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Tribune: Reporters Worked with Enquirer on Smart Story

Tribune: Reporters Worked with Enquirer on Smart Story

Posted - Apr. 27, 2003 at 4:06 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Two reporters for The Salt Lake Tribune have been disciplined for working with the National Enquirer on the Elizabeth Smart story without the Tribune's permission, although the newspaper's editor said the incident is not "a firing offense."

Kevin Cantera and Michael Vigh, the newspaper's lead reporters on the Smart case, met with a reporter from the tabloid over a dinner and outlined the investigation into the girl's abduction, Tribune editor James E. Shelledy said in his regular Sunday letter to readers.

Elizabeth, then 14, was taken at knifepoint from her bedroom in the early morning of June 5. She was found with her alleged captors, Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, March 12 in a Salt Lake suburb. Barzee and Mitchell are each being held on $10 million bail in the Salt Lake County jail on charges of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault and aggravated burglary.

Cantera and Vigh, who told the newspaper about their work with the Enquirer last week, were paid an undisclosed amount for their contributions to the tabloid. Vigh and Cantera offered their resignations, which Shelledy refused.

"I verbally wrung their necks and formally disciplined them for ignoring stated policy, but the act did not quite constitute a firing offense," he said. He did not disclose how the reporters were disciplined.

Calls to Shelledy, Cantera and Vigh were not immediately returned Sunday.

But in a statement provided by the Tribune, Vigh and Cantera said: "In hindsight, we made a bad decision by associating with the National Enquirer. We regret any embarrassment this brings to our colleagues or The Salt Lake Tribune."

In the July 2 edition, the Enquirer ran a story under the bylines of five Enquirer reporters.

When the Smart family confronted the Enquirer about the story's truthfulness, the Florida-based publication reportedly offered a confidential settlement that included the identification of sources, Shelledy wrote.

The Smarts reportedly said the Enquirer told them its sources were Vigh and Cantera, Shelledy said. Calls to the Smart family's spokesman were not returned Sunday.

"If that's what the Enquirer said, it is baloney, given how the information was described and what eventually was printed," Shelledy said in his column.

Shelledy said Vigh and Cantera talked about the case with the tabloid and "responded to theories, rumors and 'discoveries' surrounding the investigation, much of which had neither been confirmed nor denied publicly."

They also gave the Enquirer names of law enforcement personnel in charge of various aspects of the case.

"Strictly speaking, talking to the National Enquirer or others of like ilk, in and of itself, is neither illegal nor unethical. Rather, it is akin to drinking water out of a toilet bowl -- dumb, distasteful and, when observed, embarrassing."

No one was available to comment Sunday at the National Enquirer, an operator said. Messages left with an editor at the tabloid were not returned Sunday afternoon.

Information given by Vigh and Cantera to the tabloid either had been published in the Tribune or was known to the newspaper but not published because of authenticity issues or irrelevancy, Shelledy wrote.

"They are talented, young journalists who suffered a lapse of judgment about whom they embedded with one night nearly a year ago, a mistake they now fully recognize and deeply regret."

The Tribune previously reported that Cantera and Vigh had hired agents to scout potential television consulting offers and book deals about the Smart case. In that story, it said editors must approve any freelance work that intersects with areas of newspaper coverage.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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