Idaho Publisher’s Political Run Is Ethics Quagmire

By: Allan Wolper

Commentary

Meet The Brady Bunch.

He is Jerry M. Brady, who gave himself a $150,000-a-year paid leave of absence, plus health and insurance benefits, from his jobs as chairman and president of the Post Co. and publisher of the Post Register in Idaho Falls to run for governor of Idaho.

She is Rickie Brady, general manager of KIFI-TV, the local ABC affiliate owned by the Post Co. that her husband, Jerry, just took a leave of absence from to run for governor.

He is J. Robb Brady, uncle of Jerry M. Brady and a member of the editorial board of the Post Register that his nephew just took a leave of absence from to run for governor.

He is Jack Brady, brother of Jerry M. Brady, who owns 25.5% of the Post Co. that his brother just took a leave of absence from to run for governor.

And that is just the beginning. Jerry M. Brady, who also owns 25.5% of the Post Co., gave up the company car, a cell phone, his office, and his editorial column. He also asked his paper to be tough on him so his political opponents could not claim it was an arm of the campaign.

But they’re saying it, anyway. Here’s why: Brady insisted that the only reason he kept himself on the Post Co. payroll was because it was the only way he could afford to run for governor.

Then word leaked that he lent his campaign $100,000 to buy TV commercials. Hardly the spending practices of a poverty-stricken publisher. Not that he needed to buy any TV time at this point in the campaign. Rue Stears, his opponent in the May 28 Democratic primary, is a candidate with no campaign headquarters or telephone number.

Then there is Brady’s marital situation. When he announced two months ago he was running for governor, Rickie, the KIFI general manager who is his wife, was at his side. She will be there lots of times while she manages the TV station. Rickie is keeping her Post Co. paycheck, too. The Federal Communications Commission said her political activity did not violate any laws. But it’s made the station a political target. Every time the KIFI broadcasts a news story that may be an issue in the campaign, the Republicans whisper about a media conspiracy.

Then there is the perception problem. Brady’s newspaper people privately cringed when they received a campaign press release that identified him as the former publisher of the Idaho Falls newspaper. Meanwhile, the KIFI Web site (http://www.localnews8.com/aboutus) still traces the Brady family media history from its beginnings in 1925 — messages that hardly speak of separate political and journalistic lives.

Dean Miller, managing editor of the Post Register, is doing everything he can to minimize the conflicts. He’s even hired Lee Warnick, a communication professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho, to act as a media ombudsman for the paper’s Brady coverage. “In the end, what will happen is that we will be able to say that we did it right,” Miller said.

Warnick’s next story should focus on the ethics section of the Post Co. handbook. It certainly seems like Brady violated the spirit of his company’s ethics policy. “It is expected that employees will not have any outside interest that might dilute their dedication to the principles of a free and impartial press or the ability to fulfill their job duties and responsibilities,” the handbook reads.

Brady’s paid leave also has won him the enmity of The Idaho Statesman, the state’s largest paper. The Boise-based Statesman ridiculed Brady for comparing his arrangement to that of a professor on sabbatical. “But there is a difference — a big difference,” the Statesman thundered in an editorial. “A professor could take a paid leave and run for political office without appearance of a conflict of interest. … The rules are different in the newspaper field. An editor or writer wanting to run for political office would not be allowed to take a ‘paid’ leave.”

Brady dismissed the Statesman editorial as the mischievous grumbling of a chain — Gannett Co. Inc. — angered by his refusal to sell them his media holdings. He pointed out that he would have 20 times more than the $1 million he needs for his campaign if he had done just that. All quite true.

Instead, he used about $10 million worth of his stock as collateral on a loan to buy 49% of the Post Co. from his family and and distribute it to his workers as part of a complex stock/retirement package. “I could have made many millions of dollars if I had sold out to a chain,” Brady said. “But I wanted the paper and the television station to remain independent. So I sold it to my employees. I am proud of that.”

He should be. But he didn’t poll those employees on whether they approved of him using their shareholders’ money to run for governor. It’s a helluva story. His newspaper would be all over any other publisher who decided to run for office with newsroom money.

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