EDITORIAL: Depriving viewers of important info

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 30, 2024

Stations did not adequately detail interview subject’s background

Too often, when one complains about “the media,” the person airing such a grievance uses it as a blanket term, making no distinction between local or national reporters, broadcast or print outlets, hard news vs. opinion or so forth.

While it is true that media across all spectrums have some commonality in their job duties and, often, share resources in their efforts to get a story, to think all in the industry are simply one big mass with a shared agenda is simply not reality.

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As such, issues with reporting by an outlet can cause concern for others in the industry who see an inadequate job being done in bringing facts to the public. As such, reporters and editors are often critical of each other’s work.

And that is the case with issues we saw from two of the television stations in our area this week.

WCHS/WVAH, based in Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia, share staff and news content, are operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group and comprise half of the Tri-State’s broadcast television outlets.

On March 21, the stations aired a report on opposition to a rainbow pride crosswalk project, funded by private donations and approved by the City of Huntington for downtown.

The opposition, in this case, is being led by a name known to many, both locally and nationally.

Derrick Evans is a convicted felon, who served prison time after pleading guilty to a charge of disorder stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol, where Evans had livestreamed himself on Facebook crossing a downed fence and entering the Capitol with a crowd.

Long known in the area as something of an online provocateur, Evans had a history of using his Facebook page to live stream videos of himself heckling and filming legislators and confronting patients and staff at West Virginia women’s clinic (for which one was granted a restraining order).

In 2020, he was able to ride his local infamy to election in the state House of Delegates, though, once his role in Jan. 6 became clear and he was widely condemned by state leaders, he resigned from office three days later, before the legislative season began.

Since his release from prison, Evans has backtracked on his statement of remorse to the judge and has basically celebrated his Jan. 6 actions, engaged in conspiracy peddling and heated rhetoric online and launched a primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-West Virginia.

In the WCHS/WVAH report, Evans was featured heavily, as he has circulated a petition in opposition to the crosswalk project.

While the report made mention of his Jan. 6 history, it deprived viewers of some much-needed background on just how fringe this supposedly  concerned citizen has become publicly.

Just last month, Evans appeared for an interview on the online Stew Peters Show.

Peters, a white nationalist and conspiracy theorist, has been widely condemned by groups such as the Anti-Defamation League for engaging in Holocaust denial and pushing pro-Nazi messages.

When interviewing Evans, one of the disgraced ex-delegates favorite subjects came up – finding anyone else to blame for his own actions on Jan. 6, 2021.

In his interview with Evans, Peters baselessly blamed the riot on “Israeli Mossad” agents and “ostensibly Jewish” “Ukranian spies,” who he said had infiltrated the crowd of Donald Trump’s supporters. (How such a scenario would excuse Evans for a crime he pleaded guilty to is unclear.)

Peters then asked Evans, “So is it kind of over the line for me to draw the conclusion that Israel had a whole lot to do with Jan. 6?” to which Evans replied, “No, it’s not.”

Peter then asked Evans, “Are you saying that Jews stole the election?” Evans took no issue with that question, either, replying, “I think that that’s a good question to ask right now.”

So cut back to the WCHS/WVAH report on the sidewalk debate.

Such a public debate is absolutely an acceptable one for media to cover. And there is no harm in interviewing those who speak on all sides regarding it.

But, when one of those interviewed, in this case the leader of the petition movement, has aligned himself with anti-semites and extremists like Peters, it seems like relevant background to include.

One could make the argument that, as a congressional candidate, Evans is a newsmaker who should be interviewed.

This, again, could be a legitimate argument, if context were given.

His views have become so egregious, there is no reason to give him a broadcast platform without informing the public of just who he is.

Take for instance the case of David Duke, the white supremacist and Ku Klux Klan leader, who has launched numerous runs for office.

Media have covered Duke’s runs and have interviewed him, but not without noting his hateful history of antisemitism and racial extremism.

Evans, through his embracing Peters and offering agreement to his message, is no different than Duke at this point. He has taken on a new level of ugliness.

Would WCHS/WVAH feature Duke at length in a segment without providing background to viewers? And, if the answer is “no,” then why were viewers not informed of Evans’ recent history?

Sadly, it appears that many voters in West Virginia aren’t getting that full picture.

Mentions of Evans’ interview with Peters turn up in no outlets in the state. Instead, it fell to Washington, D.C.-based organization Media Matters for America to record and quote the exchange, which has been virtually ignored locally.

It appears that West Virginia media have dropped the ball on this subject and WCHS/WVAH are but the latest example.

Whether it was through incomplete research or intentional omission, the fact that WCHS/WVAH did not include this background on their interview subject was a disservice to their viewers, who comprise a large portion of the congressional district’s constituents.

They can and should do better and we hope they consider further and more thorough examination of this topic.