As we have seen at the national and local levels, politics can be a tumultuous endeavor. It should be the responsibility of every journalist who covers any part of our democracy to be as truthful and accurate as possible.
The Baltimore Post was asked to investigate a story that appeared in The East County Times involving the contentious 6th Councilmatic race between the incumbent, Democratic Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, and her opponent, Republican Ryan Nawrocki.
A story that appeared in the April 12, 2018 addition of the ECT mentioned allegations of domestic violence made against Mr. Nawrocki. The ECT published the front page story, complete with a photo showing protesters gathered outside an event held by the Nawrocki campaign.
The article was written by ECT reporter Devin Crum. Before we get into the actual content of the article, we need to discuss the ethics that a journalist should display when covering political issues.
Here is an important quote from The Society of Professional Journalists that discusses how a reporter covering a particular political race should act:
The SPJ Ethics Committee gets a significant number of questions about whether journalists should engage in political activity. The simplest answer is “No.” Don’t do it. Don’t get involved. Don’t contribute money, don’t work in a campaign, don’t lobby, and especially, don’t run for office yourself.
The New York Times has its own similar code of ethics, and the following passage discusses monetary campaign contributions:
Staff members may not themselves give money to, or raise money for, any political candidate or election cause. Given the ease of Internet access to public records of campaign contributors, any political giving by a Times staff member would carry a great risk of feeding a false impression that the paper is taking sides.
Looking below, you will see information from the Maryland State Board of Elections. The Post contacted Mr. Crum of the ETC and asked if he had ever donated to Mrs. Bevins’ campaign. Mr. Crum denied giving any campaign contributions to Mrs. Bevins. When we explained that the MSBE lists Mr. Crum as a donor and the amount he donated, Mr. Crum stated that he did not give any money to the Bevins campaign. He said what was listed was probably a complementary event ticket. Mr. Crum also stated he does not keep track of the ECT budget regarding these matters.
In the sake of transparency it should be noted that I, Buzz Beeler, the author of this particular column and publisher of The Baltimore Post, was a political candidate in the 7th District counsel race in 2010. At the time, I was a member of the Baltimore Sun Talk Group, where I was listed as a political candidate. While a member of the Sun’s Talk Group, the paper and changed its policy had disallowed anyone seeking office from mentioning their political endeavors. Once the boundaries were established, I abided by the moderator of the Talk Group and refrained from referencing my political ambitions.
What is troubling to the Post is Mr. Crum’s domestic violence accusations against Mr. Nawrocki. The Post asked Mr. Crum if, at the time of writing his article, there was any direct evidence of domestic violence involving Mr. Ryan Nawrocki.
Mr. Crum could not provide any written documentation regarding any such evidence.
Additionally, the Post asked if Mr. Crum had inquired about any 911 calls involving reports of domestic violence emanating from the residence of Mr. Nawrocki. Mr. Crum stated that he did not check to see whether or not any such calls existed.
The Post also inquired why Mr. Crum would write about alleged domestic violence issues that could not be confirmed. Mr. Crum responded that he had additional evidence. Mr. Crum alluded to a court-ordered closed case involving a custody issue that took place prior to Mr. Nawrocki and his wife being married. Again, the Post asked if there is any indication that an act of domestic violence was committed by Mr. Nawrocki. In fact, the Post went one step further and asked Mr. Crum why, if he had such evidence, did he not use it in his article?
His answer was that he had received the evidence after publication of the article. We asked how, if the records were sealed and were not able to be viewed by Mr. Crum, could he surmise that domestic violence took place. Mr. Crum could provide no answer to that question.
It should also be noted that both Mr. Nawrocki and his wife have denied any allegations of domestic abuse.
With all of that said, let’s level the playing field a bit.
In addition to the document below, the Post learned some time ago that a situation did occur at the Bevins residence. The following email was sent to the councilwoman’s office early on the date this column was published:
Councilwoman Cathy Bevins:
Please consider this email as on the record.
Councilwoman Bevins, can you advise if there was a police related 911 call to your home address on the date of July 1, 2017? Can you also describe nature of the call?
We will be going to publication by the end of the business day.
Thank you for your time in this matter.
The email was sent at 10:17 AM on April 12, 2018. As of publication, there has been no response to our inquiry.
The Post did confirm through the Baltimore County Police Department that a 911 call did occur at the councilwoman’s residence.
In the ECT article, you’ll note that Janice Vincent was one of the protesters at the Nawrocki event. If you look below and click on the image, you’ll see that Ms. Vincent also contributed to Mrs. Bevins’ campaign. In fact, Ms. Vincent was appointed to the committee by the councilwoman.
Another interesting piece to this puzzle is the below flyer sent out during Mrs. Bevins’ last election campaign.
The Baltimore Post also filed a PIA involving other suspicious activity regarding this councilmatic race. When the Post investigated the situation, we discovered that a pseudonym was used to attack Mr. Nawrocki. The PIA revealed that a person using a fake name had requested to be added to councilwoman’s newsletter site. Mrs. Bevins’ office confirmed that the “person” had requested to be placed on the councilwoman’s newsletter site.
It was rather odd to us that the PIA contained no response from the councilwoman about the pseudonym to confirm the request. Immediately after our investigation, all negative comments concerning Mr. Nawrocki were subsequently taken down.
As social media principles (e.g., shoot first, ask questions later) infiltrate cable news and the mainstream media, there is greater room for error. The Baltimore Post strongly believes that, unless any accusation of potential wrongdoing can be verified through documentation or independent sources, no journalist should attempt to discredit someone based on on unsubstantiated accusations.
The Post strives to provide the public with accurate and vetted information so informed decisions can be made.
It is our policy to offer Mr. Crum an opportunity to respond to this article on our site. We will keep you informed if Mr. Crum decides to accept our offer and defend his position regarding his article, Women protest Nawrocki fundraiser citing alleged past domestic violence.
As always, “You read; you decide.”