Readers' Representative Journal

A conversation on newsroom ethics and standards

« Previous Post | Readers' Representative Journal Home | Next Post »

A Republican hidden in plain sight

March 7, 2008 | 11:51 am

Quite often this office hears readers say The Times' news coverage shows bias. Usually "liberal" precedes the word "bias"; sometimes readers see a conservative slant.

The most helpful comments are those that give specifics on what led to that reaction. A few readers on Wednesday pointed to one reference to show where they thought a news article showed opinion.

The story was about a man who'd been living on the lam since 1972, and started this way:

"Jason Vonstraussenburg worked at UC Santa Barbara for 14  years, a skilled technician who could whip together repairs on complicated pieces of lab equipment when scientists needed them in a hurry.
   At 61, he was a genial colleague, a homeowner, an avid metal sculptor, a father, a husband and a registered Republican.
   He was everything, police said, except Jason Vonstraussenburg."

Chris Johnson of San Francisco sent reporter Steve Chawkins an e-mail: "I can think of no possible reason why you would include in your article the fact that Jason Vonstraussenburg was a registered Republican.  Can you honestly say that if he was a registered Democrat, you would have included that fact in your article?"

Here's how Chawkins responded: "I included the detail of his voter registration as another reflection of how grounded Crona had become in the community. Had he been a Democrat, I would have noted it the same way.  One would think a fugitive would avoid the public record when he could, and voter registration is one of the easiest records to check. I could have called him, simply, a registered voter.  But that would have raised the obvious question and, for some, even triggered thoughts that I had buried his affiliation out of loyalty to the GOP."

Johnson got back to The Times to say in response to the inclusion of party: "I still don't understand why he just didn't refer to Vonstraussenberg as a registered voter. If party affiliation is not mentioned in the article, no one can claim Chawkins is being loyal or disloyal to any party."