A short quiz
Here’s how several WV news sources headlined a story about the results of a lawsuit against the secretary of state. See if you can spot the headline that appeared on the front page of today’s Wheeling News-Register:
- A. Ex-Secretary of State Employees Settle Lawsuits Over Firings
- B. 4 Warner lawsuits settled
- C. Former Secretary of State employees settle wrongful termination lawsuit for $1M; Warner says firing was warranted
- D. Mac Warner critical of lawsuit settlements
The answer with some background
The answer is D. (In order: the Associated Press, the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the Morgantown Dominion Post and the Wheeling News-Register). (Note: link is to the same story at the Parkersburg News and Sentinel – no N-R link available.)
One of the first things that Republican Secretary of State Mac Warner did upon taking office in January of 2017 was to fire 16 workers and replace them with 22. (I wrote about it here.) Since all but one of those fired were Democrats, the fired workers sued for wrongful termination. (See here). While this made news elsewhere in the state, our local “newspapers” did not immediately report the lawsuit until a couple of days later when they printed a short AP article about it. This followed an editorial, “Warner Program Improves Service,” which ignored the suit.
Since then, Warner has become an Ogden favorite with glowing reports of his accomplishments as well as occasional op-ed pieces by him.
Yesterday, the first of the 2017 lawsuits were settled. Here is the Associated Press story:
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Four people who sued West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner last year accusing him of wrongful termination have settled outside court for nearly $1 million total.
Mark Atkinson is one of four attorneys representing the fired employees. He tells The Charleston Gazette-Mail the four are the first of 12 wrongful termination cases against Warner to be resolved.
Warner and press secretary Mike Queen couldn't be reached for comment Monday morning.
The four people are among 16 employees fired shortly after Warner took office in 2017. They sued alleging he terminated them over their political affiliations.
Plaintiffs' attorney Ben Salango has said the odds are astronomical that 15 of the employees Warner fired just happened to be Democrats, and 19 of the 22 new hires just happened to be Republicans.
Contrast that with today’s News-Register coverage. It begins:
The West Virginia secretary of state is outraged and frustrated over the out-of-court settlements of four wrongful termination lawsuits filed against him in 2017.
The article’s lede accurately defines what follows – three-fourths of the article either describes or directly quotes his outrage. (The silliest part is the last paragraph which is in ALL CAPS – I guess it shows that he was angry.)
While Mac Warner’s reaction should certainly be included, the bulk of the coverage should have been focused on the how and why of what the court decided. For Ogden newspapers, however, devoting almost all the article to the angry reaction of one of its political favorites is much more important than printing a balanced report of what happened.
A local editorial on this is sure to follow. Sadly, it will sympathize with Warner rather than criticize him for doing what even a non-lawyer like myself saw right from the beginning – his action to replace state civil servants based upon party affiliation was illegal no matter how it’s spun. Ogden papers love to criticize Democrats for wasting taxpayer money. We still have eight more suits to go – how much more money is this Ogden favorite going to cost the state before he’s finally criticized?
9/19 Update -- Intelligencer covers Democratic response but still gives more space to the Warner spokesperson
On Page 10 of this morning's Wheeling Intelligencer is
West Virginia House Democrats Respond to Secretary's Terminations
by Jess Mancini, who wrote yesterday's Warner article. This one does feature the opinions of two Democratic legislators. However, their reactions are more than matched by responses from Warner's deputy chief of staff and director of communications.