Drive-by media types love to blast politicians and business-types for “conflicts of interest.” But what happens when professional drive-bys have potential conflicts of their own? What happens when a journalist’s spouse is also a newsmaker in the journalist’s home community?
I had a case one time during my drive-by years. I was a newspaper reporter for a mid-sized daily in the southeastern United States. Our publisher’s wife was the PR person for a large organization in town that happened to be on my beat. Any story I wrote that had ANYTHING to do with Mrs. Publisher’s employer had to be vetted by Mr. Publisher before the editors sunk their claws into it. Mrs. Publisher was able to see my story before it went to print and make any changes she wanted. An outside source, related to our publisher, was given an unfair opportunity to shape her employer’s press coverage. The relationship between our publisher and his wife’s organization was never disclosed to the community or our readers. I thought folks needed to know, in order to evaluate what was being written about Mrs. Publisher’s employer.
Needless to say, I didn’t hang around there very long.
We’ve recently had a conservative revolt regarding our school board. Three conservatives were elected to the seven member board in 2020. Three more — creating a 6-1 conservative majority – got elected in 2022.
I noticed that coverage by The Pilot of the conservative minority was getting more and more hostile. This was happening while the conservative members were gaining support in the community. The Pilot went as far as endorsing the challengers to each of the three conservative candidates in November 2022. That was strange, given that the conservative ticket was dominating popular opinion across the county.
One day, I came across an article about the Moore County Schools published by an. out-of-county drive-by media outlet. They quoted “Moore County Schools spokesperson Catherine Nagy.”
Nagy? Hmmm, I thought. Who else do I know named Nagy? There can’t be many of them here in the county.
The managing editor of The Pilot has been one John Nagy. He and Catherine are married.
John oversees what gets printed in The Pilot. Catherine works to ensure the school system gets the best news coverage possible. Kinda cozy, eh?
I can’t recall Mrs. Nagy ever being quoted by name in the pages of The Pilot. Nor can I ever recall a disclosure of the managing editor’s relationship with the school system’s press flack (with the exception of their wedding announcement) appearing in the paper’s pages .
David Hensley, the ringleader of the school board’s conservative contingent, was elected in 2020. Among other things, he has long been a critic of there being a paid spokesperson for the schools. His position, a very reasonable one, was that the school board chairman and the superintendent could handle speaking for the county schools in a media market this small.
In other words, if Hensley and the conservatives were successful in their takeover bid, Mrs. Nagy’s job security might be in jeopardy. So, The Pilot’s coverage of Hensley, the three conservative candidates in 2022, and fellow conservative board members Bob Levy and Phillip Holmes got increasingly more hostile.
Unsigned op-eds attacking them began appearing in The Pilot. In fact, there’s one in the latest edition of the paper:
[…] Double Bogey, by the Moore County Board of Education, for going ahead with its catered celebration for new board members while most of the county sat in the dark.
The board was required to swear in new members Monday, Dec. 5. But rather than just have a quick meeting to install the new members and elect new board leaders, the board instead went ahead with its planned after-party of Chick-fil-A and Bojangles, in addition to Moon Pies, Royal Crown Cola and Cheerwine. While certainly not a sumptuous banquet, it was a lot more than many Moore County residents had Monday night while more than 35,000 customers remained without power.
Conversely, the Board of Commissioners swore in their four members earlier in the day in Carthage, elected new leaders and then adjourned to get back to the business of managing the county during the crisis.
This is certainly a small thing, but it shows just how tone deaf this new Board of Education, under the leadership of Chairman Bob Levy and Vice Chair David Hensley, could end up being.
The right message here was empathy, that the board stood with the rest of Moore County, instead of patting themselves on the back at Westmoore Elementary School up near the Randolph County line, far removed from the problems everyone else was experiencing. Surely they could have scrapped their party and donated the sandwiches to hungry Duke Energy workers and first responders or others.
Empathy? Let them eat moon pies.[…]
At least — given the way they’ve handled the Nagy family work situation — The Pilot didn’t try to lecture on ethics.
For what it’s worth, the school board took its meeting northward and westward to show respect to a region of the county that has been regularly ignored by the school system’s central office AND The Pilot in recent years.