A Utah politician from a prominent Mormon family who was running for Congress paid a woman $150,000 in 2002. Why? Well, it concerns this earlier incident in a hot tub with a girl who was 15. The politician was 28 at the time. Or 30 — depending on whether you believe the church-owned Deseret News or the Salt Lake Tribune.
Nudity was involved.
So far, the story sounds like a thousand other (non-Mormon) sordid tales involving sleazy politicians.
But then things get really, really unusual — from a journalism standpoint. According to the church-owned Deseret News’, own story:
“The Deseret News learned of the allegations against Garn just before the GOP primary election in 2002. Garn sat down and spoke about the incident with Deseret News reporters and editors.
At the time, Garn and now-U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, were in a tight primary race seeking the Republican nomination for the 1st Congressional District and Garn was the Utah House majority leader, a position he has, again, achieved.
Deseret News editors decided not to run a story about the indiscretion at that time, since the GOP primary was only weeks away and the incident had occurred years before.
The editors decided to wait to see if Garn advanced in the primary before deciding to publish a story or not.
Because Garn lost that primary, and so was also retiring from the Utah House, the newspaper never published a story.”
Let’s review the facts. The church-owned paper finds out about a huge scandal involving a prominent Mormon politician. Editors decide to kill it — to wait and see how the Republican primary goes before deciding whether to pursue it.
After all, the election was only weeks away. I’ve worked in a lot of newsrooms in a lot of states and I’ve covered a lot of campaigns and I’ve never seen a story killed because the election was only weeks away.
There are plenty of newsrooms that wouldn’t run this story on election day — if the facts were in dispute. Or the day before the Election. Or perhaps even the weekend before the Election.
There’s a sense that running a story like this at the very last second is risky — for journalists, for readers for good government — especially if the facts are in dispute.
But I’m aware of no credible secular daily newspaper in America that would sit on this story for weeks if the candidate had admitted that the allegations were true.
The paper’s explanation raises other red flags. The editors decided to wait until after the Republican primary to decide whether to run the story.In most of Utah, of course, the primary election is the general election.
1992 was a big year for Democrats, nationally. But in Utah, Rob Bishop won the general election after beating Garn 61 percent to 37 percent (it was a three-way race.)
Had Garn won the primary, the Deseret News’ editors would have face another uncomfortable dilemma: Do we reveal the truth now and throw the election to the Democrats or do we continue to conceal the truth from our readers and hope no one finds out.
For a moment, I was going to give the Deseret News credit for at least admitting it had held the story in 2002. But before giving them credit, I need to know their motivation for finally coming forward. Did they decide they owed it to their readers to tell them the truth? Or were they doing preemptive damage control, figuring that the reporters who had been silenced in 2002 would step forward and tell the story themselves?
Another strange twist: Salt Lake is a two-newspaper town. Normally competition in two-paper towns is fierce. Why did this story make it to the Deseret News, but not the Tribune?
Among the follow-up questions I’d want answered. Was alcohol involved? Were laws broken?