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July 7th, 2011

Stenographers For Justice Not Politics

By Nathan Tucker

Apparently the news can’t wait when the “news” is a liberal hit piece.  At approximately 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon, the pro-retention group Justice Not Politics issued a press release attacking Ryan Koopmans, Governor Branstad’s appointee to the Judicial District 5C Nominating Commission.

In a haste no doubt spurred on by journalistic integrity rather than ideological camaraderie, the Des Moines Register ran with the story at 2:26 p.m. while fully acknowledging that “Koopmans wasn’t immediately available for comment today, and Branstad’s media representatives were all out of the office this afternoon.”

Perhaps the Register should have consulted the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics before simply echoing a partisan press release.  The first two rules require that “journalists should: (a) Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible; (b) Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.”

No doubt these rules would have been followed to the letter if the Register was reporting on a conservative press release, but their ideological blinders caused them to print a story that they later had to correct, albeit without telling the reader that they did so.

Justice Not Politics called “the appointment of Ryan Koopmans…an affront to our well respected judicial nominating process” because he “supports a federal system giving the Governor unfettered power to select judges and eliminates the same Judicial Nominating Commission on which Koopmans was appointed to serve.”

A good journalist would have followed this up by asking Justice Not Politics how one commissioner on a ten-member panel that has no other power than the nomination of judicial candidates could “tear[] down our system,” but such a simple and rudimentary question escaped the Register’s attention.

Ironically, Koopmans penned a guest op-ed in the Register last fall lamenting retention elections as “merely judicial elections by another name” and urging the federal appointment process as the method that “best balances the goals of impartiality and public accountability.”  That hardly sounds, as the press release alleges, like a desire to make “Iowa’s courts…a place to play politics.”  Either the Register deliberately omitted any reference to this op-ed in either of their articles, or they were too lazy to do a simple search of their own archives.

In the original article, the Register quoted from the press release that:  “The timing of the appointment is also problematic. Koopmans will not face Senate confirmation until the next legislative session because he was appointed on the last day of this year’s session. He can serve on the Commission until his confirmation next year.”

However, both the Iowa Constitution and the Iowa Code clearly provide that the governor appoints, without any senate confirmation whatsoever, individuals to serve on the district nominating commissions.  In contrast to the SPJ Code of Ethics, the Register never sought to “test the accuracy of information” contained in the press release before they regurgitated it.

Jimmy Centers, a Branstad aide, informed the Register of its error, but rather than inform its readers of what the law unambiguously states, the Register simply quotes Centers in its corrected article as claiming that “unlike statewide appointments, the District 5C post is not subject to confirmation by the Iowa Senate.”  And rather than point out the inaccuracy of the Justice Not Politics quote, the Register deliberately deleted it from its revised article.

Both the press release and the two Register articles note Governor Branstad’s appointment of “William Gustoff to the State Judicial Nominating Commission after he served as a lawyer for clients who sued the commission.”  Among the reasons cited by the Democratic-controlled senate for rejecting his nomination was the fact that Gustoff was an attorney taking a seat “reserved” to nonlawyers on the commission.

This was not, however, an objection raised by Justice Not Politics to Koopmans’ appointment, leading one to the inescapable conclusion that, in contrast to some in the Senate, they believe it is acceptable for a governor to appoint attorneys to the nominating commissions.

It would be nice if reporters would actually do their jobs rather than simply report what their friends on the Left claim and then protect them when their wrong.  Sadly, this is but yet another example of recent sloppy ”reporting” by the Register.

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About the Author

Nathan W. Tucker
Nathan W. Tucker is a Davenport attorney and author of We The People: The Only Cure to Judicial Activism. He can be contacted at nathanwt@juno.com.




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