Saturday, August 13, 2011

Indy/Cincy | A tale of two sex scandal stories

In another case of a morals-and-order Republican lawmaker caught with his pants down, The Indianapolis Star is aggressively and commendably chasing a story about Phillip Hinkle, an anti-gay state representative who offered a young man $80 plus tip to spend time with him last Saturday night at the local JW Marriott hotel. 

Hinkle, 64, was responding by e-mail to a Craigslist advertisement where the young man -- who lists his age as 20 in the ad but says he is 18 years old -- says, "I need a sugga daddy."

That was from yesterday's first Star story. Today, the paper has come back with the inevitable public calls for Hinkle to resign.

No wonder. In February, Hinkle voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Risky evidence: e-mail
This is a tougher story to nail than you might imagine. There's apparently no police report, which means the Star took the risky step of relying on e-mails supplied by the young man's adopted sister. (He had used her e-mail account). Those don't give a newspaper the same legal protection as government documents, such as a police report.

In the end, however, Hinkle unwittingly helped. The incriminating e-mails were sent from his publicly listed personal address. Plus, when contacted by the Star, Hinkle didn't contest them, but said, "I am aware of a shakedown taking place."

Unsurprisingly, yesterday's story is now the most popular on the paper's website.

But its content presents a dilemma: Allowing readers to comment on the Star's site would produce a flood of crude posts, given the anonymous nature of Gannett's online commenting system. So, editors directed readers to the paper's Facebook page, where they may post reactions with their more public Facebook IDs. So far, there are 114 comments.

Meanwhile, in Cincinnati...
Contrast the Star's coverage with the slow-mo treatment The Cincinnati Enquirer gave to last month's story about Republican state Rep. Robert Mecklenborg, a 59-year-old married father of three, arrested for drunk driving with a young woman passenger in his car.

The Enquirer didn't get on the story until 10 weeks after Mecklenborg's arrest, and apparently only because a local TV station beat them to the punch. Then, the paper shied away from reporting an important detail: a police laboratory report showed the lawmaker was buzzing with Viagra when the cops nabbed him. Moreover, there's no public sign the Enquirer ever tried to interview the 26-year-old woman, even though there were hints she might have been a stripper.

This story had legs. But the paper published remarkably few follow-ups before Mecklenborg resigned. Plus, leery of reader reaction, the Enquirer simply blocked commenting on its first story and then its resignation report, rather than take the more creative approach the Star used.

Earlier: More signs new Facebook commenting policy dramatically reduces posts.


  1. WTG Indy. Glad to see the prompt reporting. This is really got to get under the skin of M Buchanan. How embarrassing for Cincinnati leadership. I mean management because there is no leadership.

  2. It's being widely reported that Hinkle co-sponsored an anti-gay marriage amendment to Indiana's constitution. But I can't verify that.

  3. Whoops. I just confirmed it, courtesy of Talking Points Memo, which found this roll call of the votes.

  4. Yes, I've been interested in the Mecklenborg story. It's absolutely incomprehensible to me why a newspaper wouldn't cover that aggressively. The only possible reason is because editors shut it down. You can't tell me there weren't some reporters in the Cincy newsroom who wanted to pursue it. If I'm wrong, and there wasn't a single reporter who was pushing to cover that story, then that's just as sad a commentary.

  5. The only thing worse in politics than being caught with a girl..... Caught with a boy.

    But why the difference in treatment(other than a little homophobia)?

    Hinkle's one of those far right wing-nuts who thinks the paper is part of the "lamestream" liberal propaganda machine. Even though Gannett papers are hardly liberal. Not a friend.

    Mecklenborg? Well. He knew where his bread was buttered. He's a good politiciam.

  6. The Enquirer steers clear of a lot of subject matter that would cast their big business and Republican pals in a bad light. Many in the legal community know that Mecklenborg was just another lawyer grubbing for business in the county courthouse. Then he was elected to the state House, and Dinsmore & Shohl hired him for his -- wink, wink -- legal acumen. Now that he's on his way out of office, he won't be of much use to Dinsmore. But it's quite possible he could become a big-time strip club defender.

  7. The Enquirer dropped the ball because its topped editors, Carolyne Washburn and Julie Engebrecht have no clue how to pursue that type of story. One came from business and the other sports. They're both way over their heads. There are a few reporters still left there that would love that story and give their eye teeth to be let go. Again, the tough editors and reporters who could tackle that type of story are long gone. Hail to mediocrity.

  8. This continuing negligence on the Enquirer's part has brought statewide and, thanks to this blog, national attention to the paper's lifeless performance under Washburn and Engebrecht. It goes without saying that neither is fit to work for an organization of real journalistic repute. Both are doomed to wallow in the slop of the Gannett cesspool. This is the kind of leadership that low-quality companies attract and keep. It has most certainly become a self-sustaining prophecy.

  9. The situation in Cincinnati is the result of letting advertising revenue drive editorial decisions. The Enquirer is no longer a news publication with advertisements - it's an advertising publication with occasional news stories sprinkled in.


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.