Last week, on Wednesday, Voice of OC published a story about comments made by Orange County Register Publisher Aaron Kushner to his staff that their job was “not to afflict the comfortable.” That story followed on the heals of another Voice of OC report about the Orange County Register refusing to accept any political advertising that attacks the actions of elected officials by name, in this case targeting Anaheim City Council members Kris Murray and Gail Eastman.
On Thursday, Voice of OC broke the story about the questionable contract that former Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly granted his protege, Anaheim City Councilman Jordan Brandman, when Brandman left the agency to campaign for his city council seat. To date, the contract that has been characterized as worthless by Supervisor Spitzer, is almost nine months overdue. The controversy the contract, its quality, necessity and value compared to the more than $26,000 cost if completed, sparked a damning followup story in Voice of OC today.
In today’s story, investigative reporter Adam Elmaherk points out that “An entire section of a government draft report prepared by Anaheim City Councilman Jordan Brandman while he was campaigning for his council seat last year appears to largely have been copied from the Wikipedia entry on Orange County.” The cut and paste nature is so obvious that even the errors in the Wikipedia report from an earlier version were included in his version.
So how does this relate to the Register you might ask? Kushner has touted his recent hiring of additional investigative reporters into the Register family since he took over, as an indication that his comments about afflicting the comfortable did not meant that the publication will not be holding elected officials accountable for their actions. In an email exchange on the subject reported by Voice of OC Kushner writes:
“We understand the role, the full role, of newspapers. We believe that newspapers exist to serve their communities, not afflict them. The word “afflict” connotes malice and infliction of pain. One cannot afflict a community that one is trying to serve.
There are many ways a newspaper serves its community. One important way is by holding those in power accountable for their use of that power. That is why in just the last six months the Register has hired more investigative reporters and journalists to cover city halls and Orange County business and political leaders than every other newspaper in America combined. How we cover those in power with one of the largest watchdog and beat reporting teams in the country is about getting it right, which includes tone. I agree with Marc that there is no dichotomy between being respectful and having robust coverage of our community and those who lead it.”
We are hoping that the failure of the Register to even mention this story in its pages thus far is simply the publication is simply about “getting it right;” and not an example of what happens to investigative reporting in a publication, no matter how large the staff, when the Publishers admonish their reporters that they “shouldn’t afflict the comfortable.”