By: Beth Fouhy, Associated Press Writer
(AP) A San Francisco Chronicle editor who gave $400 to the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has been placed on paid leave, pending an investigation into whether his campaign contributions violated the newspaper’s ethics policy.
William Pates, the Chronicle’s letters editor, went on leave last week after Grade the News, a media watchdog organization based at Stanford University, contacted the paper about Pates’ donations to Kerry and other Democrats.
Reached at his home, Pates confirmed he had contributed money to Kerry and other candidates. But Pates said that because he is part of the Chronicle’s editorial page staff and not involved in news coverage, he was “surprised” by the paper’s action.
“Our policy is rather vague on the matter of conflicts of interest and ethics, and I didn’t think that it applied to me,” he said.
Editorial Page Editor John Diaz, who relieved Pates of his duties, said Pates’ job requires a clear dividing line between the letters editor and the subjects of the news.
“The selection of letters to the editor is a very important job. It’s a gatekeeper role that can have a great deal of influence on what the perception is of public reaction to various issues,” Diaz said.
Four other Chronicle staff members and two editors at the paper’s Web site, SFGate.com, also were found to have made political contributions in the last few years, Grade the News found.
The Chronicle’s managing editor, Robert Rosenthal, told Grade the News that the paper was looking into the contributions made by the four staffers — two of whom recently left the paper. But Vlae Kershner, SFGate’s news director, said no action would be taken against the Web site’s employees.
The Chronicle has publicly struggled before to define where its employees’ professional lives end and their personal lives begin. In March, amid San Francisco’s gay marriage spree, the paper removed a reporter and photographer from covering the story after the two women received a marriage license from City Hall. And last year, the paper fired a columnist after he was arrested during an anti-war protest.