Journalists are taught to hold a mirror up to the events they cover and report on them as impartially as humanly possible.
Scott Faughn, the publisher of The Missouri Times and host of the weekly television roundtable, “This Week in Missouri Politics,” has taken a hammer to that glass by personally getting involved in the ongoing legal saga enveloping Gov. Eric Greitens.
Not only did Faughn become part of the story, he failed to disclose his involvement to his readers and viewers while continuing to report and comment on Greitens’ travails. Those are grievous journalistic sins that responsible media outlets go to enormous lengths to avoid.
“It’s as unethical as you can get,” Phill Brooks, the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio in St. Louis, told The Star.
For those transgressions, Faughn and his organization should be booted from the Missouri Capitol News Association, which administers parking and office space in Jefferson City. And Missourians should look at any journalism connected to Faughn with skepticism.
The news of Faughn’s involvement came to light through a court deposition. Al Watkins, the attorney for the former husband who first went public with the extramarital affair allegations against Greitens, disclosed that he had received $50,000 from Faughn and an equal amount from another source identified only as “Skyler.” On Monday, Greitens’ lawyer disclosed at a hearing in St. Louis that Faughn also had made two additional $10,000 payments to Watkins.
Faughn, who often refers to himself as a “simple hillbilly,” said the initial $50,000 payment wasn’t intended for legal fees, but for payment for audiotapes featuring the former wife of Watkins’ client describing her sexual and abusive encounters with Greitens in 2015. Faughn said he planned to write a book with the material.
He also insisted the money came from his own pocket and that he did not deliver the funds on behalf of other interests.
But Faughn’s credibility has taken a hit. One of his show’s sponsors is Sterling Bank, which has been engaged in Missouri’s low-income housing tax credit program. In November, the Missouri Housing Development Commission cut the $140 million that funds the program. Greitens is a commission member and has derided the program as inefficient.
In 2007, Faughn was convicted on three felony counts of forging checks in connection with his work leading the Poplar Bluff Chamber of Commerce. He’s been in hot water with the Capitol Press Association, too. In 2015, The Columbia Tribune disclosed that Faughn hosted parties in his Jefferson City apartment for lawmakers that included liquor and snacks that lobbyists bought. Those purchases were never disclosed to the Missouri Ethics Commission.
In court Monday, Greitens’ lawyer said they had been unable to serve Faughn with a subpoena. “Faughn is on the run right now,” attorney Jim Martin said.
Faughn has cast a pall of suspicion over his entire organization. Give him this much: At least he refers to himself as an “imperfect messenger.” That’s what he called himself in his mea culpa column. That much is true. It’s also true that Faughn has no business pretending to be a journalist. He’s an advocate who’s improperly involved himself in the biggest story to hit Jefferson City in years.
Faughn clearly yearns to be a player. Fine. But you can’t be a journalist at the same time.