Councilman condemns Messenger: inaccurate, unethical, vitriolic
‘I hope you get the message’
James Tilson and John Hales
EPHRAIM — Ephraim City Councilman John Scott used the occasion of new police officer oaths of office to launch a scathing critique of the Sanpete Messenger’s coverage of the investigation into Ephraim Police Chief Ron Rasmussen.
The councilman blasted the Messenger for what he called inaccurate, unethical and vitriolic reporting.
“Much of it untrue, much of it slanted, and much of it with sophistry and half-truths,” Scott said. “There was never a cover-up. Members of this council would not have permitted that. And although that was claimed as happening, it is absolutely false.”
The Messenger never claimed there had been a cover up, but did report an assertion by one individual who on at least two occasions alleged publicly that Rasmussen had swept an incident of child sexual abuse under the rug.
Scott failed to provide specific instances of any inaccurate or unethical reporting, but suggested that the Messenger’s use of anonymous sources violated journalism ethics.
“Much has been made of ‘unidentified sources,’ Scott said. “And after spending three and a half hours with previous officers, I could identify the unidentified source as mostly those three officers. I went to one of the great schools of journalism, the Edward R. Murrow school of Journalism at Washington State University. What the Messenger did was unethical and inappropriate, and I hope you receive that message.”
The Society of Professional Journalists publishes a Code of Ethics (www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp), and, regarding anonymity, the ethical code states that journalists should identify sources clearly whenever possible, but anonymity is acceptable in certain instances.
“Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity,” the SPJ code states. “Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.”
Scott began his tirade on the heels of praising three new police-department hires who were sworn into their positions at a regular meeting of the city council on Aug. 2. He assured the new officers they could count on the city’s support.
“I want you to know we support our police officers as a city council,” he told them.
He added that he hoped Ephraim would be able to move past the recent investigation of Police Chief Ron Rassmussen.
“But now we have three new officers that can help us move forward. And we’re thrilled with the caliber and the quality that we’ve hired. … The public trust and the public fidelity with the hiring of these three officers has been restored, in a great way. I look forward to us moving forward.”
Scott praised how Utah County’s internal investigation into the matter was handled by city staff, and criticized the press’ portrayal of that investigation.
“I want to commend the mayor and [City Manager Brant Hanson] for the mature way in which they handled the whole situation, and the mature way that Ron Rasmussen handled the situation and the vitriol that was said about him in the press.”
Councilman Scott has never contacted the Messenger regarding its handling of Rasmussen-case reporting.
The only communication the Messenger had received about inaccuracies was one phone call from Hanson, in which he clarified that it was during the course of the investigation, rather than at the outset as the Messenger had erroneously reported, that Hanson had brought up concerns he had about possible misuse of the state’s Bureau of Criminal Identification by former Officer Darren Pead.
Utah County’s investigation cleared Pead of the charge, just as it found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of Chief Rasmusssen, which the Messenger also reported.