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.