Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Important Facts About the Larry Conners Fiasco (Mostly) Ignored By the Media

So, if you recall, back in September Larry Conners did a silly interview for KMOV where he asked President Obama if he takes too many vacation days. The interview was ridiculous because (1) it showed that Conners was completely out of touch with issues that actually matter and (2) Conners conveniently left out the fact that Obama had taken about 1/3 as many vacation days as Bush and 1/2 as many as Reagan at similar points in their presidencies.

More recently, Conners was fired after using his KMOV Facebook page to absurdly suggest, without a shred of evidence, that he was targeted by the IRS for his "tough interview" with Obama.  In his original post, Conners conveniently left out the fact that his tax issues with the IRS predated the interview, and later claimed he meant to say that the IRS cancelled his repayment plan after the interview.  He never updated his Facebook or Twitter accounts with the truth, though he did record a statement for KMOV.

Unfortunately, media reports during the Larry Conners Sympathy Tour have been leaving out a couple key facts that are telling about the amount of "integrity" of his actions.  First, Conners did not only use his KMOV facebook account to "ask questions" about the interview. He also used his KMOV "News 4" Twitter account to push the story to right-wing bloggers.  Here's how he described himself on Twitter before deleting his old account:
And here's a screenshot of him tweeting the story to right-wing bloggers (at the bottom of the tweet:):
You might recall the Daily Caller from their amazing display of "journalistic integrity" while reporting a completely invented story about a Democratic Senator visiting underage prostitutes in Haiti.  Instapundit is right-wing blogger Glenn Reynolds, and Red Alert is a blog for "young conservatives." (Conners also tweeted the story to Breitbart.com and to one of their former employees. Yes, I have screen shots)

This completely undermines Conner's claim that he was innocently "asking questions."  He did not tweet the story to neutral or liberal outlets.  He was clearly trolling for publicity from far right wing blogs, and was happy to throw them red meat he knew would be used to claim that the President was targeting him.  This is not responsible journalism.

Now, to be fair to Conners, he has targeted his tweets at right wing blogs before, probably because he doesn't really put that much effort into pretending to be unbiased.  But given that he's done it before, and KMOV knows that he's done it before, he might very well be right that KMOV encourages him to engage in this type of trolling.  I don't really care to defend KMOV and wouldn't be surprised at all if they told him in the past to try to target right-wing blogs; however, I do think it's important not to pretend that Conners was engaging in responsible journalism. He was pushing a story he knew would be used to attack President Obama (while, by the way, further eroding people's trust in the government).

Second, and even more importantly, Conners could not even answer a question from Charles Jaco about what reason the IRS gave for canceling the payment plan.  You can watch the interview here (the relevant bit starts at 2:12):

Transcript of the relevant portion:
Jaco: Did they tell you why they cancelled the monthly plan?
Conners: I was paying everything on time and continued to do so...
Jaco: And they didn't tell you anything...?
Conners: I leave that to my tax attorney. I don't know what any of the background is, other than the fact that it was pulled from us....Charles, since 1980 I haven't even done my taxes. I leave that to folks who are a lot smarter than me.
In other words, Conners can't even answer when asked what reason the IRS gave for canceling his plan, because he hasn't done his taxes in 30 years! Conners was willing to suggest that the IRS was "hammering" him for political reasons without even being engaged enough to know what the IRS's stated reason was! This is the height of journalistic irresponsibility.  It's the equivalent of a journalist saying on air, "I got a parking ticket the other day.  I didn't actually look at it to see what it was for, but I'm positive it's retaliation from the Mayor!"

Finally, also in the Jaco interview, Conners says that KMOV "supposedly" sent him social media guidelines but he doesn't remember looking at them.  Hmmm, I wonder whose responsibility that is?

Obviously, journalists have a reason to be sympathetic to one of their own and to protect themselves from bosses who probably don't know much about journalism, even if "their own" in this case is a guy like Larry Conners who was perfectly willing to cross picket lines while fellow news employees were striking (especially ironic now that Conners is now citing collective bargaining).  However, given that this story has important implications for what it means to do quality journalism, they need to take care to report all of the relevant facts, even those that clearly undermine his claims. Conners engaged in epically irresponsible "journalism," and whether or not he deserved to be fired, no one should pretend for a second that he was acting with journalistic integrity.

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