Friday, March 12, 2010

The Fourth Estate?

Today Utah woke up to the news that House Majority Leader Kevin Garn has been keeping a secret.

It seems that 25 years ago he had a little naked hot-tubbing encounter with a young woman. That’s no big deal in itself, but it seems that this woman was a 15-year-old girl at the time, and that Garn was approximately 30, and that she was also his employee, and that he was also married, and that when she threatened to go public during his 2002 campaign for Congress, he paid her $150,000 in hush money. Oh, and after he confessed all this to the Legislature last night, they gave him a standing ovation.

But among all the juicy details of this still-unfolding story, the one that interests me most is this: The Deseret News knew all about it 8 years ago, and never printed a word.

Their excuse is that they learned Garn’s secret shortly before the primary election in which he was defeated. They didn’t want to print something so inflammatory right before the election, when voters might not have time to hear and absorb all sides of the story. And after the election it wasn’t newsworthy because he was no longer a candidate or office holder.

They may have been right about not publishing before the election. Depends on how close to Election Day it was, and exactly how much information they had at that time. But there’s no excuse for their suppressing the story even after the election. Garn had then served in the Legislature for 12 years, and a story like this is newsworthy even when it’s about a former legislator or former candidate (just as the John Edwards scandal was newsworthy when it broke). And when Garn joined the Legislature again in 2007, the story became even more newsworthy.

Makes you wonder what else the Deseret News knows that it isn’t telling us.

The behavior of the Deseret News reminds me a lot of how our local Standard-Examiner treats Mayor Godfrey. In his case there have been no sex scandals, but there’s been plenty of lying, cheating, and illegal activity that the Standard-Examiner has done its best to ignore.

When the Press is part of the cover-up, there’s something seriously wrong with our democracy.


  1. Was the DesNews the only news org that new about Garn 8 years ago? And, yes, it does indeed remind me of the Standard's treatment of Godfrey - great point!

  2. Here are a few follow-up details and links:

    This Deseret News article discusses its decision not to run the story in 2002, and claims that the Trib had the story at that time as well. But over at the Trib, Robert Gehrke's blog explains that although they did get a tip about the story 8 years ago, they never managed to confirm it at that time. Gehrke also agrees that it was reasonable for the DesNews not to run the story right before the election, but has "a hard time understanding how the hot tubbing allegations and the payments were not deemed newsworthy in the intervening eight years, particularly as Garn returned to politics."

    Meanwhile, over at the Standard-Examiner, editor Andy Howell claims that he would have printed the Garn story in 2002, again showing that he holds the legislature to much higher standards than the mayor. And editor Doug Gibson chimes in on his blog, further criticizing the DesNews.

    Finally, Weber County Forum has honored this blog with a link from its front-page story!


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