Below please find a copy of Ron Fenn’s responses to the candidate’s questionnaire that should have appeared in today’s Sierra County Sentinel. Fenn is a candidate for Truth or Consequences City Commission.
The Sentinel published in its Oct. 29 edition the completed questionnaires submitted by every other candidate for T or C commission, Elephant Butte City Council and Mayor, the Village of Williamsburg Board of Trustees and the Truth or Consequences Municipal School Board. The paper took pains to inform its readers that three other candidates—T or C incumbent commissioner Paul Baca and Williamsburg trustee candidates William Frazier and Kell Took—had declined to submit answers.
But the Sentinel made no mention of the fact that Fenn, who is running against former T or C City Commissioner Rolf Hechler and Joseph Louis Schwab for Position 4, had submitted his questionnaire responses via email to the Sentinel this Monday, Oct. 25, at 5:48 p.m., well in advance of the paper’s usual editorial deadline of Tuesday noon for its Friday print edition. Nor did the Sentinel offer its readers any explanation of why it had decided not to run Fenn’s questionnaire responses.
The Sun emailed Sentinel co-owner and publisher Frances Luna at 12:43 today to give her the opportunity to explain the reasons for the paper’s inequitable and unfair treatment of a certified candidate for local public office. We asked Luna to respond by our deadline of 4 p.m. and informed her that we would take a lack of response as her “acknowledgment that there is no defense for this unconscionable breach of journalistic ethics.”
Luna did not respond, but it is fair to wonder whether she is playing politics here, in addition to violating the requirement of reportorial objectivity.
Luna calls the editorial shots at the Sentinel, though she declines to make that clear to her readers by claiming the title of editor on the masthead. She is also the most influential of T or C’s sitting commissioners. Although Luna has stopped regularly attending commission meetings in person in recent months, perhaps because of the demands of her new responsibilities as the proprietor of a women-oriented gun shop, Luna still gives the commission its marching orders through her phoned-in participation. Civic activist Fenn (who—full disclosure—is the Sun’s staff photographer) has been a regular and vocal attendee of commission meetings for years. Fenn uses the public comment portion of meetings to criticize the latest examples of what he perceives to be the city’s mismanagement of taxpayer resources and upbraid commissioners for what he deems their failure to act or lead. By denying Fenn’s positions on the issues the same public exposure her paper gave to his opponents, Luna seems to be doing what she can to prevent the election to the commission of a known challenger of the status quo.
Fenn acknowledges that he did not use the requested submission address (email@example.com) and instead sent his completed questionnaire to firstname.lastname@example.org (GPK Media is the corporate umbrella for the paper and KCHS radio). But he asserts it is unlikely his questionnaire went astray because “it’s not like the Sentinel is the New York Times” in size. In addition, he had informed a Sentinel support staffer who called him this Monday to inquire about the questionnaire’s whereabouts that he planned to submit it that day.
Furthermore, this is not the first time that Luna, a registered Republican, has used the Sentinel’s coverage to diminish a candidate she does not favor. After the spring 2020 primary, the Sentinel ran an online article by editor/senior reporter Chuck Wentworth claiming that incumbent state Representative Rebecca Dow, Luna’s fellow Republican and T or C native, would have no Democratic opponent for her District 38 House seat. When, as a private citizen, I pointed out to Wentworth that Karen Whitlock, a Grant Countian who ran during the primary as a write-in candidate for the Democratic nomination for District 38, had received sufficient votes to be placed on the ballot as an official candidate in the fall, Wentworth brushed off my request for the publication of an immediate correction with the promise to fix the error in future stories.
Late that August, in the Sentinel’s announcement that it was organizing a candidate’s forum in which both Whitlock and Dow had agreed to participate, the paper “fixed” the error by identifying Whitlock as a write-in candidate instead of as the official Democratic nominee. Write-in candidates are often perceived to have no chances of winning. Again the requested correction was not immediately forthcoming.
In late October of 2020, publisher Luna refused to run a paid advertisement that the Whitlock campaign wished to run in the Sentinel. The ad was “super critical of Dow,” according to Whitlock campaign manager Rick Lass, who received an email from Luna, advising: “This ad has known misfacts and is inaccurate on several issues. On the newspaper side, I can make sure the information is correct and verifiable before we publish something—I will not run this ad.”
Although it denied Fenn his rightful editorial coverage today, the Sentinel was willing to accept his paid advertising. In fact, when Luna personally sent out the questionnaire and instructions for its completion and submission to local candidates, including Fenn, she attached a copy of the Sentinel’s paid advertising rates for their convenience.