Newspaper opinion pages are a forum for free expression. And while they may serve that purpose well, opinion pieces are not always fact-checked.
But when a newspaper’s publisher writes a column, one might expect him or her to apply the same journalistic standards of accuracy and fairness expected of the paper’s reporters and editors.
So, it was disturbing to see Tribune Publisher Gary Adkisson’s column (“It’s transparency for thee …,” May 17) offer a distorted account of a May 1 meeting with the Tribune’s editorial board.
The topic was Senate Bill 2004, the budget for the state auditor’s office, which the governor had signed early that morning. The bill also required approval from a legislative committee to conduct performance audits (which account for less than 10% of the office’s total audits), a power granted to the auditor by the Legislature in 1991.
After listening to the governor discuss the state’s improved financial position and efforts to improve transparency in budgeting, Adkisson chimed in, saying the statements didn’t seem to square with “castrating” the auditor.
Adkisson wrote that the governor “immediately became defensive.” But he’s confusing being defensive with being offended by what was the most unprofessional question I’d ever heard in an editorial board meeting, having sat through my fair share in my current role and before that as a newspaper reporter for over 18 years.
Adkisson later sarcastically questioned whether he should have phrased the question differently. “Neutered. How about if I use the word neutered? Neutered,” he said.
Regardless, the governor’s “first explanation” was not, as Adkisson wrote, that unplanned performance audits were hurting agencies that hadn’t budgeted for them, but rather that the auditor had actually received an increase in staffing, a $1.3 million increase in funding and still had unfettered ability to fulfill his primary duty under state law – conducting financial audits.
Adkisson went on to write that the governor said he “agreed to rein in the auditor” because the Legislature had overwhelmingly passed the measure. In fact, the governor said nothing about “reining in” the auditor. He did say, “We can be for performance audits but still respect the fact that that performance audit authority was granted by the Legislature and the Legislature can manage it the way they want to.”
When later challenged on his account of the meeting, Adkisson suggested submitting an opposition piece and said I was “pissing in the wind” and missing the bigger point about the issue.
Nonsense. If there’s a debate to be had on the issue, let it be factual and fair, without hyperbole and sensationalized accounts. In the meantime, may I suggest that Adkisson’s columns be taken with a grain of salt – or perhaps a side of Rocky Mountain oysters?
Mike Nowatzki is the communications director for the Office of the Governor.