Friday, November 18, 2005


David Awbrey: Troubled Ethics?

Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins has hired David Awbrey as the new spokesman of the state's education department. Awbrey is a former editorial page editor for The Wichita Eagle, The South Illinoisian in Carbondale, Ill., and The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. He was also a columnist for The Topeka Capital-Journal.

Here's a little tidbit, titled "Ticketgate" from Peter Freyne of Inside Track, an irreverant read on Vermont politics, published weekly in the Seven Days Vermont's alternative newsweekly:

Looks like a few Montpeculiar pols have been scrambling for their checkbooks since the news hit last week about the complimentary b-ball tickets for Vermont VIPs.

But one VIP, David Awbrey, stood apart. That’s because Dave is not a politician. He’s the editorial page editor of The Burlington Free Press.

In the Freeps’ story, Awbrey said he had been “naive” in accepting the two center-court ducats.

As we pointed out here last week, most newspapers have ethical guidelines that prohibit journalists from accepting free gifts from people and institutions they cover.

We asked Freeps Executive Editor Mike Townsend this week if accepting free tickets is also prohibited by Gannett’s Code of Ethics. (A copy is posted on the Freeps’ website.)

“Let me put it this way,” replied Mr. Townsend, “I wouldn’t have done it.”

Pressed on whether the Gannett ethics code specifically bans gifts like Awbrey’s tickets, Townsend described the ethics code as a list of “guidelines.” He pointed to one guideline under the heading “Maintaining Independence” that states reporters should keep an “arms-length relationship” with the people and institutions they write about.

“Clearly, as a general rule,” said Townsend. “You’re not supposed to accept gifts.”

Asked if any disciplinary action will be taken against the editorial page editor, Townsend said such internal matters are generally not made public.

“It’s between me and him,” said the executive editor.

Funny, but Mr. Awbrey sees things differently.

“It’s not in the Gannett ethics code,” Awbrey insisted in a Seven Days interview. “There’s nothing on this,” he said, referring to his two tickets to the big game.

Technically, Awbrey’s right. Unlike other ethics codes, Gannett’s doesn’t specifically say “don’t accept gifts from the folks you cover.”

In fact, Gannett’s code of ethics reads like a Boy Scout handbook. It’s very broad-brush and overloaded with platitudes like, “We will obey the law” and “We will always try to do the right thing.”

Right for whom?

Awbrey, 55, a career journalist, recounted his earlier days back in 1977 as an AP reporter covering the Pennsylvania legislature. He vividly remembered the December day he strolled into the state capital press room and witnessed reporters carrying out cases of liquor. The tradition in Pennsylvania, he said, was to distribute the year’s haul of seized booze to Statehouse pols and press just before Christmas


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