About two weeks ago, I received a call from Senator Kel Seliger's campaign. The call sparked off a series of events that leads to today's piece.
The call was from Craig Murphy, a consultant working for the Seliger campaign. Murphy was angry about a piece that was published in the Pioneer detailing a contribution by Senator Seliger to a Friends of Planned Parenthood event and the reponse of Amarillo Matters and Steve Pair, the group's executive director, to such an article. At the time of the call, Murphy called to clarify the article and when offered a chance to provide a quote from Senator Seliger, the consultant declined.
The following Monday, the Amarillo Pioneer broke a story regarding Senator Seliger's "liking" of tweet saying that President Donald Trump had a "dangerous unfitness" to hold office. When asked to quote, Murphy called the story nonsense and said that Senator Seliger supports President Trump.
Following his quote, Murphy asked yours truly a question.
"What do you intend to do with this," Murphy asked. "Do you plan to publish this?"
After telling Mr. Murphy that this story would indeed make publication, he proceeded to tell me that the Pioneer is an unfactual news source that is set up to promote Victor Leal's bid for senator.
With all due respect, Mr. Murphy, don't tell me how to do my job.
I understand that Mr. Murphy is used to getting his way. As president of Murphy Nasica, Murphy has assisted on many campaigns (including those of Congressman Mac Thornberry and Amarillo Matters) and is used to getting his way with friendly reporters and press. That's not the way it works at the Amarillo Pioneer.
Murphy has been the blocker for several state campaigns and has often been offered a free pass on tough issues. For example, in 2016, the Texas Tribune quoted Murphy as a consultant working for the campaign of Scott Fisher, a candidate running for state representative against incumbent Rep. Jonathan Stickland. Murphy attempted to heat several issues on Stickland's character including a quote that Stickland, at the time 32, made about marijuana when he was 17.
"Votes that didn’t make sense make more sense when you hear what he says online," Murphy said.
Two years later, Murphy is dismissing the story regarding Seliger's Planned Parenthood donation as being "17 years old."
When we launched the Amarillo Pioneer, we did not intend to sit on the sidelines and act as another cheerleader for local politicians. Instead, we intended to hold people accountable and demand the answers that our readers deserve. Our stories may make our readers uncomfortable and they may not always be the most popular. However, we always publish what our readers deserve.
In the landmark Supreme Court case New York Times v. United States, Justice Hugo Black summed up the Founding Fathers' approach to the free press in writing the First Amendment.
"In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy," Justice Black wrote. "The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people."
My job as the editor of the Amarillo Pioneer is not to bow down to pressure of those who govern. Although Mr. Seliger and his campaign likely would have preferred that his Planned Parenthood donation and Twitter habits would have stayed secret, that is not what our readers deserve.
I have a duty to our readers and I intend to fulfill that duty. I will never bow down to the pressures of politicians, government or any other person or group to censor the truth. The truth may not always be pleasant but it is what matters the most.
So, on March 6th, I do not intend to influence your vote for state senator. I do not care whether you vote for Victor Leal, Mike Canon or Kel Seliger. However, what I do care about is that you vote informed because informed voters are always the most empowered voters.
-Thomas Warren III, Editor-In-Chief