Ulterior Motives (Gwen Moritz Editor's Note)

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Feb. 18, 2013 12:00 am  

I’ve been accused, in a comment on the ArkansasBusiness.com website, of indulging some sort of personal vendetta for publishing last week’s Whispers item about Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson’s $50,000 trip on a boat owned by poultry magnate John Tyson.

I’ve also been asked, by the same defender of Justice Goodson, how Arkansas Business became aware of the gift that now requires her to recuse from any cases involving the documented giver of the gift, Fayetteville attorney W.H. Taylor, and the Tyson interests.

I don’t know my critic personally, but I suspect he’s considerably younger than I am. When I was younger, I too spent a lot of time trying to tease out why people did the things they did — junior high classmates, then boyfriends, then politicians. But eventually I stopped wasting time trying to guess other people’s motives and started concentrating on their actions.

If you see something published in Arkansas Business, whether it has a byline or not, you can fairly conclude that I, as editor, thought it was quality information that would be of some value or interest to the business audience that I’m paid to serve. Period. If Arkansas Business were dedicated to my personal whims, you’d be holding a publication filled with pictures of Cary Grant and Abyssinian cats and weighty essays on mid-century furniture and how “L.A. Confidential” was robbed by the Academy — and you would undoubtedly allow your subscription to lapse, and I’d be unemployed.

I would like to ask Justice Goodson why she, with a personal salary of $145,000 and a husband with a net worth conservatively estimated in the tens of millions, couldn’t pay for her own vacation so that she wouldn’t have to recuse from cases involving an active Fayetteville law firm and the state’s largest manufacturer. But she has declined to answer my questions, so I have to content myself with reporting what she does and leave the speculation about her motives to someone else.

I don’t recall ever meeting Justice Goodson, so my personal interest in her actions is the same as that of any Arkansas taxpayer who is concerned about good government. It is not unusual for judges and justices to have conflicts that require recusal, generally because of legal work done before they assumed the bench. It’s something completely different to create new conflicts knowingly, deliberately and unnecessarily.

My online critic seems to think Goodson deserves much credit for being honest about the gifts she has received from Taylor (there was also a $12,000 trip in 2011) and recusing when she could have simply lied by omitting them from her annual financial disclosures. Complying with the law one has sworn to uphold is my rock-bottom expectation of a Supreme Court justice, but it happens that there is a third option: She could decline gifts that create conflicts. Then she would not have to lie, disclose or recuse.

Back in 2002, in this same Editor’s Note space, I joined other opinion writers in the state in complaining about the grabbiness displayed by our then-governor, Mike Huckabee, and his wife. “Is there anything — any little thing — they are willing to forego in exchange for the privilege of serving the state of Arkansas?” I wrote at the time. And the Huckabees didn’t have anything like the personal resources of the Goodsons.

The $50,000 Question

The question of how I became aware of the $50,000 trip is easy to answer. I read about it in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which reported on Goodson’s newly filed financial disclosure.

How I learned that the trip from W.H. Taylor actually involved a boat owned by John Tyson is a different question entirely. Suffice to say that one doesn’t stay in the news business for most of 30 years without developing sources.

Occasionally someone will feel compelled to warn me that a news tip has come from someone with a personal agenda or ulterior motive. Ya think? In fact, all tips — be they in the form of press releases or phone calls or unsigned letters mailed without return addresses — come from someone with a personal interest in seeing the news reported. That interest could range from public praise to personal gain to the private satisfaction of seeing a tip show up in Whispers, but there is always a motive and that fact is never lost on me.

Fortunately, I don’t worry too much about the motives of tipsters. If I think the news is of value or interest to my readers and I can independently determine that it is true, then I try to find a place for it in Arkansas Business. That’s been the case with Justice Goodson’s activities.

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.



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