Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Scott Rothschild: A Reporter in Conflict?

“Journalists cannot drop professional affiliation when it is convenient for them or for their cause. People who wish to work on behalf of a particular cause should work in public relations or advocacy groups, not for the news media. Journalists should confine their public voices to their own professional arena.” - Deni Elliott, executive director of the Ethics Institute, Dartmouth College, FineLine: The Newsletter On Journalism Ethics, vol. 1, no. 6 (September 1989)

After several years of reading articles written by Scott Rothschild, the Statehouse reporter for the Lawrence Journal-World, it appeared to me that he often approached stories with a liberal bias.

For example, consider this from a December 12, 2005 Rothschild article with the headline “Kansas leaning further to right”:

“Kansas is currently on a right-wing joyride.

“Name an idea that carries the right-wing label, and it’s getting serious play in Kansas.

“Constitutional ban on gay marriage — done.

“Science standards critical of evolution — done.

“Investigating abortion clinics — done.

“Obstacles to sex education — in the works.

“Politically untouchable ultra-conservative congressmen — ongoing.”

Keep in mind that Rothschild is not quoting anyone here. These are his words. By “ultra-conservative congressmen,” Rothschild was apparently referring to Republican Reps. Jim Ryun and Todd Tiahrt. However, look how Rothschild described Democrat Rep. Dennis Moore in August 2006: “He is viewed as a moderate to conservative Democrat.”

Each year the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), “America's oldest independent liberal lobbying organization,” ranks members of Congress and assigns each member a Liberal Quotient (LQ). ADA considers scores from 40-60 as “moderate” ratings. ADA has never assigned Moore a rating within that range.

Moore has been in the House since 1999. During that year, ADA declared Moore a “Liberal Hero” after the organization assigned him a perfect LQ of 100. Meanwhile, the overall average LQ for Democratic House members that year was 88.

During his eight years in the House, Moore has earned an average LQ of 85.0 percent. The average LQ for all House Democrats during the same eight years is 85.4 percent. Rounded to the nearest percentage point, there’s no difference between Moore and the average Democrat.

ADA’s ratings for Moore are in line with ratings he has received from other interest groups. According to Project Vote Smart, he received a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood in 1999, 2001 and 2006, a 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2003, 2004 and 2005, an F from the National Rifle Association in 2000, 2002 and 2004, and a 100 percent from the Council on American-Islamic Relations in 2005. For ratings from other groups, please see Project Vote Smart.

In Rothschild’s world, mainstream conservative Jim Ryun is an “ultra-conservative,” while Dennis Moore, clearly a liberal, is a “moderate to conservative Democrat.”

Another example of Rothschild’s liberal bias can be found in an August 12, 2006 article with the headline “Opponent questions Ryun’s energy mailing.”

According to the article, Nancy Boyda, the Democrat challenger to Rep. Jim Ryun, took issue with Ryun sending a “mass mailout at taxpayer expense.” The mailout concerned energy issues.

“It’s just wrong that he uses taxpayer money for a political campaign,” said Boyda “It’s just a political piece.”

“The card also was sent right before the deadline that prohibits the use of franking for mailouts in the 90 days before an election,” noted reporter Scott Rothschild.

Rothschild made no mention of Rep. Dennis Moore, the Democrat representing the Kansas 3rd (which includes more of Lawrence than the Kansas 2nd), doing a similar mailout “right before the deadline.” That mailout also concerned energy issues. The Kansas Meadowlark has posted Moore's postcard at http://www.kansasmeadowlark.com/ (see August 6 item.)

Boyda can be expected to criticize Ryun's franking while conveniently ignoring Moore's franking. However, an objective newspaper reporter would have taken the effort to look into the franking privileges of both incumbents. Rothschild did not.

I mentioned Rothschild’s bias to another media watcher a few months ago, and he replied, “Well, you know he was president of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka (UUFT). That should tell you something about his politics.”

At the suggestion of the other media watcher, I used the Wayback Machine at www.archive.org and found that Rothschild had indeed served as president of UUFT during 2005-2006.

According to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) Web site, UUA represents “over 1,000 liberal congregations in North America.” UUFT’s Web site notes that it is “A spiritual home and a beacon of liberal religious expression”

According to the Wikipedia entry on the Unitarian Universalism, “Historically, Unitarian Universalists have often been active in political causes, notably the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, the social justice movement, and the feminist movement.”

In fact, given that Unitarian Universalism lacks a formal creed, one could say that it is at least as much of a political organization as it is a religious one. According to UUA’s Web site, “Unitarian Universalists believe personal experience, conscience and reason should be how a person determines his or her religion, not in any book, person or institution.”

In a 2001 survey, Unitarian Universalists in the United States were asked which provided term or set of terms best describe their beliefs. Many respondents chose more than one term to describe these beliefs. The top choices were:

Humanist - 54%
Agnostic - 33%
Earth-centered - 31%
Atheist - 18%
Buddhist - 16.5%
Christian - 13.1%
Pagan - 13.1%

Since Unitarian Universalists do not share a religion, this report is not intended to attack Rothschild’s religious affiliation. My objective is to show that his leadership position in a liberal organization that promotes certain political issues creates conflicts of interest when Rothschild reports on those very same issues.

Below I have outlined political issues for which the Unitarian Univeralists have been advocates. I then have provided links to Rothschild’s articles on those very same issues. I shared this report with Rothschild and Dennis Anderson, managing editor of the Journal-World, and asked them to let me know if there is anything in the report that is not accurate. Neither Rothschild nor Anderson responded.

Same-Sex Marriage

UUFT’s Web site notes that it is a “Welcoming Congregation.” Here's what the UUA says about the Welcoming Congregation Process:

“The Welcoming Congregation Program is a completely volunteer program for congregations that see a need to become more inclusive towards bisexual, gay, lesbian, and/or transgender people.”

According to the UUA’s Web site. “At the 1996 UUA General Assembly, delegates voted overwhelmingly to call for the legalization of same-sex marriage.”

The question regarding whether or not same-sex marriage should be allowed is for another forum. The question here is, “Should someone who has served as the president of an organization that advocates same-sex marriage report on that issue?”

Below I have listed just a few of the many articles Rothschild has written on same-sex marriage:

“Legislator wants to stop domestic registry plan in Lawrence”

“Kline says marriage ban will not be misconstrued”

“Same-sex marriage foes set broader agenda”

“Religion mixes with politics in marriage vote”

“Topeka vote enthuses gay rights groups”


UUA has gone to supporting abortion under four circumstances in 1963 to becoming unambiguously pro-abortion three decades later. In 1993, UUA called for the following:

“THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Unitarian Universalists in the United States be urged to promote passage of federal legislation to:
guarantee the fundamental right of individual choice in reproductive matters;
require that counseling agencies receiving federal funds provide information about pregnancy options, including abortions;
provide federal funds to make abortion available to women of low income and to women in the armed services;
ensure the provision of abortion services for all women within a national health program;
protect medical personnel who supply abortion services, and their families, from harassment and intimidation; and
guarantee unrestricted access to counseling and abortion services, regardless of age, class, race, or situation, without curtailing peaceful protest.”http://www.uua.org/programs/justice/sjsb/ab.pdf

Again, the question regarding whether or not abortion should be allowed is for another forum. The question here is, “Should someone who has served as the president of an organization that advocates a pro-abortion position report on abortion?”

Below I have listed just a few of the many articles Rothschild has written that concerned abortion:

“Morrison will fire special prosecutor in abortion case”

“Sebelius criticizes Kline's actions in abortion probe”

“Change of heart?”

“Ads refer to abortion without saying it”

“Kline: Abortion clinics 'inquisition' based on allegations of crimes”

Iraq War

UUA’s Web site on February 11, 2007 noted that “hundreds of Unitarian Universalists converged on the U.S. capitol on January 27 for an anti-war rally and march organized by United for Peace and Justice[1] and supported by the Win Without War[2] coalition. UU participants joined an estimated five hundred thousand others, united in their opposition to the war in Iraq and their support for bringing our troops home.”

UUA has made it clear that it has opposed the Iraq War from the start. (See http://www.uua.org/news/iraq/).

Again, the question regarding whether or not the Iraq War should be supporting is for another forum. The question here is, “Should someone who has served as the president of an organization that advocates an anti-Iraq War position report on issues concerning the Iraq War?”

Below I have listed just a few of many the articles Rothschild has written concerning the Iraq War:

“Boyda criticized for vote on military funding”

“Lawmakers disagree with troop increase”[3]

“Stances on war in Iraq separate candidates”

“Jim Ryun in first Iraq visit sticks to commitment”

“Bush defends war in Iraq, eavesdropping”

Death Penalty

UUA is opposed to the death penalty. http://www.uua.org/ga/ga00/231.html.

In the February 2006 issue of UUFT Beacon, UUFT’s newsletter, it was reported that UUFT’s Social Justice Committee would submit a resolution to the Fellowship that would declare its support for the abolition of the death penalty in the State of Kansas.

Here are a few Rothschild articles on the death penalty:

“Former inmate advocates against death penalty”

“Death penalty opponents offer bill to repeal Kansas law”

“Kline: Alito likely to be key in death penalty case”

“Kansas Supreme Court strikes down death penalty”

Living Wage

In 2002, Kaw Valley Living Wage Alliance (KVLWA)[4] received $3,500 from the Unitarian Universalist Association's Fund For A Just Society to push for a living-wage ordinance in Lawrence.

On August 19, 2003, the Lawrence Journal-World published a pro-living wage “Take a Stand” column on the same day the living-wage ordinance was scheduled to be discussed during the City Commission meeting. The column was written by Graham Kreicker, past chair of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Lawrence.

On October 25, 2003, a statewide living-wage conference was held in Wichita. The conference featured Jen Kern, director of ACORN's Living Wage Resource Center in Boston. Kern has made at least three previous trips to Kansas to promote the living wage.

ACORN and UUA both belong to the Let Justice Roll living-wage campaign.

Rothschild, of course, has reported on living-wage proposes in Kansas, even though the Unitarian Universalists support the living wage nationally and advocated the support of the living wage locally.

“Ban proposed on living wage ordinances”

“Living-wage plan gets state scorn”


Several years ago, Vicky Hendley, an education writer for the Vero Beach (FL) Press-Journal was fired after sending letters of protest to 160 Florida legislators. Hendley was protesting the Supreme Court's ruling in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services.

Richard Wagner, managing editor of the Vero Beach Press-Journal, said Hendley stepped over the line of permissible activity when she became a news source. “It's very difficult to separate your profession from your political life when you grant interviews to other news organizations,” he said.

In 2002 UUFT decided to make a political statement when the 128-member fellowship wrote a check to the local Topeka School Fund for $1,323, the amount it would have paid had its building been on the tax rolls.

The Topeka Capital-Journal published an article on the UUFT check and also an editorial in which the paper stated, “Members felt the payment in lieu of taxes was a way they could make a stand for education.”

However, the Jan/Feb 2003 issue of UU World: The Magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association had more information concerning how UUFT decided to make this stand:

“The decision wasn't a slam dunk, said member Scott Rothschild, who suggested the idea. ‘The social justice committee had a pretty thorough discussion about it. There was a lot of concern about separation of church and state and why we should help the schools when it was really up to the politicians. But in the end, people thought this was one year the funding situation was really bad so we should help out.’”

Did Rothschild cross the line when he allowed himself to be interviewed by another news organization? Did he cross the line when he went from reporting on what politicians do to making a statement concerning what he believes politicians should do? Wasn’t tying their contribution to the amount they would paid in taxes UUFT’s way of making a political statement? After all, a contribution of, say, $1,000 or $1,500 could have been made along with a statement that UUFT merely wanted to help schools. I don’t think anyone would have had a problem with that.

Naturally, Rothschild has done much reporting on public school funding in Kansas. Here are just a few articles:

“Education funding measures advance”

“Moderates take aim at remaining conservatives on state education board”

“Legislature approves school finance plan”

“Sebelius wants $400 million for schools”

The title of this report is “Scott Rothschild: A Reporter in Conflict?” I have concluded that Rothschild’s leadership position with UUFT has created far too many conflicts of interest concerning his concurrent position as a news reporter. The Unitarian Universalists have expressed their opinions on a wide range of issues, and that, of course, is their right. However, when a reporter who served as president of a Unitarian Universalist congregation reports on those very same issues, it is unlikely that conflicts of interest can be avoided.

These conflicts present at least two serious problems. First, readers of the Journal-World are not getting the objective reporting that the Journal-World promises to share with them. Second, when Rothschild openly participates in political activism and suffers no consequences, other Journal-World reporters have no disincentive from engaging in political activism themselves. If Rothschild can make a political statement concerning the state funding of education, why can’t another reporter participate in a pro-abortion rally? Why can’t a staff photographer sign a petition calling on U.S. troops to be removed from Iraq?[5]

This writer believes the Journal-World should reassign Rothschild to a position in which he can express his viewpoints in a legitimate way. Or, better yet, Rothschild might follow the example of Diane Silver. Silver, like Rothschild, was a statehouse reporter for the Wichita Eagle. She left that newspaper, became a political activist who has worked on gay rights, served as a press secretary for a Democratic candidate for governor, and now writes for a liberal blog. I have seen no evidence that she was engaging in political activism while she was a reporter. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing about Rothschild.

[1] See www.unitedforpeace.org. Member organizations of this group include American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Code Pink, Communist Party USA, Democratic Socialists of America, International Socialist Organization, MoveOn, and Socialist Party USA.
[2] See www.winwithoutwarus.org. UUA is a member organization of Win Without War. See http://www.winwithoutwarus.org/html/coalition.html#members.
[3] Note: The headline of this article says “Lawmakers.” Just one lawmaker in the story, State Sen. Donald Betts, D-Wichita, said he opposes the troop increase.
[4] KVLWA is made up of several radical organizations, including the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW): The preamble to the IWW constitution states, “Instead of the conservative motto, ‘A fair day's wage for a fair day's work,’ we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wage system.’ It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism.” If you support IWW's message, you can visit its online store and buy a T-shirt for $15.00, a bumper sticker for $1.50, or a bundle of five "Time for a 4-Hour Day, 4-Day Week with No Cut in Pay!" buttons for just $5.00.
[5] The February 2007 issue of The Lawrencian, "The independent monthly voice of Lawrence, Kansas," included a full-page ad from the Lawrence Coalition for Peace & Justice. The ad includes the statement, "We, the undersigned, call for the withdrawal of American armed forces from Iraq, to begin now and to be completed no later than July 1, 2007." The signatures included the name “Mike Yoder.” There is a Mike Yoder who works as a Journal-World staff photographer. E-mails to the Mike Yoder at the Journal-World asking if he signed the petition were unanswered.

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