The Biased and Deceptive
Reporting in the Deseret Morning News
The Deseret Morning News (DMN) has condoned remarkably sloppy, biased, and erroneous reporting for years. Although many of the factual errors and deceptions have been brought to the attention of the DMN, the misleading reporting has continued unabated—with serious, damaging consequences.
I believe the errors and distortions have been contrary to the interests of DMN readers, to its owner, to my administration, to me personally, and to the community as a whole. I also believe the DMN has engaged in wholesale violations of the ethical principles to which journalists are supposed to adhere. The fact that Brady Snyder’s editors continue to “stand behind” him and the accuracy of his reporting, particularly in light of his many misrepresentations of fact, is professionally and ethically reprehensible.
I was being interviewed by Gary Younge, an excellent journalist with an outstanding British newspaper, The Guardian, when Snyder called to ask questions about what he repeatedly, and misleadingly, referred to as my “bar tab.” (See discussion below at pp. 3-5.)
Following my discussion with Snyder, during which I expressed my dismay at his continued use of the misleading term “bar tab,” Mr. Younge and I both smiled and shook our heads at the ridiculousness of Snyder’s seeming obsession with the so-called “bar tab.” I laughed and said, with reference to Snyder’s comments and questions, as well as the front-page coverage of the “bar tab” stories in the DMN, “I truly feel like we’re in the middle of a Kafka novel sometimes—with a little bit of Taliban thrown in.” (I was speaking about the rigidity and narrow-mindedness of Snyder and the DMN, particularly in connection with the fact that some of the people whose dinners, cover charges, and/or drinks were included in the so-called “bar tab” consumed alcoholic beverages. I also had in mind Snyder’s earlier absurd, puritanical coverage of the fact that a Salt Lake City Reads Together book selection, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, contained cuss words.)
My quote was included in Mr. Younge’s Guardian article. I emailed the article to Snyder. Thereafter, Snyder telephoned me and asked me whether I was referring to the LDS Church when I mentioned the Taliban. The question took me entirely by surprise because I had not thought at all about the LDS Church when I made the comment. The idea that I may have had the LDS Church in mind was completely a product of Snyder’s speculations (and perhaps those of his editors). I was offended by his question and of the intimation that I had in mind the LDS Church when I made the comment about the Taliban.
In response to Snyder’s question, I said, “Absolutely not. I was referring to you and your newspaper.”
The misleading, incredibly offensive, “The-mayor-denies-still-beating-his-wife” kind of headline in the DMN the next day was “LDS Church not Taliban, Rocky says.” (October 5, 2005.)
Snyder was mostly correct later in the article, where he wrote: “Anderson said his comments were directed at those who questioned the two midnight tabs he paid with taxpayer dollars last July—one at a brew pub for $175 and another at a hotel lobby lounge for $457.” However, Snyder was absolutely in error when he grossly mischaracterized my statement and my views in his lead-in sentence (which obviously generated the headline), by referring to my “comments comparing life in Utah’s capital to life under the rule of the Taliban . . .”
That was a total fabrication. I never made a comment comparing life in Utah’s capital to life under the rule of the Taliban. Never has that thought ever crossed my mind. Snyder’s mischaracterization is belied by his description of the explanation I provided him about my comment.
Snyder’s false, sensationalistic paraphrasing of my comment was extremely damaging. It led to a cruel, hate-filled editorial in the Ogden Standard-Examiner, to an outrageous cartoon in that same newspaper portraying me as being anti-Mormon (beating upon a statue of Joseph Smith), and to extremely nasty letters to the editor in various newspapers from people who were led by Snyder’s statement—or from its progeny—to believe that I compare the LDS Church with the Taliban. It also led to e-mails from people who are obviously extremely angry with me because they were led by the DMN to a complete misunderstanding about my Taliban reference. I have challenged Snyder to point to anything I have ever said or written that could justify his paraphrasing of my comment. He was unable to do so.
Following are other illustrative instances of the DMN’s deceptive (sometimes categorically false) reporting, much of which has been extremely damaging to me:
1. Four consecutive front-page stories ran in late September and early October, 2005, describing, in a blatantly misleading fashion, charges for dinner, entertainment cover charges, other food, and beverages (some of which were alcoholic beverages) as a “bar tab.” (See September 28, 2005 article, with the characteristically misleading, sensationalistic headline, “Rocky’s bar tab paid by the city.”) A DMN editorial continued the fiction, in its apparent misinformation campaign, by referring to my “bar tab.” (October 6, 2005.) Other articles appearing in the DMN continued to refer to the charges as a “bar tab.”
The DMN’s misleading reporting led to a wire story by the Associated Press, which did nothing to investigate or confirm the “bar tab” story, leading to more national coverage of the “bar tab” fiction. The Associated Press, apparently simply following the lead of the DMN, sent this out for the world’s media to repeat: “Taxpayers are having to foot the bill for Mayor Rocky Anderson’s bar tabs. Last month, Anderson used tax dollars to pay two bar tabs that totaled nearly $634.”
The urban myth begun by Snyder and the DMN, and exacerbated by the AP, became a national, even international myth, when USA Today (which a Salt Lake City staffer saw in China) published the AP account. Similarly, the Arizona Republic and news stations in Hawaii and Philadelphia parroted the “bar tab” fiction. Nothing about dinner, nothing about entertainment cover charges, nothing about other food and non-alcoholic beverages. KHNL TV in Hawaii reported as follows: “Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson considers a little booze part of the job. He wants the city to pick up his bar tab for entertaining out-of-town visitors. . . . Anderson used tax dollars to pay bar tabs last month of about 450 and 175 dollars.”
The “bar tab” myth was discussed at some length in blogger Ken Bingham’s piece entitled, “May We Buy You A Drink Mayor Anderson,” where he wrote as follows:
Isn’t it nice to be Mayor of Salt Lake City? Not only do you get to use your official email for political purposes but you get to pawn your bar tab off on the tax payer [sic] also.
It seems that Rocky Hck’P Anderson has been boozing it up and passing the bill onto [sic] the city.
In a very strange twist, Mr. Snyder wrote a “news analysis,” analyzing his own reporting and my responses. (It seems most peculiar that Mr. Snyder would be assigned to write an “analysis” of his own misleading reporting, particularly when he and his writing were, by that time, part of the story.) In that “news analysis,” Snyder justified the continued use of the term “bar tab” because the venue at the Grand America where charges were incurred for entertainment cover charges, food, and beverages was a “private club.” Snyder stated as follows: “The paper used the term ‘bar tab’ because the bill was accrued at a private club—Utah’s equivalent of a bar.”
I pointed out in an op-ed piece that, among other inaccuracies in Snyder’s reporting, private clubs in Utah are not “equivalent” to a “bar” and, further, the Grand America venue was a restaurant, not a private club—easily discoverable by a reporter concerned with finding and reporting the truth. Not surprisingly, given the history of DMN editors condoning Snyder’s sloppy, deceptive reporting, there was a notation under my op-ed piece that, still, Snyder’s “senior editors” stood by him and the “accuracy of his reporting.”
On October, 19, 2005, Snyder wrote in an article, “The bill covered private club memberships, food and alcohol, Anderson said.” Again, that was false, on two counts. First, the Grand America was not a private club. Second, I never referred to that venue as a private club. I wrote to the editors and publisher of the DMN on the date of that article and stated as follows:
In today’s article, Brady refers to a “bar tab.” He has justified the use of that term in the past because, according to him, the Grand America venue was a “private club.” Our repeated insistence to Brady that it was not a “private club,” but a restaurant that was charging an entertainment cover charge, seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Now, today, he expands that error, falsely stating “The bill covered private club memberships, food and alcohol, Anderson said.” I never said that. I have referred to “cover charges.” Brady continues to fabricate the “private club” account to justify the Deseret Morning News’ repeated misleading use of the term “bar tab.”
On October 20, 2005, the DMN ran a wholly inadequate, inconspicuous correction, stating as follows:
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson's $457.88 bill at the Grand America Hotel lobby lounge included cover charges, not private club memberships. A story in Tuesday's paper stated otherwise.
What little regard for the truth the DMN must have not to run a correction on all the articles in which reference is made to a “private club” and “private club memberships,” including Snyder’s “news analysis,” in which he justifies the repeated use of the term “bar tab” because the Grand America venue was (according to his faulty research and reporting) a “private club.” With that correction should have come the corresponding correction—and apology—regarding the repeated, misleading, biased use of the term “bar tab” throughout the course of the DMN’s obsessive, false reporting about the Squatter’s and Grand America events.
2. On the heels of the misleading “bar tab” reporting in the DMN, Snyder wrote about a project in which Salt Lake City carried on an Olympic tradition of delivering a message to the next Winter Olympics host city without the use of any fossil fuels. In an article headlined, “Rocky’s Torino trip scrutinized” (October 4, 2005), Snyder led with the following misleading sentence: “A week after taking heat for paying bar tabs with tax dollars, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson faces questions about how $35,000 in tax dollars was used to partially fund a three-month trek that ended in Torino, Italy.” Snyder later wrote about the identities of the Europe-leg team, then misrepresented, without any basis whatsoever, “All room and meal expenses were paid by a fund that was a mix of private donations and tax dollars.” Snyder apparently misrepresented to City Council members that tax money was used by the Europe-leg team in order to get negative comments from them for his use in the article.
I informed Snyder he had his story wrong (again) and told him that no tax money had been spent for the Europe-leg cycling team, and that any tax money fronted for any portion of the entire project would be reimbursed from contributions made by foundations, companies, and individuals. Further, had Snyder researched thoroughly, he would have discovered that private donations and tax monies were not commingled in any fund; they were accounted for separately, under different account numbers.
The next day, the facts were further mischaracterized, with an article outrageously headlined, “Rocky to pay back tax dollars.” Snyder’s lead-in to the article read as follows: “Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said Tuesday the $35,000 in tax dollars already spent on the city’s summer trek to Torino, Italy, will be paid back to city coffers through private contributions.”
In the so-called “analysis” of his own reporting by Snyder, he finally conceded that “[i]n fact, no tax dollars were used to pay for Anderson’s portion of the Torino trip . . . No tax dollars were loaned or fronted for the Torino portion either.” Then he made the remarkable statement that “[s]ome media haven’t drawn a distinction between tax dollars paying for up-front costs of the total journey and tax dollars paying for Anderson’s portion of the trip . . . “ What Snyder doesn’t disclose to DMN readers is that what he refers to as “some media” was his own reporting, which, as in the case of the “bar tab” story, led to other erroneous news stories by reporters who did no independent investigation and to e-mails from angry DMN readers who fell for Snyder’s and the DMN’s poor, deceptive reporting.
A curious omission by Snyder and the DMN in the reporting about the Message to Torino project was that information about the participants had been fully disclosed for months before the issue was falsely portrayed by Snyder during early October. Not only were the identities of the Europe-leg cycling team described in Lee Benson’s DMN column on July 29, 2005, Snyder himself had discussed in detail the composition of the Europe-leg team in an article by him on July 29, 2005. Also, the slc2torino.com web site provided details about all team members, both on the US-leg and the Europe-leg. Snyder had referenced that web site in a March 22, 2005 article, headlined “Rocky to deliver message to Italy.”
Snyder and the DMN’s publication of small, innocuous corrections and so-called news analyses does not alter the misperceptions caused by the erroneous, deceptive articles published in the newspaper—and by the erroneous reports of other media outlets that relied upon the misleading DMN reporting. Further, the publication by the DMN of letters to the editor that perpetuate the false accounts of the DMN articles seriously aggravates the dishonesty and deception.
3. In an April 25, 2005 article headlined “S.L. Council defends hiring of consultants,” Snyder reported that the City Council paid an independent consultant (Ray Mundy) $14,671 to study a proposed new ordinance relating to the cab industry. However, he reported on March 20, 2005, in an article headlined “S.L. is trying to tackle taxi woes,” that “The City Council hired Mundy for $42,000 to suggest changes after Mayor Rocky Anderson’s administration proposed some taxi reforms last year.”
4. In an article dated March 14, 2005, Snyder and the DMN blatantly misrepresented that my office spent “$5,400 . . . for dinners or lunches Anderson bought for himself and people he was meeting with during mealtimes.” A letter to the editor from my Communications Director, published March 16, 2005, set forth the real facts, as follows:
A Deseret Morning News article regarding food expenditures by city government grossly overstated the amount of city money spent on lunches and dinners for Mayor Rocky Anderson and his guests outside of the office. The article stated: “Mayor Rocky Anderson’s office spent $6,400 on food last year; $5,400 of that was for dinners or lunches Anderson bought for himself and people he was meeting with during mealtimes.”
This is incorrect. The truth is that the actual amount spent for Mayor Anderson’s meals and those with whom he was dining during the entire year was $410.28, or an average monthly expense of $34.19.
Mayor Anderson has always been cautious and frugal in the use of taxpayers’ money . . . .
The DMN published a tiny correction on an inside page, conceding that “[s]ome food costs were for meetings conducted by mayoral employees that Anderson didn’t attend.” Then, downplaying the outlandishly erroneous reporting of this matter, the DMN stated, “A story in Monday’s paper gave the impression Anderson had spent the entire $5,400 on individual meetings.” Of course, it was not merely an “impression”— it was an outrageously false statement by Snyder and the DMN.
5. In an article dated October 7, 2004, headlined “YMCA pulling out of the Unity Center,” the DMN misrepresented that Salt Lake City now has “only one remaining private partner in the [Unity] Center.” In fact, there were over a dozen potential partners at that time, which could have been ascertained had Snyder telephoned those working on the Unity Center project. A correction was run by the DMN, but, as I pointed out in an op-ed piece, entitled “Demand truth and fairness from our news media,” (October 31, 2004), “once a poorly researched, inaccurate story has been published, an inconspicuous ‘correction’ never undoes the damage, as demonstrated when a City Council member, who had not seen the correction, recently raised concerns based on the erroneous article.”
6. In an article entitled “Lobbyists eye Rocky’s job” (Feb. 20, 2003), Snyder led with a speculative, sensationalistic opinion-in-the-guise-of-news assertion, as follows:
If Salt Lake City had an archenemy it would likely be Union Pacific Railroad. Arch enemy No. 2 might be Nordstrom. And arch enemy No. 3 might be Draper city, which is trying to stop Salt Lake City and Sandy from locating a new water treatment plant near the point of the mountain.
Then, Snyder continued:
If there was a No. 4 it might be the Woodbury Corp., which owns several suburban malls, including the South Towne Center in Sandy – a spot that regularly steals business away from sagging Main Street malls.
Besides the fact that none of these entities were “arch enemies” of Salt Lake City, the easily discoverable truth was that, contrary to Snyder’s representation, Woodbury Corp. did not own South Towne Center in Sandy. As noted in an inconspicuous correction published the day after the article appeared, South Towne Center was owned by the Macerich Co.
7. In a DMN editorial, entitled “Rocky versus Rockwell” (August 7, 2004), the editorial writer misrepresented what the media began calling my “Seven Freedoms,” by trivializing them as nothing more than “the freedom to dance after 2 a.m., and the freedom to have easier access to alcohol.” Actually, the freedoms to which I had referred previously, and which were not even mentioned in the DMN editorial, were the freedom to be safe from gun violence, the freedom for working people to make a decent living, the freedom for children without a permanent home and the freedom for potential adoptive parents who are unmarried to build a permanent family together, the freedom to teach children about family planning and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, and the freedom to breathe clean air. I noted in my op-ed piece, entitled “Editorial is personal attack, tells only a kernel of truth” (August 15, 2004), as follows:
The editorial writer was obviously too intent on trying to make me look shallow, particularly in the eyes of his mostly-LDS readers. The editorial ignores any discussion of the serious issues I have raised relating to health, safety, poverty, equal rights and dignity, education about family planning and sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV and AIDS), low wages, lack of health insurance coverage, and the lack of sufficient adoptive homes for millions of orphans and foster children.
8. In an article headlined “Parking may be free—after 3” (May 12, 2004), Snyder represented that my proposed “free parking for Christmas plan would suck up another $330,000” in lost meter revenues. Without admitting how far off the DMN was ($240,000), it ran a correction on May 13, 2004 (after we contacted the DMN), stating: “Salt Lake City’s free downtown parking for the Christmas shopping season will cost the city an estimated $90,000 in 2004. A story in Wednesday’s newspaper reported an incorrect amount.”
9. In an article dated December 6, 2003, the DMN represented that I “devised Mainly Art as a way to force street artists out of Pioneer Park, away from the Farmers’ Market and onto Main Street . . .” That account was absolutely false, as reflected in an inconspicuous correction published on December 10, stating: “Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said he supports artists at Pioneer Park during the Farmer’s Market there and his Mainly Art program was not designed to force artists away from the park. A story in Saturday’s paper stated otherwise.”
10. In an article headlined “Globe Café to close doors on Main Street (July 11, 2003), Snyder stated as fact (rather than as someone else’s contention) the following: “To add insult to injury, the Globe then petitioned the RDA for a similar $20,000 grant, but Oka recommended against giving the existing business the money. That was hard to swallow since Larsen had met with Mayor Rocky Anderson, who had pledged to help secure the grant.” Snyder apparently took Mr. Larsen’s false account and repeated it as an established fact. The truth is that I never pledged to help secure the grant for Larsen; in fact, I had believed that, as stated later in Snyder’s article, even if Larsen were granted an RDA loan, he would close the Globe Café. Snyder had no basis for stating Larsen’s contention as a fact—and he never asked me about it.
11. In an article headlined “I’m not leak in Smart case, officer tells S.L. radio host” (May 6, 2003), the DMN reports extensively about former Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Don Bell’s denials about being “the leak who provided information to two Salt Lake Tribune reporters who turned around and sold the salacious rumors to the National Enquirer.” The article stated: “Bell is now demanding a public apology from Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, who he said accused him of being the source for the Enquirer article. ‘If this man has any principles at all, I expect an apology,’ Bell told Wright.” That story was printed by the DMN without providing me any opportunity to respond. If the reporter could not reach me the afternoon before the article appeared, he could have held off one day until I had an opportunity to respond. However, getting the story out quickly, rather than getting the truth, appears to have been the DMN’s top priority. I later made clear that I had never accused Sgt. Bell of being the source for the Enquirer article. That fact should have been in any account of Sgt. Bell’s unfounded accusation.
12. On April 1, 2003, Snyder’s article, with the baseless headline “Is Main Street already dead?” led with the following incredibly misleading paragraphs:
“Main Street as Salt Lake City once knew it may already be dead, Mayor Rocky Anderson says.”
“Anderson before has warned that The Gateway shopping center could seriously injure Main Street. Now it may be time to sign the death certificate.”
I stated in my op-ed piece, entitled “News flash: Main Street is far from dead” (April 25, 2003):
Main Street is healthier and more diverse than it has been for the past 25 years. I have consistently expressed this view to the Deseret News editorial board and reporters, yet the April 1 Deseret News article headlined “Is Main Street dead?” expressed one reporter’s baseless editorial view that “it may be time to sign the death certificate.”
Unfortunately, that article was written in a manner that led some people to think I had said such things. In a letter to the editor (April 12), Pamela O’Mara said she was “deeply disturbed” about the article “quoting Mayor Rocky Anderson as saying, ‘Main Street in Salt Lake City may already be dead.’” In fact, it was the reporter, not me, who said that—and such a conclusion is, of course, exactly the opposite of my view.
13. In a March 18, 2003, article entitled, “Inquiry called a vendetta,” the DMN got it completely wrong when it stated, “It wasn’t until the formation of a second task force, this one headed by [Don] Bell, that Forrest Whittle was indicted in 1995 and later convicted of Strong’s murder.” The truth is that Don Bell did not head a task force when Forrest Whittle was indicted in 1995 and later convicted. During his involvement in the investigation, Don Bell had failed to identify Strong’s murderer or to make an arrest in the case. Forrest Whittle was indicted due to the work of several people outside of the Salt Lake City Police Department, including the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office, the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office, and two Salt Lake County Commissioners. As a correction, dated March 19, 2003, innocuously noted, “Bell was not involved with the arrest of Whittle.”
The above is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of the false, deceptive, and often hurtful reporting by the DMN. It is only a sampling. However, I have taken the time to provide this information, as I have taken the time to write several op-ed pieces, to describe the bias and severe lack of credibility of much of what has been published in the DMN, and to stress the responsibility of reporters and their editors to determine, as reasonably as possible, the facts—and to keep in mind the tremendous damage that can befall victims of poor, biased, misleading reporting. Of course, the publisher and owner of the newspaper have an enormous responsibility to assure that the truth is told and that bias is minimized.
Because of the clear bias and deceptiveness of Snyder’s reporting, including his damaging mischaracterizations of my comments and views, I will no longer communicate with him. He has falsely paraphrased things I have said, giving them much different meanings than conveyed in my statements. He has ignored things I have said, apparently when my statements did not support a story line he had in mind. His misleading, deceptive, hurtful reporting has led others to perpetuate the fictions, write hateful and cruel editorials and emails, and has generated extremely hurtful misconceptions about me, my statements, and my views.
I regret that I am compelled to terminate communications with Snyder, but he has abused my accessibility and openness by blatantly distorting the truth. Had I not communicated with Snyder, he would not have been able to mischaracterize what I have said to him—and he would not have been able to generate the hatred toward me by those who have taken his fabrications as truth.
[The Kafka and Taliban comment is] the kind of venom that can only come from a man who, deep down, hates his city and its culture on a profound level. It’s the kind of practiced assessment meant to reinforce his superiority to the Hicksville in which he is confined – an enlightened being who suffers the regular indignities of living in a state whose unwashed hordes still cling to a form of Christianity he rejected long ago . . .
The editorial later refers to “Anderson’s arrogant anti-Mormon remarks to The Guardian.”
 After the fiction about my views of living in Salt Lake City were generated by the DMN, it perpetuated that fiction by publishing letters to the editor that were based upon the erroneous reporting by Snyder. For instance, on October 5, 2005, Todd Gray’s letter was published, which said, in part: “This [Guardian] article does a wonderful job of describing Utah as a bastion of bigotry and ignorance, or, in Rocky’s words, the American home of the Taliban (read Mormons). . . . I just want to thank Rocky for all the hard work he is doing painting Utah as the armpit of America.” The truth is that I have never—ever—compared living in Utah with living under Taliban rule—and I have never compared the LDS Church to the Taliban. All of that was a creation of Snyder and the DMN.
 For instance, one e-mail addressed to me stated as follows: “Your comments regarding Utah and reference to the LDS Church are offensive to me and BIGOTED!!!” Another asked, “Does the Mayor hate the people of Utah that much?” Another said, “How dare you spread lies about my religion.” Yet another said, “If it is so horrible here, unlike those truly under the rule of the Talaban [sic] you can move.” Those are just a sampling of the e-mail correspondence generated by the deceptive, sensationalistic DMN article.
 That sort of misleading story apparently sells better than the truth, which would have read something like, “Mayor charges dinner, entertainment cover charges, other food and beverage to the city while providing hospitality to world-class musicians and visiting mayors.” Obviously, the truth would not have been salacious enough for the media to report.
 Snyder apparently sought to distance himself from the articles he had written, failing to note that the articles he was “analyzing” were his own.
 Had Brady and his editors read or recalled what had earlier appeared in the DMN, this deception could have been avoided. On July 3, 2005, an article appeared in the DMN, in which reference was made to the performances at the Grand America Hotel during the Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival and the “admission prices” (not private club membership fees) for those performances
For instance, on October 5, 2005, KSL television news, without doing any independent investigation or obtaining any confirmation, relied upon the false DMN reporting when it mischaracterized my Taliban remarks and when it reported $35,000 in tax money was used to fund my trip to Europe. The following appeared on KSL’s web site: “Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson clarified comments he made comparing life in Salt Lake City to life under the Taliban. . . . In another spending mishap, Mayor Anderson now says the 35-thousand dollars in tax money used to fund his trip to Europe will be paid back through private contributions.” As noted above, I never compared life in Salt Lake City to life under the Taliban and no tax money was ever used to fund my trip to Europe.
 One such e-mail read: “[Y]ou’re out prancing around the world spending tax dollars for your idiot bike charade. What a complete STUPID IDIOT! And you blame the Deseret News for uncovering that?”