Lingle blew it on Japan trip
By David Shapiro
Gov. Linda Lingle is blaming everyone from the news media to the Legislature for the controversy over proposed use of public funds to pay a KITV news crew to cover her recent trip to promote Hawai'i tourism in Japan.
But Lingle and her staff only dig themselves in deeper by doggedly defending an indefensible position, evading legitimate questions of propriety over the cozy arrangement with KITV and artlessly shifting the blame.
The governor could end the dispute easily enough by forthrightly admitting she made a bush-league mistake, accepting responsibility and moving on.
The purpose of the trip was to promote Hawai'i in Japan, not to promote the governor in Hawai'i.
Spending tourism marketing money for a TV crew to tag along was bound to draw criticism especially after no local news organizations found the trip sufficiently newsworthy to justify the expense.
From KITV's standpoint, its decision to accept public funds to cover Lingle's trip violated every accepted standard of journalism ethics.
If you think a story is worth covering, you pay your own way. You just don't compromise your independence and credibility by soliciting big self-serving favors from those you cover.
To try to pass off such freeloading as "aggressive reporting" is especially preposterous.
KITV general manager Mike Rosenberg, while not exactly admitting error, moved to end the station's part of the controversy by paying the $4,100 it cost the state for the travel expenses of his reporter and camera operator.
But the Lingle administration has circled the wagons around its suspect position.
First, Lingle and her staff said it was not they who agreed to pay KITV's expenses, but the state-funded Hawai'i Visitors & Convention Bureau, sponsor of the trip.
Never mind that KITV approached the governor's office, not HVCB. Never mind that HVCB officials indicated to legislators that they felt clear pressure from Lingle's office to include KITV on the junket.
Lingle next offered the absurd argument that any ethical problems in the arrangement were KITV's, not hers. It's never right for government to encourage and exploit the unethical behavior of others. Lingle and her public relations team should have seen the perils inherent in the deal and steered clear.
Finally, the governor decided that the best defense is a good offense and tried to turn the tables by accusing the news media of not spending enough of the advertising revenue we earn to properly cover state government. She said every Hawai'i news organization should have spent the money to cover her Japan trip.
This is a fair subject for discussion at another time, but in this case it's a dilatory tactic to obscure poor judgment.
Better news coverage doesn't mean tagging along on faraway ceremonial visits and photo opportunities. It means digging deeper into how well Lingle is doing at home to fulfill her promise of a "new beginning" for Hawai'i.
Lingle is not the first politician to become frustrated with news coverage. Former Gov. Ben Cayetano published slick magazines to highlight "positive" aspects of his administration he thought the news media missed. Mayor Jeremy Harris does the same with TV and radio programs.
But it's a losing proposition for elected officials to worry more about doing our jobs than doing their own.
Their surest route to good publicity is good service to the public.
For Lingle, it's only fair to allow her some missteps as she gets the feel of a challenging new job. But it becomes a concern if she makes a habit of stubbornly refusing to acknowledge obvious mistakes and learn from them.
David Shapiro can be reached at email@example.com.