Yesterday at about four in the afternoon the El Paso Times published an article titled; “El Paso lawyer in DA primary wants inquiry into allegations against Jaime Esparza”. Within half an hour the article by Times’ reporter Diana Washington Valdez had been pulled from the Internet. This action by the El Paso Times raises many questions regarding El Paso Corruption, journalistic integrity, manipulation of the electorate and possible criminal wrongdoing.
The published article, that was later removed, states that District Attorney candidate James D. Lucas “asked the FBI and two state agencies to investigate his allegations against District Attorney Jaime Esparza which he had posted on a website this week”. The article that was removed by the Times, quotes Lucas as stating that the reason he asked for the investigation “is that I wanted people to know about the expenditures in the district attorney’s office”. Lucas added, according to the retracted article that; “(t)he expenditures are all a form of taxpayer money”.
The removed article adds that Lucas had sent letters asking for an investigation of Jaime Esparza to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Texas Attorney General Office and the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The article quotes FBI Special Agent Martha Terrazas, a spokeswoman for the FBI office in El Paso as stating that “agents are looking at the website”, adding that they have nothing further to say”.
The article further adds that the State Attorney General’s Office has the letter from Lucas and the “matter is under review”. According to the now removed article, no one from the comptroller’s office was available to comment.
The article, before it was removed by the El Paso Times quotes Jaime Esparza as stating that he saw the website on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 and denies the allegations. Esparza is quoted by the article as stating that the allegations levied against him by Lucas are “not true” and that they are “political” in nature.
The now removed article seems to comply with the basics of journalism integrity as it presented both sides of the issue, the topic is relevant as it involves a political race about to be decided in the next few weeks, it quotes sources that have confirmed the accuracy of an initial probe of the allegations against a sitting district attorney by at least two investigative agencies, the FBI and the State Attorney General and most important it involves allegations of public corruption in a city involved in a far-reaching corruption investigation.
All elements of a public need to know are present in the article that is written by a well-respected journalist and it is current and relevant information important to the community. Who benefits from the censoring of the article and more importantly who caused the Times to censor its own article?
The El Paso Times is a private corporation that, in my opinion, has the right to choose what they report and how they do that. The problem is that the action of self-censoring raises questions about whether the El Paso Times is an unbiased reporter of information for the citizens of El Paso or is it an editorial vehicle for vested interests in the community. Not only does the censoring of the article raise the question of whether the El Paso Times has the integrity to be the newspaper of record for the city but also whether the censoring of the article is, in itself, a corporate donation to a political activity, a violation of Texas law?
On August 13, 2011, the El Paso Times reported that District Attorney Jaime Esparza disclosed that he had launched an investigation into allegations that Pastor Tom Brown may have violated a Texas State law during the attempted recall of Mayor Cook. The Texas Election Code referenced in the allegation states that corporations are prohibited from making a political contribution or political expenditure in connection with an election. The El Paso Times is a corporation.
The article, which has now been removed by the El Paso Times, involves two candidates involved in a political race about to be decided by voters of the community. It appears that someone within the El Paso Times, a corporation, decided to censor an article that would have an impact on the upcoming election results. The article itself meets all the requirements of fairness in that it reports information relevant to the community, it expresses facts about the status of an investigation and it gives both sides an opportunity to state their relevant positions, yet it was removed, for no apparent reason other than because it seemed to hurt one candidate directly.
As a corporation, has the El Paso Times not influenced the outcome of an election by first choosing to publish an article and then remove it? Would this action not be a violation of the Texas Election code relevant to corporations contributing to political causes in Texas?
Who is tasked with investigating a violation of the Texas law in question? Who makes the determination of whether an action warrants an investigation for this law?
Jaime Esparza makes the determination on whether an investigation is launched against a corporation for violations of the Texas election laws. Notwithstanding the recent Supreme Court ruling in regards to corporate political participation the Texas law has recently been employed to launch an investigation on at least one occasion. It stands to reason that Jaime Esparza was most likely to be hurt by the publication of the article that has now been removed.
Is there likely to be an investigation launched against the El Paso Times for a possible violation of the law? Probably not, as the likely investigator would be the very same person that may have benefited by the activity that allegedly would be a violation of the law in the first place.
Regardless of whether an investigation is ever launched what is more important to El Paso is whether the El Paso Times can be trusted to inform the community ethically and without outside undue influence.
How many articles has the El Paso Times chosen to censor? What reasons are used to make the determination of whether the community should be informed about current and relevant information? Who makes that determination? Who instigated the removal of the article? Does this mean that the El Paso Times allows itself to be influenced by outside forces as to what issues it covers or not?
Is this the type of news coverage the citizens of El Paso deserve? Can you trust the El Paso Times to report unbiased news free of outside influences important to the community, especially in light of the multiple corruption probes going on in the city today? Likely not as the El Paso Times self-censors articles whenever it likes.