July 23, 2007
Journalistic Bias or Incompetence: A Case StudyBy Paul Miller
What makes a voter a "staunch" Republican or Democrat? The definition is a matter of opinion, but undoubtedly certain minimal traits apply. Obviously that person must vote in their state Party primary/caucus and for the elected candidate in the general election. The other requirement is how they financially support candidates as well as their Party.
A week ago, the Chicago Sun-Times published an article by Jennifer Hunter, "GOP lawyer sold on Dems." In the piece, Hunter writes about "attorney Jim Ronca of Philadelphia, a staunch Republican." After attending a Trial Lawyers event with Democratic Presidential candidates, Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Barack Obama, former Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Joe Biden, Ronca proclaimed, "I'm not only going to vote Democratic, I'm going to financially support the Democrats." He also added, "The Republicans in Washington are an embarrassment."
Undoubtedly there are many disgruntled Republicans who are angry about the increased size of government and irresponsible spending under the Bush administration and until this year, the GOP controlled congress. However, Mr. James R. Ronca is not one of these Republicans. In fact you can make a very strong argument that he is and has been for many years a Democrat.
A quick search in the Federal Election Database shows that Ronca has made $10,500 in political contributions, in which $9,250 was to Democrats including $2,000 each to John Kerry and John Edwards in 2004. The FEC report also shows thousands of dollars in donations to Democratic Congressional and US Senate candidates in 2006.
The state of Pennsylvania requires all voters to declare a Party of affiliation for the Primary election. Mr. Ronca is currently listed as a Republican, but considering his financial contributions to political candidates, he undoubtedly supported Kerry/Edwards in 2004 and labeling him a "staunch Republican," which the Chicago Sun-Times did, is blatantly false.
So why did one of the largest daily newspapers in the United States, publish a story that they must have known was false? I can only assume they knew Ronca was not a "staunch Republican." Surely, the writer took five minutes to check her facts, which would have included a FEC search of Ronca's political contributions? Dare I say...maybe she didn't?
The only way to find out was to ask the writer, Jennifer Hunter, what qualified Ronca to be a staunch Republican? I have sent Hunter multiple emails asking that question, but she has not responded.
I was not the only person troubled by this negligent reporting. Brian Burian of Homer Glen, Illinois was troubled by the story as well. Burian found it interesting that a Republican would attend a luncheon sponsored by Trial Lawyers. "So he met him at the trial lawyer's national convention- not a hotbed for Republicans," Burian wrote in an email.
The Homer Glen resident, who does not have a journalism background, utilized the internet to find out basic facts about Ronca. Just like me, he found the FEC filings listing political contributions. He also verified that the James Ronca listed was the same person in the story by doing a basic internet name search through Google. Burian located the law firm he works for and sent Ronca an email verifying that he was the same person in the story. James Ronca, who according to his biography is former President of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association, confirmed that he was in fact the same person in the article.
Burian claims that his amateur investigation took about "20 minutes." In the time it takes to cook a frozen pizza, he was able to determine without a shadow of a doubt that Ronca could not be labeled a "staunch Republican." The question still remains, why couldn't or wouldn't a professional journalist for a highly respected newspaper verify her source and come to the same conclusion?
Immediately many will claim liberal bias. That may very well be the case. Besides getting her facts wrong and writing a story that can be construed as negative toward the GOP, she never asked the Republican Party for a response. Where was the other side? Granted, she probably couldn't find a conservative at a trial lawyer event. However, she could have picked the phone and called the state Party for a response. I'm sure the Illinois GOP would have been happy to provide the telephone number for the Pennsylvania Republican Party.
Maybe there was no malicious intent and this is another example of the shameful state of the journalism profession. While the Sun Times writer has not responded to my emails, she did respond to Burian when he asked her to "retract the story."
The Sun Times writer also responded by pointing out that, "Ronca's contributions to the Democrats started after Bush became President?" The good news is that she finally checked out the FEC filings or at least had an intern do it. For her sake I hope it was the latter because her information was wrong. Ronca gave $1250 to Democrats before Bush was elected and $750 to Republicans. Since the 2000 election Democrats have received $8000 from Ronca, compared to $500 he gave the GOP.
After being confronted with such overwhelming evidence, a responsible journalist would retract the story and admit their mistakes. No shame in telling your readers that you were taken and misled by a political activist. Most people believe politics is synonymous for lying, so her readers would understand.
However, Hunter has already refused to retract her story and is giving the appearance that she did nothing wrong. So once again the question beckons to be answered. Was this another case of liberal media bias or bad journalism?
Nobody can say they know what went through the writers head when she wrote the story. Does she have a left wing agenda or does she not fact check? It is impossible to know for certain. What we do know is that the Journalism profession continues to sink deeper into the depths of uncertainty. No longer can the printed or spoken word be trusted to be truth, especially when written by people who call themselves journalists.
Paul Miller is a writer; consultant and activist dedicated to issues concerning Israel, limited government and free market ideas. You can read his opinions at http://www.pauliespoint.blogspot.com/.