WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A follow-up to a story we told you earlier this month about candidates in Columbus and Bladen Counties hiring people to get out the vote during elections. District Attorney candidate Jon David went on the record with us saying it’s a bad idea. The Whiteville News Reporter took our story and expanded on it, but reported that David also tried to hire some help. While tracking down more information, we found that the reporter who covered the story for the paper made a campaign contribution to David’s opponent.
The Whiteville News Reporter’s Bob High wrote this article last week, which painted David in a rather unflattering light. David has been critical of the get-out-the-vote practice in which candidates, including his opponent Butch Pope, have spent thousands of dollars paying people to round up votes. But the article implies David tried to recruit McRae Dowless, a convicted felon who’d already been hired by Pope, to help with his campaign.
“There’s apparently an allegation that I met Mr. Dowless at a public event where there were hundreds of people present,” David said. “It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to walk up and speak to people, ask for their support and ask for their family’s support, but the suggestion that I tried to hire him or anybody else for get out the vote is simply wrong, and I deny that.”
Despite the fact that David told High the allegations were untrue and Dowless’s criminal record casts doubt on his credibility, High reported Dowless’s allegations as if they were fact. He cited corroboration from an unnamed third source.
We then found out that High has contributed money to Pope’s campaign. It’s a practice that’s strictly banned by many media outlets. We contacted a journalism ethics professor at UNC Chapel Hill to help explain why.
“The conflict of interest may arise if someone is contributing to a particular campaign or a cause, but the perception may be, whether it’s true or not, the perception may be that this individual is in someway biased and not able to be objective in their reporting,” Dr. Lois Boynton said.
Boynton said the closer a journalist is to the front lines, the more important it is for them to remain impartial.
We spoke with High this afternoon, and he told us his wife made the contribution from their joint account. The campaign report makes no mention of his wife, and we’re told this is not the first candidate High has contributed to.
The owner of the News Reporter, James High, who is no relation to Bob, also has contributed more than $500 to Pope’s campaign so far during this election.