Partisan political activity by Chieftain GM again raises questions about fairness of Chieftain’s coverage of Giron

Back in March, Ray Stafford, the General Manager of the Pueblo Chieftain, fired off an email to Colorado State Sen. Angela Giron, telling her “not to vote for the current gun control legislation,” and also pointing out that he was the person “responsible for the entire newspaper, including the newsroom.”

Stafford never apologized for implying that he would direct the Chieftain’s news department to retaliate against Giron, if she didn’t fall in line against the gun-safety bills, even though his email could clearly be interpreted by a reasonable person as a threat.

In fact, Stafford angrily denied that there was any implied threat in his email, which was sent from his Chieftain email account. Chieftain assistant publisher Jane Rawlings also issued a denial of any wrongdoing, actual or perceived.

A few months later, on April 13, Stafford continued his personal (and undisclosed) political campaign against Giron by signing the Giron-recall petition. (See signature below.)

Will Stafford retaliate against Giron by directing Chieftain news staff to cover the recall in ways that are unfavorable to Giron? (unfavorable story selection or placement? bad headlines? unfair sourcing? etc.)

Stafford did not immediately return an email message seeking comment, but it’s not an unreasonable question.

After Stafford’s ill-advised email to Giron earlier this year, I’d think he’d be extra careful to be thoroughly transparent about his political activities, to ensure that Chieftain readers weren’t left with the impression that the newspaper was underhandedly opposing Giron in the recall election.

But I can’t find anything in the Chieftain saying Stafford personally favors the recall effort, much less the fact that he signed the recall petition personally.

Experts on journalism ethics criticized Stafford earlier this year for not being transparent about his controversial email to Giron.

Their criticism would obviously extend to Stafford’s latest salvo at Giron, launched when he signed the recall petition.

Even if you believe Stafford’s promise not to meddle in the Chieftain’s news coverage of Giron, you have to wonder why he isn’t more transparent about his partisanship.

The Society of Professional Journalism’s ethics code has this to say about the political involvement of “publishers,” which is comparable to the job Stafford holds at the Chieftain:

Skeptics of journalistic objectivity are quick to point out that some publishers and owners of news media outlets may not follow the rules they lay down for their employees. A few get more deeply involved, and they may contribute to candidates. Is this ethical? It’s at best a double standard, and a questionable practice. But at the very minimum there should be public disclosure — in their own media — when media magnates get politically involved in this way.

Especially given his record of undisclosed partisanship, Stafford should show his readers some basic respect by coming clean and apologizing for his behind-the-scenes attacks on Giron and stating his full opinion in the newspaper.

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