the issue, “I occasionally have the chance to read the blog by our local reporter (Kimball Perry) and I noticed on there that you (Portune) had suggested….” Then Heimlich repeatedly and clumsily tries (and fails) to get Portune into a “gotcha,” trying to get Portune to admit that Portune has some secret plan to put the jail in Colerain.

    Then on June 16, Perry published the Weidman press release on the Enquirer’s blog. That was immediately protested as a smear by readers and by Kevin Osborne here. Perry (or someone else at the Enquirer blog) just happened to have a video and press release ready to upload, the same video and Pepper press release simultaneously showed up on Heimlich’s website. The video and Pepper press release were then added as an “update” to Perry’s item in an attempt to defend the Weidman press release as newsworthy along with Perry then bringing in David Pepper who denounced the press release as false because, well, it was false.

    There’s no way Perry didn’t know who was behind the Weidman press release. He saw Heimlich do a dry run, almost word for word, ten days earlier. It’s on the video. What prevented Perry from picking up the phone to call Pepper or Portune or a Colerain official to fact-check before he ran the Weidman press release? Nothing. Therefore, it’s inescapable that Perry must have known this was a political dirty trick and that the accusation was false when he published it. That would be a breach of basic journalism ethics. If he did so – and if it turns out that Perry co-ordinated this charade with Heimlich – he should be fired.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    About the Mallory article, I wonder if they’re intentionally trying to skew things in one direction or another or whether the imbalance is a result of the tiny amount of space they give their reporters these days — especially the ones who cover politics and public affairs. Kevin, you used to write for them. What do you think?

  7. Kevin Osborne Says:

    Based solely on my personal observations and experience during the time I worked for the Enquirer (for about 4 months, which ended when I quit in December 2005), I’d say any perceived skewing is mostly the result of space limitations, not editorial edict.

    Editors there are very concerned about keeping most articles short, to between 8 and 12 inches long, so they won’t have to “jump” or be continued on another page. (That’s a Gannett-ordered policy.)

    As a result, little perspective makes it in the paper on complicated issues, and one-source stories often are allowed.

    I know that I, for one, routinely had to fight for an extra inch or so on stories to make sure “the other side” was presented to whatever was the article’s primary angle. Inevitably, when copy editors needed to cut for space, that “other side” (along with most quotes) were the first to be chopped.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks for answering the question, Kevin. That’s a huge disappointment — but also what I expected to hear — to those of us who have been loyal readers of the paper. And it wasn’t always that way. It’s just another in a series of mind-boggling decisions made by Enquirer managers in recent years– from marginalizing or letting go long-time columnists like Kiesewetter, McGurk, Radel, Pulfer and the former pop music critic to letting Peter Bronson essentially be the paper’s only voice. Big-city papers are supposed to have a variety of writers with different perspectives who you want to read. These days, the Enquirer has none. Instead they let readers write columns (for free), which is not necessarily a bad idea, but it’s a joke to think readers can replace professional journalists, trained in writing, as the voice of a community.

    Their recent coverage of Zarqawi’s death was particularly appalling. No actual story on the front page, just three little news bites. Unfortunately, I think I read the Enquirer’s circulation went up 2 percent this year, so I’m sure their editors and the bean counters at Gannett view that as a validation of such policies. People don’t read the paper for short stories; we can go to TV for summaries. You guys shouldn’t get big heads, but I’m glad CityBeat is around to provide an indepth report on some issues. Still, it doesn’t replace the comprehensive look a good daily newspaper can provide.

  9. one advocate Says:

    The Enquirer owned Northwest Press printed an article today entitled, “Jail location becomes county political issue.” (Jennie Key) The article is void of facts and makes Kimball’s biased reporting look like real journalism. The lead in;
    “ Local politicians and community leaders were in an uproar last week that Democrat candidate for Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper and incumbant Todd Portune would attempt to build a new jail in Colerain Township.
    Portune and Pepper denied having such a plan and suggested the uproar was of their own making.
    …Kathy Wagner said in a release that Pepper proposed that service center, …, be the site of the new jail.
    …She said Portune confirmed the location of the proposed jail site at a commissioner’s meeting June7.”

    Then Keys goes on to quote Corman’s comments against the new jail in Colerain Township at a trustee’s meeting. Then a minister opposing the Colerain Jail site next to his church.

    The last two paragraphs were nonquoted, vague summaries of what the heck they were really talking about and Pepper’s statement. Neither Portune nor Pepper were given any quotes and they were strategically tagged on to the end of the article ( like a second thought)

    Please note that the paper is offerring a “feedback” opportunity on Heimlich’s tax plan for a new jail, also ( email; I would suggest that everyone contact the Press (923-3111) and demand a front page, top of the fold article with the real facts including the methods employed to try, try to trip of Portune, the involvement of the Heimlich operative, etc. If you have facts ( though they don’t necessarily seem to require “facts” for any article) or proof to support those facts – please contact them before noon Friday (that’s their cut off day for the next edition).

    This is beyond biased reporting – it is fraud.

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