The son of the state’s best Capitol Hill reporter now works for one of Tennessee’s most powerful legislators.
And that’s not good news for anyone.
Russell Humphrey, 27, son of Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter Tom Humphrey, is now “executive assistant for policy and research” to Lt. Gov. John Wilder. An attorney, Russell Humphrey formerly headed the re-election campaign of state Supreme Court Justice Riley Anderson. During the campaign, Tom Humphrey told readers that he would not write about his son’s work because of the apparent conflict of interest.
But Tom Humphrey knows he can’t continue covering the state Legislature without writing about Wilder, whose influence is pervasive and, normally, unquestioned.
“It could be a problem,” the reporter acknowledged, adding that he will disclose the conflict to readers but intends to keep writing about Wilder. “What else can a father do?”
Ironically, Humphrey’s own boss, News-Sentinel managing editor Frank Cagle, is one of the few state journalists who has ever attacked Wilder directly. Cagle wrote recently that if Wilder had been at the Tiananmen Square massacre, he would have been driving a tank.
Tom’s conflict “is not a good situation,” Cagle said Monday. “I don’t know what the solution is.” Cagle has also sharply criticized the relationship between House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and lobbyist Betty Anderson, Naifeh’s wife. Cagle said he would have further discussions with Humphrey about the conflict-of-interest issue before the next legislative session begins, but emphasized that Tom’s problem wouldn’t deter Cagle from continuing to criticize other relationships on Capitol Hill.
Humphrey’s situation is “clearly a conflict of interest,” said Steve Geimann, chairman of the ethics committee of the Society of Professional Journalists. “But it’s an unavoidable conflict. Under our code of ethics, Tom should disclose the conflict every time he writes about Wilder.”
Humphrey should “regularly disclose” the conflict and consider “recusing himself” from handling some stories, according to Bob Steele, who teaches ethics at the Poynter Institute for media studies. Both ethics experts emphasized that, although Russell Humphrey’s position creates a conflict of interest for his father, it would be inappropriate for any parent in this situation to discourage his adult child from taking the job.
No one could question Tom Humphrey’s integrity or ethics, but this is a no-win situation. Whatever Tom Humphrey writes about Wilder, Russell Humphrey might get the blameor the creditfor it. Whenever the father relies on an “anonymous source,” the son could be a prime suspect. Hardest of all, whenever the man whom many consider to be Capitol Hill’s top reporter weighs writing a critical story about the lieutenant governor, a part of Tom Humphrey might worry about how the story could affect his son.
What else can a father do?
Accused of knowingly distributing incomplete newspapers, Tennessean publisher Craig Moon acknowledged to state investigators last week that, on occasion, some sections of The Tennessean “may be inadvertently omitted” from the paper.
Moon, however, did not address charges that the paper may have violated the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.
In a letter to state Consumer Affairs Director Mark Williams, Moon said, “I am sure there are times (hopefully very few) when some portions may be inadvertently omitted.” Moon said he had asked the paper’s circulation director “to (1) determine if a problem exists and, if so, to (2) recommend any corrective measures needed.”
“I appreciate very much you [sic] calling this to my attention,” the publisher added.
Moon’s letter did not respond to a Tennessean reader’s allegations, published in the Scene, that the newspaper has intentionally distributed thousands of newspapers without the “Living” sections. Those charges, if true, could result in the paper being prosecuted for violating state consumer fraud laws, according to Williams.
After receiving a consumer complaint that referred to the Scene article, Williams asked The Tennessean to respond within 10 days to the complaint. Moon’s answer, which Williams received last Thursday, is open to public inspection.
As reported in the Scene last month, Second Avenue merchant Warren Feld said a “third-or-fourth-level” Tennessean supervisor admitted to Feld that the newspaper had knowingly distributed incomplete papersas many as 4,000 on one dayin the downtown area.
Williams declined to say what, if any, steps he would take next. He said that if the complaining party were not satisfied with Moon’s answer, he would likely ask the publisher for a further explanation.
Williams has the power to make Moon answer under oath whether the paper has knowingly distributed incomplete issues and how many customers have been affected. Williams also has the authority, acting in cooperation with the Attorney General, to force The Tennessean to refund to customers the money the paper may have saved in printing and distribution costs if The Tennessean knowingly sold thousands of incomplete issues. Advertisers could get refunds too, since ad rates are based on reported circulation figures.
Williams knows that. So, one presumes, does Moonthat’s why this issue isn’t going away.
To comment or complain about the media, leave a message for Henry at the Scene (244-7989, ext. 445), call him at his office, 252-2363, or send an e-mail to email@example.com.