Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dave Heineman's Spokesman Hired By His Mouthpiece

by Kyle Michaelis
Over the last two months, Governor Heineman's office and the Omaha World-Herald's Editorial board have clearly been working hand-in-hand to lay the groundwork and to pressure the Nebraska legislature into adopting Heineman's generally regressive proposal to reduce the state's income taxes rather than using the power of the state to address our supposed property tax crisis (Exhibit A; Exhibit B).

Not only have they used the same talking points but also the same bait-and-switch tactics to manipulate public opinion (so far, to little avail). With this in mind, the following story really doesn't surprise in the slightest. The Reader's Media Notes reports:
Aaron Sanderford is giving up his post as Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman's communications director to join the Omaha World-Herald as an editorial writer.

Sanderford, 29, spent more than six years at the Lincoln Journal Star before joining Heineman's staff in March of 2005. He reported on business, government, crime, courts, prisons, sports, and entertainment, in addition to serving as the newspaper's night city editor.

A Louisburg, N.C., native, Sanderford earned a bachelor of arts in political science from the University of Kentucky. His last day of work for Heineman will be Feb. 23.

Heineman said the search for Sanderford's replacement will begin immediately.
Whether it's been the Omaha World-Herald writing Heineman's speeches or Sanderford writing the Omaha World-Herald's editorials, it's hard to say that Sanderford's relocation is really going to make a difference. This is just one more indication of how completely the Omaha World-Herald is immersed in Nebraska's power structure - to the point that it is completely, purposefully incapable of functioning as an independent press.

But, I'm not going to blame Sanderford for this situation. He's just a young guy pursuing a new career path - one who's proven himself quite talented, much to the Democratic Party's dismay and probably to Nebraska's long-term detriment. His job has been to build relationships with the Nebraska media and to control the message they carry to voters. He seems to have done an excellent job at these tasks - even if the ever-eager and complacent media made his an easier job than it had any right to be.

The World-Herald, however, should be more mindful of the public's trust - a trust they've violated in their coverage of the tax debate. To this trust, they also owe complete disclosure of how Sanderford got hired for his new position and what exactly that position will entail. For instance, will Sanderford be writing editorials on the very policies he's been pushing as a state employee over the last two years?

What precautions will be taken to prevent conflicts of interest? And, what assurances do readers have that this is anything more than a marriage of convenience that will only further blend Nebraska's disturbingly broad intersection between partisan politics and the state's most powerful newspaper? In fact, acknowledgement that the World-Herald may have crossed the boundaries of ethical journalism with their relationship to the Governor's office the last two months might already be in order.

Is Sanderford changing jobs or just locations?
Is this the end result of a relationship between Heineman and the World-Herald that had become far too friendly or does this just make it official...and, perhaps, permanent?

An intriguing situation. A scary one as well. The most interesting question might just be who answers to whom. Sanderford would know - no doubt about it. But, he no longer has to answer questions. His job is now to tell us what to think. Sadly, with the state of the Nebraska press corps, there was never much of a difference there in the first place.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a matter of public integrity, this job switch is no worse than George Stephanopolis going to ABC or Dee Dee Meyers going to NBC. In fact, since Sanderford writes only opinions, at least no one will accuse him of inserting bias into allegedly neutral reporting or interview questions. To me, an editorial page seems like the right place for a former political aide. If the OWH wants to be Heineman's cheerleader on their editorial page, that type of editorial bias doesn't differentiate them from the NY Times, the Washington Post or any other newspaper which regularly sides with one side or the other.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Maybe you should do your homework. Last I heard, Sanderford was a Democrat working in a Republican administration. He might just offer that paper a statewide perspective.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

I'm glad people are coming forward to defend Sanderford, and I wish him well in his new position. I'm sorry if this article really reads as criticism of Sanderford - such was not my intent. But, the shared rhetoric used by the Heineman Administration and the World-Herald the last two months in pushing a reduction in income taxes by dismissing efforts to reduce property taxes raises legitimate questions about the nature and extent of their relationship. And, the hiring of Sanderford adds one more question mark - with an exclamation point - to this important query.


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