Publisher’s Drunk Driving Arrest Sparks Silence and Criticism

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By: Joe Strupp

This week’s lesson in newspaper reporting seems to be if your publisher is arrested on drunk driving charges, you should report it. Why? If not, your competitor might do it for you, and more than once.

That seems to be the case in Luzerne County, Pa., where the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre has made a minor mission of pointing out such an omission by the Standard-Speaker of Hazleton, based a few miles south.

At issue is the arrest Tuesday of Standard-Speaker Publisher Paul N. Walser, Jr., who was reportedly picked up early Tuesday morning while sitting in his car under the influence of alcohol. In a Wednesday story, the Times Leader reported the arrest on a drunk driving charge and driving with an expired license as part of its regular police blotter, but did not note his newspaper link.

By Wednesday afternoon, however, reporters had determined Walser’s occupation, Editor Matt Golas told E&P today. He said an updated Web story noting the newspaper connection was posted. The paper also noted that a test showed Walser’s alcohol level was twice the legal limit.

The Times Leader published another story in Thursday’s paper with more details on the incident and the disclosure of Walser’s occupation. IT also published Walser’s street address, asserted that he had been drinking at a local club, and that his vehicle had four flattened tires. It also reported that he “did not remember hitting anything.”

For several days, however, the Standard-Speaker did not report the arrest, Golas said. Finally, on Friday, the Standard-Speaker published a brief about the incident, with Walser’s name–but failed to mention his position as the paper’s publisher, according to Golas. E&P could not find the brief at all on the paper’s Web site.

E&P’s calls to Walser and the paper’s editor and managing editor had not been returned after several hours today.

The Times Leader, meanwhile, published another article Friday that led with the fact that the Standard-Speaker had not reported Walser’s position at the paper, even quoting a journalism ethics instructor at The Poynter Institute about the questionable conflict, and a spokesperson from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

And, in a Web-only column posted Friday, Times Leader Editor Golas took a personal swipe at the rival daily, saying the lack of disclosure was an assault on reader intelligence. “That’s your local ivory tower,” he wrote, recounting the Standard-Speaker’s brief about the arrest that ran Friday but did not disclose Walser’s occupation. “Well, they got the arrest on the record. Now all they have to do is come clean.”

Golas, a 20-year veteran of the Philadelphia Inquirer who took over the Times Leader last year, said he had not heard from the Standard-Speaker about the coverage, which he said was just basic journalism. “I don’t think it was harsh,” he told E&P. “We report all of the DUI’s here and we think it is newsworthy. We wag our fingers at people and we have a certain sense of righteousness in this business.”

He said holding his rival paper accountable is “a matter of credibility.” If his publisher were arrested on a similar charge, Golas said the story would be on the front page. “I said to the publisher, ‘if you blow a 0.211, you’re on A-1’.”

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