No reporter or news organization wants to become the story.
But that is what has happened with the Daily Mining Gazette, the newspaper based in Houghton, in the wake of how it has handled its coverage of a strange incident in the nationally watched 1st U.S. House District race between Democrat Jerry Cannon and the man he hopes to unseat, U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Crystal Falls).
Earlier this month, the newspaper quoted Mr. Cannon as denouncing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in harsh terms and in a way that was totally at odds with his previous public statements on the issue. He allegedly had made those comments in a phone interview.
The next day, the newspaper published a follow-up piece that said:
“In a story that ran Thursday, comments from a follow-up call made Thursday by the Gazette were attributed to Jerry Cannon indicating that he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Campaign manager Ted Dick said Cannon had not been the person speaking in the call, and that the phone with the number provided to the Gazette had been turned off during the time of the call.”
The piece went on to quote from a statement from Cannon discussing the good and bad aspects of the Affordable Care Act from his point of view.
Republicans have had a field day with the incident, claiming Mr. Cannon either got caught speaking his mind on what he really thinks of the ACA or that implausibly someone was impersonating Mr. Cannon.
Democrats have insisted Mr. Cannon could not possibly have made the remarks, asserting he does not carry a phone for the campaign and say they have checked the phone’s records and seen no record of the Mining Gazette calling Mr. Cannon.
There’s one party here that can put this issue to rest, and that’s the Mining Gazette – either the reporter who wrote the original story or the paper’s editor. The editor offered a brief, uninformative explanation to National Review Online, but since then has gone silent. He has not returned my calls, or those of other media outlets.
This is not difficult. If the paper checks its phone records, or the reporter checks his cell phone records, depending on where the call originated, they can figure out whom the reporter called and if it was someone from the campaign or a misdial and an incredible stroke of bad luck that the person answering played along as though he was Mr. Cannon.
Then the newspaper needs to do what journalists do in a situation like this – publicly offer an explanation of what happened. What it has said so far about the incident has only raised more questions.