'Truth Test' Gets Drawn into Voucher Tug o' War

'Truth Test' Gets Drawn into Voucher Tug o' War

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Paul Nelson, KSL NewsradioThe debate over private school vouchers has always been heated, but it seems to be getting a bit more personal. Both pro-voucher and anti-voucher groups are accusing the other side of lying.

The main focus of the fight now is over a story you saw on KSL Channel 5. "Truth Test: School Voucher Ads Deciphered" aired Oct. 17. The group Parents for Choice in Education is using the story as a reference in its latest wave of ads.

One ad says, "A KSL News analysis on the anti-voucher campaign ads deems key points false."

Board Co-Chair Robyn Bagley says they see nothing wrong with referring to the story, even though the KSL Editorial Board came out against vouchers.

"We want the voters to know, from an independent source other than us, that the opposition is putting out false and misleading information. Essentially they'll do anything to win this," Bagley said.

But Brian Ferguson, with the Utah Education Association board of directors, says it's the pro-voucher group that's not being honest.

"It's disingenuous of the other side to pretend that vouchers will save public schools money," he said.

Ferguson says the vouchers will cost the state more money than they save. Officials within KSL-TV say they wish the story wasn't being used in the ads.

News Director Con Psarras said, "That's unfortunate to be dragged into something that's highly partisan, and the implication is that somehow KSL TV endorses the referendum or is in league with the proponents, and that couldn't be farther from the truth."

Psarras says a mailer was sent out without the station's permission. It shows a picture of Channel 5 reporter Rich Piatt, who did "Truth Test."

Psarras said, "We're upset about that, but it's in the mailbox. There's not much we can do to get it out of the mailbox."

He says the station isn't planning on taking formal action against the pro-voucher group. But even if it wanted to, there may not be a lot the station can do about it.

University of Utah Political Science Professor Tim Chambless said, "The reporter is simply shown as doing his job in covering the news, and in that way he's part of the news story."

Chambless says once something like a news story becomes part of the public domain, it can be used in commercials. But he says not telling the reporter his face will be used in a mailer is questionable.

"It's on the borderline of journalistic ethics," Chambless said.

KSL representatives say they feel the ad takes the news story out of context. However Chambless says there would only be a legal problem if the ad knowingly misquoted KSL with malicious intent.

On October 17, 2007, KSL 5 Eyewitness News aired a report evaluating the truth of certain claims made in recent political advertisements. One portion of this report evaluated ads being aired by both proponents and opponents of Referendum 1. In the story, KSL took no position for or against Referendum 1, and no position either for or against Referendum 1 was intended to be implied by the story. Recently, an organization that supports Referendum 1 sent out a direct mail flier quoting portions of KSL's news story as support for that organization's views about Referendum 1. KSL believes that the flier implies that KSL itself produced, or was at least involved in producing, the flier. This is not the case.

Indeed, the KSL Editorial Board has aired an editorial stating that it is opposed to Referendum 1. KSL strongly encourages all citizens to carefully and independently research this and other political issues before casting their votes at the polls.

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