I have written a number of times about the religious extremism of GOP candidate Scott Rigell (on right pictured with former Virginia Beach GOP party chair who resigned due to his distribution of racist e-mails) who is running for the Virginia 2nd Congressional seat. Rigell has a documented anti-gay history going back to a very nasty split in Galilee Episcopal Church where Rigell was one of the ringleaders who did not want gays to be able to hold positions in the church.
Back at the time the Virginian Pilot decided to report on the controversy, perhaps because Galilee was one of the "power churches" attended by many "movers and shakers" in Virginia Beach.
Now, it has come out that Rigell continues to have anti-gay ties. Indeed, he's been endorsed by (and gushed over the endorsement) Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, an anti-gay hate group registered by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Daily Press, which has a circulation area that encompasses a portion of the Virginia 2nd Congressional District, found the shocking fact of Rigell's ties to Rev. Sheldon news worthy and did an excellent story yesterday. This story was in turn picked up by local station WTKR-TV on its website.
This shocking fact about Rigell, however, is strangely not news worthy in the eyes of the Virginia Pilot. One can only wonder why.
Let's look at the surrounding circumstances and see what conclusions one might possibly reach. First, it is well documented in the media that there has been a wave of gay teen suicides, some directly linked to anti-gay bullying, some apparently triggered more by the general homophobia still far too prevalent in society. A recent survey reported by CNN documented that two out of three Americans believed that the anti-gay agenda of churches and supposedly Christian organizations was largely responsible for the atmosphere that makes some gays view suicide as their best option. Sheldon's TVC is a leader in fostering an extremely anti-gay atmosphere and disseminates unbelievably vile (and untrue) anti-gay propaganda. Given recent events and TVC's status as an anti-gay hate group, it would seem to inquiring people that the Rigell-Sheldon tie is news worthy. But not so with the Virginian Pilot.
Then we have the ongoing media coverage of the issue of DADT and its possible repeal. Both Rigell and Sheldon Rigell-Sheldon tie would seem news worthy in this areana. Indeed, UK Gay News, an LGBT news site based on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean viewed Rigell's endorsement by Sheldon to be newsworthy:
Bilerico Project - USA: VA GOP's Scott Rigell Lists Hate Group Leader as Endorser. Commentary by Michael Hamar. Imagine my surprise at finding Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition proudly listed as an endorser of Scott Rigell, the GOP candidate for Virginia's 2nd Congressional District. After all, the Southern Poverty Law Center has registered TVC as an anti-gay hate group. One would think that even a far right Christianist like Rigell might want to avoid appearing to be a fanatic. This is an expanded version of Michael Hamar's original post on his blog Michael in Norfolk.
Yet in its own back yard, the Virginian Pilot remains silent on the story even as a growing number of websites across Virginia - including the Washington Post's blog page - report the story. What's going on? That's what I asked the Virginian Pilot yesterday. The response I received from Meredith Kruse, state director, was, in my opinion, more than a little disingenuous:
The publisher and editor of The Pilot have issued a clear directive to staff members who cover political campaigns, including the 2nd District race: be accurate, hold candidates accountable, and give readers the information they need to make an informed choice at the polls. Advertising does not and must not affect our news coverage, because our credibility as a news organization is paramount. We stand by the decisions we've made about which issues to cover in the final days of the campaign, mindful that readers expect our news judgment to be consistent and fair
Yes, the response was a bit testy. Because the Virginian Pilot has, in my opinion, two huge possible conflicts of interest going on in terms of Rigell and the duty of telling the public the whole story on Rigell and his ties to Rev. Sheldon.
First conflict of interest: The Virginian Pilot endorsed Rigell based on his claimed "business experience" with I suspect no homework on his extremism on social issues. From experience over nearly three decades in the area, the Virginian Pilot never admits that it's wrong and a story on the Rigell-Sheldon connection obviously says something about the flawed process behind the endorsement of Rigell. In sharp contrast, the Daily Press, which also endorsed Rigell, unlike the Virginian Pilot opted to served the public's need to know and did yesterday's excellent story. But there's a one big difference between the Virginian Pilot and the Daily Press, which brings us to the Virginian Pilot's second apparent conflict of interest.
Second conflict of interest: Scott Rigell's Freedom Automotive has three large dealerships, all located in the circulation area of the Virginian Pilot. And like most auto dealerships, Freedom Automotive buys significant amounts of advertising from the Virginia Pilot. The amount of such revenues isn't made available, but calculating rough figures based on standard charges, it is not a small number.
So has the Virginian Pilot been bought by Scott Rigell? Sadly, we will never know for certain, but in my opinion, by connecting the dots if you will, it is not unreasonable to conclude that such is the case. Obviously, the Pilot could prove my gut feeling wrong by running a story. But, I'm not going to be holding my breath.