News analysis

JEFFERSON CITY — By his own admission, Missouri Times publisher Scott Faughn is not a journalist. So it should come as no surprise to him, or anyone else for that matter, that he was finally ousted this week as a member of the state capital press corps.

On a 7-0 vote, the print reporters who cover state government, decided they’d had enough of the former Poplar Bluff mayor, who most recently had made headlines by delivering $50,000 cash to a lawyer involved in the Gov. Eric Greitens’ scandal.

Faughn’s conduct had violated a generally-accepted ethical standard in that he had become directly involved in a news story that his organization was covering. While Faughn has frequently discussed Greitens’ troubles on his television program “This Week in Missouri Politics,” and while the Missouri Times has frequently written about it, Faughn had never disclosed his own personal financial involvement in the story.

“Two of the basic standards of journalism require nonparticipation in the stories covered by a journalist, and full, immediate disclosure whenever there is even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” said Rudi Keller, of the Columbia Daily Tribune, who made the motion to revoke Faughn’s and his organization’s membership in the Missouri Capitol News Association. “The reporter-publisher violated those standards.”

Faughn was not present for the meeting, although he had been invited late last week. In an email from Faughn, which Keller said he received just as the meeting began, Faughn said he was meeting with a printer and could not attend.  Faughn did not respond to a reporter’s requests for comment on the association’s ouster vote.

But in a Twitter posting Faughn wrote:  “I’m disappointed not only in the result of the mainstream media’s decision but even more by their decision to have a meeting without complying with the Sunshine Law. I’m not a journalist but as a reader of journalism this is one of the greatest examples of media hypocrisy Ive seen.”

The state’s Open Meetings law, known as the Sunshine Law, applies to governmental bodies. The Missouri Capitol News Association is a group of news media organizations that cover state government.

Founded in 1988, the association advises state agencies that control parking and office spaces in and near the Capitol as to which of its members deserve a place. The spaces themselves are controlled by the Office of Administration in the case of parking, and the state Senate for office space.

The association, by its vote to deny Missouri Times membership, means that it is recommending the Missouri Times be denied parking and office space. The two state agencies would make the final decisions. Faughn and the Times’ reporters would still be allowed to cover news events but without the convenience of offices and parking spaces used by legitimate news organizations.

The fact that the reporters made time to consider Faughn’s membership during the busiest time of the legislative session was an indication of how serious some thought the issue had become. The decision to give Faughn the boot came at the beginning of the last week of the session, when bills facing the adjournment deadline come come rushing to the floor. In addition, a special committee of the state House was meeting to consider what report should be delivered to the full House later this week when a special session begins on Greitens’ impeachment.

The press association had considered ousting Faughn before, but his real troubles began when one of Greitens’ lawyers identified Faughn as the person who gave $50,000 cash to Al Watkins, a lawyer who was representing the former husband of Greitens’ lover. Faughn, a Republican, admitted that he hired Watkins but said it was for a book Faughn planned to write about the 2016 Missouri governor’s race.

After the disclosure, the editorial pages of Missouri’s two biggest newspapers called for Faughn to be kicked out of the state capital press organization. In an editorial entitled “Boot the Bagman,” the Post-Dispatch wrote: “His membership in a journalism support organization belies the many ways he operates as a political front man. The Capitol News Association’s membership is only for organizations that have no ties to political parties, lobbyists or interest groups. Bagmen need not apply.”

The Kansas City Star’s editorial said, “Missourians should look at any journalism connected to Faughn with skepticism. Faughn has cast a pall of suspicion over his entire organization. It is also true that Faughn has no business pretending to be a journalist. He’s an advocate who’s improperly involved himself in the biggest story to hit Jefferson City in years.”

The vote to approve a resolution that revokes the Missouri Times’ association membership was approved by representatives of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, the Springfield News Leaders, the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Digital News, the Missouri School of Journalism and the Jefferson City News Tribune. The MissouriNet and KWMU abstained, and two other news organizations, the Associated Press and KRCG-TV were absent.

The decision to oust Faughn and the Missouri Times came on the same day that the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office dismissed an invasion-of-privacy charge against Greitens. He was accused of taking a photograph of a partially clothed woman without her consent in the basement of his home during a sexual encounter. The incident occurred in March, 2015, before Greitens, a Republican, was elected.

Greitens, a former Navy SEAL who boasted of his commitment to integrity and family values, has admitted having an affair with the woman. She has not been identified beyond being his hair stylist. The governor refused to answer questions about whether he took the photograph, and the charge against him was dropped after no evidence of the photo could be found.

Nevertheless, the special state House investigating committee, which had accepted as credible the woman’s account of what happened, is moving forward with information that could lead to Greitens’ impeachment.

Watkins had represented the woman’s husband, whose secretly-taped confession of his then-wife provided some evidence of what happened. The tape provided the basis for the entire scandal to become public in January when Lauren Trager of KMOV-TV reported it shortly after Greitens admitted the affair.

Faughn, 38, was convicted in 2007 by a Cape Girardeau County jury of three counts of felony forgery. In that case, he was accused of forging checks for an account for a highway expansion project. Faughn and former Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton launched the Missouri Times in 2013. Jetton’s affiliation has since ended.

When the press corps in Jefferson City first accredited the Missouri Times, there were questions about its editorial independence.

Two years later there were reports that a Missouri Times’ reporter was involved in Republican Party politics, and lobbyists were paying for parties at the news organization’s headquarters. Faughn acknowledged then that a Republican member of the state House had used a sleeping room for lodging in the Missouri Times business office.

At that time an attempt was made to suspend Faughn’s organization from the capital news organization. One member said, “our credibility as an organization as to whether or not we will uphold the standards we espouse as journalists” was at stake.  The suspension attempt failed.

During the latest discussion on whether Faughn’s membership should finally be revoked, it was recalled that Faughn had failed to deliver on a 2015 promise he had made to the association that he would disclose in writing how he planned to meet journalistic ethical standards.

The decision to revoke Faughn’s and the Missouri Times’ membership in the news association does not go into effect until after the end of the special legislative session, which could last until June 18.

(Terry Ganey formerly covered state government and politics for the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Columbia Daily Tribune. He is also a member and volunteer for the Sierra Club.)

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