Stuff Of Nightmares: The Publisher Runs For Governor

By: C.G. Wallace, Associated Press Writer

(AP) It’s the kind of news that gives newspaper editors cold-sweat nightmares: The publisher is running for governor.

That is what’s happening at the Post Register in Idaho Falls.

Publisher Jerry Brady announced in mid-March that he is making a run for the state’s highest office, putting his family’s newspaper in the awkward position of covering the boss as a political candidate.

“Everything we do now is second-guessed,” Managing Editor Dean Miller said.

Roger Plothow, general manager and acting publisher, said: “I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. I don’t like notoriety for this reason.”

Brady, a Democrat whose great-grandfather James H. Brady was governor of Idaho in the early 1900s, has taken a paid leave from the newspaper. His office is dark and will be turned into a nursing room for new mothers.

Brady said the paper will cover him like any other candidate, and he will treat the Post Register as he would any other paper.

In fact, Brady did not tell his own newsroom he was running. “We were damn near scooped!” Miller said. The paper stumbled upon the story when an opinion writer was researching an unrelated story.

“It was not my job to give them the tip,” Brady explained.

After the initial shock, Miller said he tried to think of a way to talk Brady out of running. Then he decided he had to come up with a game plan.

Miller consulted journalism experts around the country. From their responses, the paper drew up an eight-page coverage plan and a script for receptionists to use when they get calls about the campaign.

The paper has hired an ombudsman to monitor its election coverage. Lee Warnick, head of the Brigham Young University-Idaho communications department, will write columns between now and the election. His contract stipulates that the paper can edit his writing only for grammar and style.

The paper has a circulation of about 25,000. That would make it a small publication in many states, but in Idaho the Post Register is the second-largest newspaper. It serves Idaho Falls, a city of 50,000, and the surrounding counties, which are dominated by potato fields and dotted with Mormon churches.

The people here are predominantly Mormon and politically conservative. The Post Register‘s editorial page is liberal and frequently riles its readers. Brady, 65, has been a leading force on the opinion page for 13 years, writing one or two editorials a week.

This early in the race, Brady has no other Democrats challenging him for the nomination. However, he faces Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican incumbent in a Republican state, meaning he is a long shot.

The situation in Idaho Falls has recent precedents. Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s new mayor, owns Bloomberg LP, a financial news service. Journalists there must tread carefully when covering the city. In Minnesota, Democratic state Sen. Sen. Becky Lourey, who is running for governor, has picked former Minneapolis Star Tribune Publisher Joel Kramer as her running mate. Kramer left the newspaper in 1998.

In Idaho, Brady will have no role in the paper’s coverage while he is running for election, according to the acting publisher. But that is not good enough for some readers.

Joseph Campbell of Idaho Falls wrote to the paper questioning the distance between the publisher’s campaign and the news coverage. He also said it was wrong for Brady to continue to take his paycheck.

Aly Colon, an ethics specialist at the Poynter Institute, a media think tank, said that is exactly the problem with a publisher hitting the campaign trail: The newspaper finds its objectivity questioned. “The importance of the news in general is its independence, and tied to this is credibility,” he said. “From a journalistic and credibility point of view, there is nothing I can see that is positive in this.”

The Post Register‘s political reporter, Corey Taule, said he cannot afford to have people think he is biased toward his Democratic boss. In a state that is overwhelmingly Republican — of the 105 state legislators, only 12 are Democrats — he would only be hurting himself as a reporter.

“I’m just going to do what I do. I think that’s the best way to go about it,” Taule said with a shrug.

The paper said two or three readers have canceled their subscriptions in protest.

One reader, Paul Hopperdietzel, renewed his subscription but wrote that Brady is a “nitwit” who will only help the Republicans by running. He added: “The only reason for taking this rag is the obits and ‘Ally Oop.'”

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