A little tale of journalistic backstabbing

This week’s issue of Seven Days (THE SEXXXXXXXX ISSUE!!!!!!! Purely for journalistic reasons, not at all an appeal to our baser instincts and our baser advertisers) includes a lengthy, exhaustively detailed look at the very combative campaign for mayor of Montpelier, featuring incumbent John Hollar and challenger Gwen Hallsmith, penned by Paul “The Huntsman” Heintz. Read at your pleasure; my attention is focused on a single anecdote buried deep within the article, and presented by Heintz without commentary. Which I will hereby provide. You’re welcome, Paul.

We pick up our story with Mayor Hollar suffering a real bad case of Bunched Knicker Syndrome over some reporting in the Times Argus that struck Hizzoner as too favorable toward Hallsmith. Take it away, Paul…

Upset with the paper’s coverage, Hollar wrote to publisher John Mitchell to complain about what he called “numerous distortions and false statements.” Mitchell, apparently, agreed with the mayor. In an email to Hollar, the publisher said that if he had not been out of town, he “might otherwise have been more involved in this story sooner.”

“I admire your restraint on this matter, and, unfortunately, share your concerns, i.e. ‘tone, directions and implications,’ about how this story has been handled,” Mitchell wrote.

And there’s the journalistic perfidy. It’s a universal, if unwritten, rule of the trade: if you run a news operation and one of your minions falls afoul of a public figure, you back your staffer. Even if you think the staffer was all wrong: you deal with it in private, and close ranks in public. You do not undercut your staff.  

Mitchell’s grovel before Hollar was craven and cowardly, and unworthy of one of the great families of Vermont newspapering. And although Mitchell saw fit to bow and scrape before the mayor, his subordinate saw it differently. And still does.

Times Argus editor Steve Pappas makes no such apologies.

“Stories such as this, where conflicts of interest are raised among public officials, have to be explored,” he says, noting that the paper has given just as much scrutiny to Gov. Peter Shumlin and Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon. “We felt that we did our due diligence.”

Steve Pappas has done yeoman’s work keeping the Times Argus semi-relevant on a shoestring budget that offers salaries barely competitive with Mickey D’s. John Mitchell should get down on his knees and thank God every damn day that he’s got Steve Pappas running his ship. The last thing he should be doing is sticking a politically convenient knife in his editor’s back.


16 thoughts on “A little tale of journalistic backstabbing

  1. But it sounds like Montpelier’s got itself an identity crisis: blue-bloods and bankers on one side of the divide and progressive populists on the other.

    I loved this line:

    “I still don’t see how our city’s chief economic development officer can hold and promote views that are fundamentally anti-capitalist in nature.”

    Pass the popcorn.

  2. When I was a print reporter back in the late sixties to early eighties, I mostly got along with my editors, even when they eviscerated a good story, mostly to make me hold something back for a follow-up.  The old one-two.  Can’t EVER recall an editor or publisher PUBLICLY DISCLAIMING a story in his/her paper.  Publishers mostly got pressured by politicians, public figures and advertisers to pressure their editors to back off.  And then the editor would talk to me or another reporter about what kind of assholery he had to deal with, and to ‘keep that in mind’ in our next piece on the ‘sensitive’ issue.  In other words, pause, and then re-approach story from a less ‘involved’ manner, as if we were all just the innocent messengers of something larger we were trying to keep control of.  Always worked, though sometimes I felt a bit stifled.  But NEVER publicly censored.  No self respecting newspaper publisher or editor should publicly disclaim a story in his/her paper.  That ain’t the way to hold on to readers, OR advertisers.


  3. Maybe it isn’t intentional but they have nice little good cop bad cop routine going here. Mitchell grovels before the pols and Pappas champions the employees.

  4. I’ve been following the public banking issue for years and the only primary, active proponents have been the droolers of the pretty much defunct Vermont secessionist movement.

    Too many observers immediately get a warm fuzzy in their nether regions when they fantasize about a state public bank but there’s a lot more to the topic than, “Oo, cool!”

    I’m exploring the whole thing in a series of posts I’ve begun at the Vermont Secession blog (clearly a shameless plug but with more information than the secesher proponents are ever going to give you).

    Bottom line, this is going to cost Vermonters, at a minimum, hundreds of millions of dollars if as past performance at the US’s sole, last standing  public bank in North Dakota is to serve as the successful example.  ‘Course, we can match their billions of barrels of oil reserves with our sap and kale reserves.  

    Should be a no brainer.

  5. faaar from the tree. RJ is not John Mitchell his dad nor anything like him except in name only. I even suspect him of being a closet R if not a conservative. JM despised Nixon & as far as I know a Ds D through & through. In fact the Rutland Herald was not-so-jokingly referred to as the “Russian Herald” even by readers.

    Any problems with the company lead right to RJs desk not the state of the news industry. Good to see Hirschfeld escaped the guillotine unlike some of his coworkers as VPR is now the best state newsroom in the state imho, even venturing into local news more & more sort of like the state AP bureau if there still is one. And, the reason imho was the addition of none other than John Van Hoesen who once headed up the news room at the Herald, possibly editor, taking the quality of the news with him.

    He overrode the editorial board to support Brian Dubie at the very last minute after the Herald deciding not to take a stand in the gubernatorial election, even calling Jimmy D a “principled moderate”. Douglas is a rightwingers rightwinger & in fact Dubie infamously used shmoozing with the likes of GWB in an attempt to display his true brand of conservatism.  JHC!

    RJ not supporting his staff as well as of all ppl a reporter is no less than completely disgraceful & shows an odd disconnect with the responsibility of the news industry which I hate to say is unsurprising.

  6. Thanks. John’name is “R. John” which confused me thought it was the other way around. Robert’s grandson Rob is also involved, I think he’s a Herald staffer but involved with the news.

    Robert was very much involved with the news angle of the paper. Have been a reader since I was a child – my parents read the paper(s) & always watched & discussed the news which was a huge influence on my interest in the news.

    I forgot about Dillon there’s been such a revolving door however he’s a class act. I’m impressed by VPR’s willingness to call a spade a spade re liberal hotbutton issues namely Vermont’s version of Obamacare.  

    JVH is a one of a kind also involved at the high level (editor?) of another area newspaper relic of my youth the afternoon daily Times Reporter (Springfield) which begat the Eagle Times (Claremont NH-a shell of its former self but wonderful bird-cage liner) & the weekly Springfield Reporter although the details of the splitting off escape me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *