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October 17, 2006

The Stink Eye: Part of the Story

There is an ethos in journalism that says reporters and the publications for which they report should never become part of a story. Of course, that was shattered by a handful of intrepid and adored journalists over the years — Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese back when — and also by some major issues of late, like Judith Miller’s jailing for refusing to reveal a source and the response of her paper, The New York Times. For LEO, and the alt-weekly world as far as we can tell, the current situation is rare and perhaps unprecedented. LEO founder and former columnist John Yarmuth has put his money where his mouth has been for 15 years, challenging five-term incumbent Anne Northup for her U.S. House seat. And LEO has unwittingly been thrust into the rhetorical gymnastics of the campaign, courtesy of the Congresswoman. Northup has been bleating, most recently at a forum sponsored by Greater Louisville Inc. and United Healthcare on Friday, that Yarmuth is trying to hide his 800-plus LEO columns from the public. She whines that the newspaper has been complicit in doing so by taking Yarmuth’s columns off our Web site, www.leoweekly.com, when he decided to run for Congress. This is an unequivocal lie. It’s unbecoming of a United States representative to simply invent “facts,” and it’s embarrassing to this city’s electorate, both supporters and loathers of this publication, of which there are certainly many. Distorting truth to hide reality —  the Northup campaign’s forte — has also sadly become the political norm. But flat-out lies take campaign politics to a contemptuous new level. There is no evidence, nor has there ever been, that LEO deliberately withheld Yarmuth’s columns from the public. In fact, Northup’s campaign spent several weeks in and out of our Fourth Street headquarters, copying each of Yarmuth’s columns from the bound archives we maintain — the only official record of LEO’s 16-year publishing history (the campaign paid for a security guard’s presence, stipulated by LEO, as these are the only copies). The reason for this admittedly antiquated archiving system is simple: money. LEO is a sometimes-uncomfortably tiny operation, with only four people comprising the editorial staff. A variety of entities have hosted the paper’s Web site since the mid-’90s, none of which built an archiving system that’s been maintained. It’s not just Yarmuth’s columns that aren’t available online; nothing beyond Dec. 7 of last year is. That’s when our new Web site debuted. Although LEO has regrettably failed to keep up with the tech times, it has consistently maintained a code of intellectual fairness and honesty while taking strong, obvious and fairly consistent editorial positions on most political issues, including those relating directly to Northup. Her campaign, somewhat predictably, has failed to uphold these standards, even in the face of insurmountable factual evidence that proves she’s dead wrong. Yarmuth’s response to Northup’s LEO lie has been straightforward: After he sold the paper in 2003, he had no say over what happened to the archives. Yet Northup insists, despite no supporting evidence, that Yarmuth still controlled the paper’s decision-making mechanisms, simply because he kept an office at LEO (now gone) and took advantage of the company’s health care plan. In what company has drawing on an employee health package ever extended the authority to dictate company policy? Yes, Northup’s logic is tortured and utterly laughable. If Anne Northup will lie about something so ancillary to both campaigns as whether LEO has impaired the public’s right to see our editorial content, what else will she lie about? Earmarks for friends in the business community? War rationale? Voting independence? Thanks to LEO’s cooperation, she has copies of and claims to have read everything Yarmuth ever wrote for LEO — though she’s boasted publicly that she never reads LEO — and her campaign maintains a deceptive and misleading Web site devoted to demonizing him for certain phrases he’s penned. This is not the first time the newspaper has attempted to straighten this record — apparently Northup missed that issue, though she was on the cover. Let’s hope she sees this: We implore you, Rep. Northup, to stop lying to your constituents. As of this morning, the Yarmuth campaign has a new Web site. “The Northup Exposure” — www.northupexposure.com — will feature votes Northup has cast and campaign contributions she’s taken over a 10-year career. It will also, according to Jason Burke, Yarmuth’s campaign manager, debunk distortions Northup’s campaign has made of Yarmuth’s positions in recent ads and on the campaign trail, delivered with a fair amount of humor. Write to The Stink Eye at citystrobe@leoweekly.com