UPDATE: Paul Gibson sent in a completed survey at 8:34 pm tonight (later the same day) and included an apology for having inaccurate information. A politician who can apologize or admit they made a mistake is rare in my experience, and I commend him for it. The original post is below.
Calling candidates to complete our voter guide is one of the less exciting parts of my job, but it's important nonetheless to provide readers with some basic information about the names that will appear on their ballots in the upcoming general election Nov. 6. Candidates usually greet our requests for a head shot and a completed survey with similar enthusiasm, but Guilford County Commissioner Paul Gibson was the exception.
I've interviewed Gibson before, and my editor Jordan Green told me we've endorsed him in the past. When I called Gibson last week, he was angry to say the least, accusing our publisher Charles Womack of donating to his opponent and saying the donation jeopardized the journalistic integrity of our paper. I couldn't get a word in edgewise and was baffled by the entire conversation.
It turns out that my publisher did not donate to Gibson's opponent in District 5, and didn't seem to know who Jeff Phillips was. When I called Gibson back today to tell him this, he insisted that someone from YES! Weekly did, and that he was almost certain it was Womack. So even though Jordan had already looked at the campaign finance reports I checked again, even going over reports from Don Wendelken, who Phillips beat in the Republican primary. No donation to either candidate from anyone affiliated with YES! Weekly was listed.
So I called Gibson again. He was just as short as in our previous conversations, insisting Charles donated to someone and that it was on par with the head of CBS donating $100,000 to a Republican PAC. The assertion of a right wing bias at YES! Weekly is probably just as funny to anyone who knows our paper as it is to our editorial staff (all of whom, by the way, are registered independent, including myself) because we are routinely accused by conservative candidates of being too left wing.
It turns out Charles donated to Tony Wilkins, a Republican who ran for County Commissioners in a different district than Gibson. Charles said Wilkins is an old friend, and I'll also note that he was probably the most centrist or left-leaning (Wilkins might reject that characterization) Republican in the primary race. Linda Kellerman, who won the Democratic primary for the same race, had announced that she was dropping out of the race.
The most confusing part of the entire interaction is that I was calling Gibson for a candidate survey, not an article. The most controversial question on the survey is probably the fact that we ask candidates their age — there is no space for positions, it is just background information on the candidates. Every candidate answers the same questions, and we print exactly what they give us. Bias is an impossibility unless we only included some candidates (and of course we include everything we get back).
Our publisher doesn't have anything to do with our elections coverage — and invite you to prove me wrong. I challenged Gibson to point to an example of biased elections reporting in our paper, and I extend the invitation to the public. We report the facts and usually represent candidates in their own words. Our goal is to give voters accurate information about candidates so they can decide, and while we occasionally weigh in on who we think deserves our vote, we keep the endorsements and opinions separate from the news content.
There is still time for Gibson to change his mind. I emailed him the survey anyway, pointing out that it was voters (and not us) who were hurt by the lack of information.