Record’s story was proper journalism
On Sunday, Oct. 7, the Lompoc Record published an article about a candidate for city council who paid his property taxes about a year late. (“Council candidate late on property taxes”)
Readers who posted on the paper’s Web site blasted the Record for publishing the article, not because it was inaccurate or false, but because it was reported at all.
We’ve forgotten the role — the constitutionally protected role — of a free press in our society. Too many people seem comfortable with the notion that facts should be withheld for candidates they support, and rumors and wild, unverified speculation should be reported for candidates they oppose.
The Record didn’t expose the late property taxes. They were revealed and published by the County Treasurer/Tax Collector’s Office more than a month ago. The candidate, Nick Gonzales, wasn’t singled out for investigation into his personal finances. This was not, as misinformed readers suggested, “a witch hunt.” Gonzales wasn’t “vetted” any differently than any other candidates, despite the misguided comment from one reader.
The article was an accurate report of factual information revealed by a government agency on all residents who were delinquent in property taxes. Delinquent taxes would have been reported for all candidates, had there been more.
Readers are free to assess the information however they choose — and determine whether it is relevant to their own vote or not relevant. But to suggest the Record should withhold the information because Gonzales is a homegrown Lompoc candidate — as one poster wrote — is pure nonsense.
Journalists and newspapers don’t decide whether news should be reported for one candidate and not for another. They decide if the information released is factual and if the public has a right to the information. In this case, the public does have a right to know about the delinquent taxes of any candidate running for city council — an elected position that has control over millions of dollars of public funds. That’s what makes the fact of the tax delinquency germane to the public’s right to know.
Running for elective office does open a candidate’s record to public scrutiny. It goes with the territory. It most likely prevents some people from running for elective office at all. But it would be irresponsible journalism not to report a public notice of tax delinquency for any candidate for city council.
And what the posters failed to recognize, or at least note, was the fact that the Record’s story reported new information — that the taxes had now been paid and were no longer delinquent. That’s reportable news, and updates the status of the notice of delinquent taxes published by the county.
Even more importantly, Gonzales was given the opportunity to explain what led to the delinquency. He took the opportunity, and it was reported fully by the Record. It’s up to the reader to assess the complete story.
The Record fulfilled its journalistic responsibility. It didn’t offer an opinion, nor tell readers what or how to think about the reported news. That’s precisely how a free press should operate.