The Enquirer’s Conflicts of Interest


(Photo: Flickr.com/photos/jhawke/123875656/)

People who only get their news from The Cincinnati Enquirer don’t know about leaky ceilings in the recently renovated Fountain Square parking garage or how some groups are complaining that new rules requiring liability insurance might keep them from using the redesigned square.

Also, except for a single article run last week, Enquirer readers probably won’t see another story that questions how much the cash-strapped National Underground Railroad Freedom Center spent on its nationwide search for a new CEO, Donald Murphy.

But Enquirer readers did get an article earlier this year highlighting the low grades of many University of Cincinnati basketball players, coincidentally published on the same day that fired ex-coach Bob Huggins returned to town.

The story about Fountain Square’s leaky parking garage after a $500,000 makeover by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) was first reported by the Cincinnati Beacon blog, then WLWT-TV. The Cincinnati Post reported the controversy over 3CDC’s more stringent rules for Fountain Square demonstrations.

Here’s one possible — and troubling — reason explaining The Enquirer’s coverage decisions.

Margaret E. Buchanan, The Enquirer’s president and publisher, sits on 3CDC’s board of directors and helps with the group’s marketing efforts. Buchanan also sits on UC’s board of trustees.

Additionally, The Enquirer was an early supporter of building the Freedom Center and influenced the decision to locate it on Cincinnati’s riverfront. Newspaper executives were so enthusiastic for the museum, in fact, that it let its staff use an office in The Enquirer’s building for two years while the project was built and hosts the museum’s Web site on its Cincinnati.com site.

The relationships also help explain why university officials and 3CDC so frequently give The Enquirer exclusives on certain topics.

One recent example being talked about among reporters in The Enquirer’s newsroom is a Feb. 27 article about the Freedom Center and how museum officials don’t believe they must comply with state open records laws despite receiving $41 million in public funding to build the center, and seeking another $10 million in state funding over the next five years. Scuttlebutt has it that after lower-level editors approved the article, word came down the next day from higher-ups that no future articles on the topic should appear in the newspaper.

Good newspapers write stories about potential conflicts of interest when they crop up among government officials, figuring the public should know if business or personal relationships could affect public policy or how taxpayer dollars are spent. Newspapers should be mindful when their own conflicts affect their coverage.

While in college, most journalists-to-be learn the quote spoken by Gene Kelly’s character in the 1960 film, Inherit the Wind: “Mr. Brady, it is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” (Actually, the quote is a paraphrase of a line by Finley Peter Dunne, a 19th century muckraker.)

James Risen, a New York Times reporter, put the newspaper’s role in simpler, starker terms during a recent interview on the PBS show, Frontline: “The job of a reporter is to be the curmudgeon who raises questions that nobody else wants to raise. That’s what the best reporters try to do.”

Even if there are reasonable explanations for some of the incidents covered by the other media, as 3CDC has argued on the Beacon blog, then a publication holding itself up to be a “newspaper of record” for Cincinnati should report the stories and clarify events for its readers.

A newspaper’s primary job isn’t to be a community booster or support civic organizations; it’s to provide information to the public. Any other duty that interferes with that should be jettisoned.

— Kevin Osborne

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4 Comments on “The Enquirer’s Conflicts of Interest”

  1. The Dean Says:

    I think all of us on the outside, aware of and trying to comment on The Enquirer’s unethical behavior, should devise some kind of way to collaborate on an anti-Enquirer push.

    One idea I have had is to create a push to buy subscriptions to The Post. Just a symbolic thing, perhaps. But if we all got on the same page, could we have a successful push? Would it mean anything?

    Maybe Post subscriptions are not the answer. But if a group of us got together, would we come up with something?

  2. Kenny Says:

    I tried to subcribe to the Post a few years ago. It went through the Enquirer’s sales department, so they of course told me to order the Enquirer instead. The guy on the phone just flat out would not let me order delivery of the Post, so, after five minutes of arguing, I just hung up.

    That was over three years ago. I would guess it would be even harder to get one today, but I like that idea, Dean. A reverse boycott.

  3. kevin flanigan Says:

    I lived in Cincinnati most of my life. Those two papers are so full of nothing, I wouldn’t subscribe to either. Just flat boycott both of them.

  4. Retired Ranger Says:

    The Enquirer reporters were apparently given a STOP order on further stories about new Freedom Center CEO Don Murphy, when things started getting really embarrassing. Murphy’s tenure at the National Park Service was notorious, and he was severely demoted shortly before his resignation. Even closer to his resignation was a federal court reversal for the NPS in a personnel dismissal (Former U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers) that Murphy spearheaded. Apparently the Enquirer is a co-sponsor and heavy contributer to the Freedom Center and is looking after its interests, not fearlessly printing the truth like we expect of a newspaper.


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