The News & Observer’s stories lately about some members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation to Washington have raised both of my eyebrows. The newspaper’s editorial choices, whether deliberate or not, slant towards friendly coverage of left-leaning politicians and unsympathetic if not hostile treatment of conservative leaders. Witness:
1. The N&O chose not to chase down allegations that Sen. John Edwards placed a “hold” on popular legislation that allowed soldiers in combat to delay payments on student loans. Instead, writer John Wagner chose to cast aspersions on the work of Washington Times reporter Charles Hurt, a former Charlotte Observer correspondent who broke the story. Hurt’s pair of stories were based on interviews with several members and low level staffers of the Senate committee that considered that bill, which passed the House nearly unanimously.
If Wagner sought to verify the charges made against Edwards, it didn’t show up in his treatment of the story. Rather, he engaged in a reporting rarity: Questioning the work of a fellow journalist by emphasizing the perspective of two of Edwards’s press flacks, who unquestionably were in a dizzying spin control.
Maybe – I stress “maybe” – that aspect would be worthwhile in the context of a larger article. But because it made up the majority of the “Under the Dome” brief, it smacked of prejudice against the intrepid Washington Times. The Times carries the same reputation as the Fox News Channel in the view of the “media elite:” Journalists call them conservative while FNC identifies itself as “fair and balanced.” Unfortunately that predisposition tainted the editorial judgment of the N&O. It ignored the substance of the allegations and instead made the reporting the story.
2. On July 6 the N&O trained its eye on the scandal enveloping Rep. Charles Taylor, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s 11th district in the west. Taylor has been accused by three men convicted in the conspiracy of participating with them in a bank fraud and money-laundering scheme. Taylor founded the bank and also served as chairman of its board of directors. The N&O properly raised the question: Why hasn’t the Justice Department investigated Taylor yet?
But the N&O needs to take a look at its judgment in its story choices. Why has the Raleigh newspaper ignored the overwhelming evidence that Rep. Frank Ballance, D-1st, used or sought to use two nonprofit organizations that he established to receive questionable funding? Carolina Journal has uncovered voluminous evidence that Ballance used one of his state-funded nonprofits to help support minister friends who have contributed to him in the past. His other nonprofit was created for mysterious reasons and may have been used as a conduit for contributions to his campaign from corporations.
The N&O reported in late April that the John A. Hyman Memorial Youth Foundation failed to file reports to the state and to the IRS as required by law. However, since then CJ has uncovered reams of information that raise much more serious questions about how Ballance has conducted business in his campaigns and with his foundations.
The N&O legitimately examined the allegations surrounding Republican Taylor. But why hasn’t the newspaper chased the Democrat Ballance’s story since April, which probably is more relevant to the N&O’s Eastern North Carolina readership?
3. In another “Under the Dome” brief, Wagner took special note of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones’s letter of appreciation to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for his dissent on the recent Texas sodomy case. The majority ruling, citing privacy rights, struck down a state law that classified sodomy as a crime. Scalia wrote that the court majority has “largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda.”
Jones, whose 3rd District is for the most part equidistant with Ballance’s from Raleigh, told Scalia that “it is my privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in this fight to maintain a sense of morality in this country.” Wagner also found Jones’s sign-off significant: “May the Peace of Christ be with you.”
Why was this important for the N&O to bring to light, compared with the Ballance developments? If one of North Carolina’s congressmen praises the Supreme Court majority for supporting the right to perform homosexual acts in private, will Wagner find that worthy of a brief? And when will we hear from the N&O about some of U.S. Rep. Mel Watt’s radically left-wing views and votes, such as his pre-war decision not to vote yes for a resolution supporting our troops?
All the above raises one last question: Is the N&O “fair and balanced?”
Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina Journal.