Heath Haussamen Failed to Disclose Rep. Heather Wilson's Spokeswoman, Whitney Cheshire - at Very Center of the Emerging Scandal - Wrote a Weekly Column For Him Until Late Last Year
Indignant New Mexico Blogger 'Journalist' Stands by Lack of Full Disclosure...
By Brad Friedman on 3/6/2008, 6:46pm PT  

"This is why blogging doesn’t get any respect," New Mexico blogger Heath Haussamen wrote in his blistering response to the emerging Republican vote-buying allegations in New Mexico. He wrote that the entire matter was a "non-story," based on "rumors," before going on to mercilessly blast reporter Dennis Domrzalski, who broke several key elements in the story, and us, by reference, as "shameful" and "disgraceful" for covering it at all.

About the website of Domrzalski, who says he was not contacted by the indignant Haussamen for comment before the scathing story ran, he wrote "This is not a reputable journalistic site."

Yet, incredibly, Haussamen failed to disclose, in his article on this yesterday, that Rep. Heather Wilson's campaign spokesperson, Whitney Cheshire, wrote a weekly column at his blog site until October of last year, when she stopped to go to work for the Congresswoman.

In fact, it was Cheshire who forwarded Haussamen's article, defending her boss, via email to the News Director at Albuquerque radio station KKOB, after reports had surfaced that they had spiked the vote-buying stories, broken by one of their own news anchors initially, reportedly after pressure from Cheshire herself. That News Director, in turn, forwarded Haussamen's article, sent by Cheshire, to us late last night.

We took pains to include Haussamen's criticism, even of us, quoting it at some length, in the detailed report on the allegations that we posted last night...

Indeed it was Haussamen's former colleague Cheshire who'd called KKOB's News Director, Pat Allen, several times, over at least two days, to complain about their news stories on the vote-buying allegations, as initially reported by award-winning afternoon news anchor Laura MacCallum. Inappropriate influence was brought by Cheshire, on behalf of Wilson, to spike the stories, according to MacCallum, who resigned after the stories were pulled by Allen.

Cheshire is spokesperson for Wilson's U.S. Senate campaign for the seat being vacated by Pete Domenici. Allen admits to receiving complaint phone calls from Cheshire, though he denies that he had any political agenda in pulling the stories, even if his reasons for doing so have changed several times.

The BRAD BLOG asked for, and received, comment from Haussamen, after we'd heard of the apparent undisclosed conflict of interest. Haussamen is standing by his lack of disclosure that until recently Cheshire wrote a weekly column, titled, "Wednesday Morning Quarterback," at his own site.

(It should also be noted here that Haussamen failed to contact us or MacCallum, in addition to Domrzalski, for comment, before he ran his article which blasted each of us in some way.)

That Haussamen did not make such a disclosure to his readers in the article, about his relationship to Cheshire, given, at the very least, the appearance of an inherent conflict of interest, is almost inexplicable. Given the tone and details of his scathing blog item, in which he railed angrily about being "a journalist who is working hard to try to bring some integrity to the blogosphere," it is more unfathomable.

The reporting of this story in the "liberal blogosphere," and presumably anywhere else but on his own blog, "make[s him] furious," he declared.

"Whatever their motives," he wrote in the article, "those who have spread this rumor as though it’s fact should be ashamed."

Nonetheless, when we asked Haussamen why --- in his article that, ironically enough, slams the ethics and questions the motivations of fellow journalists, several of them veteran reporters for decades --- he did not feel it would have been appropriate to disclose that he was a colleague of, and indeed, publisher of a weekly column written by, the spokeswoman for Wilson's campaign, who happens to be at the very heart of this story, his response was beguiling.

"The fact that Whitney Cheshire used to be a columnist for my site is disclosed on my home page, in the left column of the page in the 'Other columns' section," Haussamen told us via email.

Somewhat astounded by that response, we replied to confirm if he was really going to stand by that decision, instead of simply apologizing to readers, and adding such a disclosure to his article, now that the issue was brought up with him.

"So it's your feeling that that was disclosure enough when covering such a story, particularly with such an angle? Just confirming for the record," we wrote in reply.

His response, which apparently continues to miss the point and reveals an alarming lack of understanding about the way transparency in journalism --- even on the Internet --- must work, follows in full...

Whitney Cheshire was a volunteer columnist for a time before she joined the Wilson campaign. Three others currently do that - liberal, moderate and conservative - and I also publish occasional guest columns from most people who submit them. None are paid, so these aren't even business relationships. People write their opinions and I publish them. It's that simple.

That said, the home page of my site discloses the identities of the current columnists and the former columnists. If I thought further disclosure was necessary, I would have provided it.

Mr. Haussamen: We couldn't care less what your Guest Bloggers' particular political affiliations may be. We don't care if they gave their work to you for free (though, arguably, that presents even more of an appearance of conflict of interest, since you would appear to be still more in their debt for their generous gratis contributions to your website.) In fact, we applaud you for offering works which feature diverse political perspectives.

The problem is that you failed to fully disclose that one of the women --- at the very center of an issue that you are writing about, critically --- donated her efforts to your blog, until as recently as late last year.

That the spokeswoman for Rep. Heather Wilson, who is facing allegations of vote-buying, wrote for you until October of last year, when she left to go work for Wilson, does not, in and of itself, mean that your article defending her interests was written as a quid pro quo. Your opinions, whether we agree with them or not, may be perfectly independent and appropriate.

But that you do not seem to understand that such a conflict of interest should be fully and transparently disclosed, so readers can be fully informed in order to form their own opinions, is simply astounding --- particularly for a blogger indignantly claiming to be "a journalist...working hard to try to bring some integrity to the blogosphere."

To quote your own article, sir: "This is why blogging doesn’t get any respect."

Your failure to disclose such an obvious conflict, and worse, your willingness to stand by the very clear journalistic error, even after being asked about it, to quote you again, is something about which you "should be ashamed."

We hope you carefully consider our criticism, and take it in the spirit in which it's intended, since we applaud your efforts in the cause of working to bring more real journalism and respect to the blogosphere, just as we are working to do. But you'd be wise to mind your own glass house carefully while you're busy tossing stones out from within it. We live in a similar glass house ourselves, and thus, take pains to avoid as much broken glass as possible.

You'd be wise to do the same.

UPDATE 3/7/07 12:10pm PT: Sadly, Mr. Haussamen, who we had found to be a previously impressive reporter, seems dead set on running his reputation into the ground. Now he is refusing to allow comments on his blog item from either ourselves or even Laura MacCallum. He has let one or two of our posts go through, but not the ones in which we pointed to either this item, or the original detailed report outlining the actual allegations. Mr. Haussamen seems dead set on becoming what he claims to have beheld. We hope he re-thinks that strategy before destroying all of his previously credibility for no good reason.

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