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Rolly: Columnist in blunder-land? Deseret News goes down rabbit hole

Published February 6, 2017 10:59 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

At the risk of fueling a minor newspaper skirmish in the cultural serenity of the Salt Lake Valley, a Deseret News columnist hit the Kool-Aid so hard last week that it warrants an intervention.

The paper's longtime columnist and editorial writer Jay Evensen took umbrage at The Salt Lake Tribune's recent editorial calling on Sen. Orrin Hatch to retire at the end of his term because 42 years in the Senate is long enough for anybody.

Evensen, in his column first published online Friday, was aghast that the editorial didn't include a disclaimer that The Tribune's owner, Paul Huntsman, is the brother of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, whose name has been mentioned as possibly running for Hatch's seat in 2018.

But the editorial wasn't about anyone else running when Hatch's seat is up for re-election, including the half-dozen or so other names that have surfaced on the Republican side alone.

And every story The Tribune has run that has anything to do with the Huntsman family has included that disclaimer. The editorial simply was about Hatch's long, distinguished tenure and when it is time to call it quits.

Evensen, in his frenzy to criticize a rival editorial board, morphed into Alice's Wonderland when he cited a Dan Jones poll pitting Hatch against Huntsman that The Tribune published last month, and he got the poll numbers wrong.

When Evensen wrote that the poll showed Hatch leading Huntsman 62 percent to 41 percent, his looking glass must have been a two-way mirror. Not only did the poll, commissioned by The Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics, show Huntsman leading Hatch 62 percent to 21 percent, but Evensen's version of the survey also adds up to 103 percent.

Evensen's version of the poll results remained on the paper's website for several hours Friday until Deseret News management and an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Deseret News' owner, were alerted to Evensen's Mad Hatterism.

The erroneous figures finally were corrected late into the evening, and even the Mormon general authority took the time to call a senior member in Tribune management when it was nearing midnight to apologize for the mistake and assuage the damage.

The Deseret News was able to fix the text before the paper went to press, so the correct poll numbers appeared in Saturday's print edition. But several people saved the original online column, preserving the goofiness.

The correcting action by the Deseret News brass and perhaps the Mormon apostle saved Evensen embarrassment by fixing the error before the final print deadline.

I'm not sure what triggered Evensen's obsession with a Tribune editorial that was consistent with past editorial conclusions that seven terms in the Senate is enough. He even noted that in his column. But there seemed to be an odd collusion between Hatch and the Deseret News last May, when that paper ran on its web edition an op-ed piece by the senator saying he had met with Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, and that the meeting had not dissuaded Hatch from his position along with other GOP senators that Garland would not get a hearing on his nomination.

The op-ed ran before Hatch had met with Garland, meaning he and the Deseret News' op-ed staff knew the statement in the op-ed was, shall we say, an "alternative fact."

After the paper realized it ran the op-ed prematurely, it removed it from the website and reran the piece the next day after Hatch actually had his meeting with Garland.

Paul Edwards, then the editor of the Deseret News, threw himself on the sword for Hatch, asserting the piece was a draft that was "awaiting edits from the senator following his meeting with Judge Garland" and was published inadvertently. "We apologize to Senator Hatch and our readers for this unfortunate error," he said.







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