Read the P.E. and Die
No one can accuse the Riverside Press-Enterprise of being of short on self-reflection–at least not anymore. Though the paper has shown a distinct lack of courage in the past about running inherently negative stories on itself (see our April 19 story about the P.E. failing to disclose all those employee lawsuits against it), it stepped right up Saturday and reported that one of its own had been accused of threatening Riverside Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco.
That’s a good thing (the stepping-up part–not the threatening) for fans of journalism ethics. A newspaper is only as good as its willingness to tell the truth, warts and all. By telling readers that one of its advertising employees had been arrested, the P.E. suggested it no longer considers itself above the same standards to which it holds everyone else.
Which isn’t to say that the P.E.’s moment of journalistic integrity was anything but embarrassingly mealy-mouthed. Reporters Sonja Bjelland and Doug Quan bent over so far backward to cast their accused coworker, Chandler William Cardwell, in a sympathetic light that you can almost hear their spines crack. Police say Cardwell, 32, tried to help Riverside’s East Side Riva street gang by placing an ad in the P.E. listing Pacheco’s cell phone number and home address. The ad included such phrases as "Rod Pacheco Memorial Fund" and "Big Blowout going out of business sale." Just a day before the ad ran, Pacheco’s office had announced–in a full-page ad in the P.E.–a new effort to crack down on East Side Riva. According to authorities, Cardwell is connected to the gang by blood: His brother-in-law, they say, is a member. Now, this is pretty nefarious stuff, and not just because someone is accused of using the local paper to threaten the life of the local top prosecutor. East Side Riva is one hell of a scary street gang, responsible–authorities say–for more than 800 crimes in the past six years alone.
And so we ask you: How many other P.E. articles have you read in which someone accused of serious crimes on behalf of a violent street gang is described by reporters as being active in a Christian church and of having recently taken his family to a Christian revival event, followed by a vacation to a Christian summer camp? What does Cardwell’s religion have to do with anything?
We’ll answer that last question for you: About as much as the claims of Cardwell’s reputation as a family man–nothing. Nonetheless, the P.E. article gushed on and on (and on) about Cardwell being a great guy to have living next door. Cardwell’s defense attorney might easily have written one of those paragraphs: "Described as a doting father, a good husband and a good tenant, Cardwell is conscientious about paying his rent on time and making sure the residence is always clean and tidy, (property manager) Leah Popp said."
The fact that the doting father and husband was mysteriously shot in the leg last year is mentioned, but not examined. Perhaps he tripped on a gun while walking his kid to Bible Study. The article also includes a quote attributed to P.E. CEO and Publisher Ron Redfern, who described as "unfortunate" the fact that "one of our employees may be involved in this case, which has caused the district attorney and his family so much discomfort."
Spot on, Ron. Death threats written by one of your employees and published in your paper would tend to cause "discomfort."
Way to show "sensitivity."