Next week he will celebrate his 90th birthday, and a number of overenthusiastic well-wishers will pony up big bucks to honor him. Headlined by admirer-in-chief Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards, donors include John Georges, former Democrat candidate for New Orleans mayor and no-party candidate for governor who now owns The Baton Rouge Advocate.
This raised the hackles of New Orleans Times-Picayune/NOLA.com columnist Tim Morris, who wondered why a sitting governor should laud a convicted predecessor. He also questioned Georges’ explanation of his link the event, as Georges said he personally paid for his portion but put the newspaper’s name on it to generate publicity, and understood it was a charity event. Morris noted the prominence of The Advocate’s logo on the official website for the occasion, and that the event appeared to support no identified charitable purpose.
In closing, Morris made an inference that Georges’ support of the event using The Advocate compromised its “journalistic independence.” Whether he would feel the same if a newspaper feted a former governor not convicted of a crime he did not reveal.
Morris would seem on firmer ground with his objections were that the case, on the general rule that a media outlet should separate itself completely from displaying any favoritism towards any politician. The problem from his perspective and his employer’s is that the T-P gives endorsements to political candidates, which can be construed as giving its imprimatur to a candidate and/or as currying favor; i.e., an outlet can argue to a successful candidate it endorsed that the free publicity made the difference in the election, and it should enjoy some kind of reward as a result. As it is, The Advocate does not endorse candidates.
Note as well that Georges is a private citizen who happens to own The Advocate (thereby ultimately signing my paycheck as a contract opinion writer for The Advocate) and, as his past political activities demonstrate, he appears to have views sympathetic to Democrats. While one can question the wisdom of him attaching The Advocate’s name to the event from a marketing perspective, that he wants to give the old felon a pat on the back tells much more about his political friendships than whether there exists some unholy political influence over The Advocate. Does The Advocate really surrender “journalistic independence” by helping to sponsor a party for an ex-con with no current political ambitions?
There is, of course, an entire literature on how the modern mainstream media’s leftist slant makes all of this a moot question; in the main, it long ago tied itself to Democrat issue preferences and thus its “journalistic independence” remains compromised. Thus, Morris confuses the issue somewhat in that if “journalistic independence” is understood as keeping unentangled from partisan and ideological issues and from current politicians, if we even can argue that exists generally among the mainstream media, that question only tenuously applies here. Edwin Edwards (finally) appears retired from politics; signing on to honor him socially would appear only to assent favorably about him as a person, not as a political object.
Here, Morris does have a point, even if in his argument he seems to expand “journalistic independence” also to mean “not honoring a corrupt politician after he’s out of politics.” Perhaps it doesn’t deal with “journalistic independence” in the way commonly understood, but still it is bad form to convey the notion that associating with that kind of person is acceptable. I’ve written about that myself when I castigated the Louisiana Political Museum’s inducting Edwards into its Hall of Fame, noting that it discredited the organization.
Still, there are some limits to the strength of that criticism. Technically, Edwards got sent to the big house for activities while out of office, not for anything he did in office, although his conviction did rest on using improper influence within government. And, looking at Morris’ employer, the T-P could be accused of doing the what Morris condemns when it endorsed (twice) former Republican Sen. David Vitter for governor in 2015.
Again, there are limits to that critique. Like Edwards, Vitter never was convicted of criminal activity related to his job in office nor even admitted any such behavior, only apologizing for an unspecified “serious sin” believed related to prostitution. And if that were his crime, it seemed to have no impact on his job as a policy-maker. Legally speaking, a T-P endorsement of Vitter did not mean it approved of salacious behavior outside of the performance of official duties.
However, whether Morris is pitching from a glass house on behalf of his employer may be relevant. The fact is, the T-P has been losing ground to The Advocate on the business side ever since it ceased daily hardcopy publishing. By the beginning of 2015 The Advocate had higher daily and Sunday average circulations, and, as of the moment I type this, the nola.com website ranked only 2,759th among U.S. sites in traffic while theadvocate.com was 778th.
I don’t know Tim well, but I’d have to say this probably was not his motivation to write the piece, as he doesn’t give passes to those in the political world over what he considers unethical behavior, regardless of their party or views. By contrast, I’m sure his editors and those on up the chain of command were thrilled to have him hand in this particular copy.
In the final analysis, as a general rule Morris is right to look askance at those who celebrate any aspect of Edwards’ life. Extending that approbation as judgment on the journalism practiced by The Advocate seems a bridge too far.