JEFFERSON CITY • The Missouri Capitol News Association voted on Monday to remove The Missouri Times from the organization after the outlet’s publisher paid one of the attorneys involved in a case against Gov. Eric Greitens.
Greitens’ attorneys said last month that Scott Faughn, the Times’ publisher, delivered $50,000 to Albert Watkins before news broke of Greitens’ extramarital affair in January. Faughn initially said that he had retained Watkins because Faughn was working on a book about Greitens, and he has since said he gave Watkins the money to purchase recordings from Watkins.
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Watkins represents the ex-husband of the woman who has alleged that Greitens took a compromising photograph of her without her consent, accusations that are at the center of an invasion of privacy trial taking place this week in St. Louis. In January, the ex-husband released audio he had made of his wife in 2015 discussing her affair with Greitens and accusing him of taking the photo. Watkins has said that other recordings exist, and it is unclear exactly which ones Faughn obtained.
• Update Monday afternoon: Circuit attorney seeking special prosecutor in Greitens case, charge dropped in meantime
Seven members of the news association — founded in 1988 to allocate office and parking space for capital correspondents — voted to boot the Times on Monday, despite a defiant email from Faughn as the meeting convened.
“[U]sing an organization whose only role is to appropriate taxpayer resources to punish the reporters at The Missouri Times for something that another company I own does is something I will forcefully rebut,” Faughn wrote.
Faughn, a Republican who has opposed Greitens, has caused consternation for years among some Capitol reporters who argue that his activism and ties to advertisers and operatives cross ethical lines.
Members of the association said Faughn had never articulated policies designed to separate the news-gathering side of the Times from the business side — something the association demanded in 2015.
“Two of the basic standards of journalism require nonparticipation in the stories covered by a journalist and full, immediate disclosure when there is even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Rudi Keller, reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune, said in regard to the $50,000 payment. “The reporter-publisher violated those standards.”
Faughn said he was only notified of the meeting Friday and could not attend because of prior engagements.
“I am disappointed not only in the result of the mainstream media’s decision today, but even more by their decision to have a meeting about appropriating taxpayer resources without complying with the Missouri Sunshine Law,” Faughn said in a statement after the vote. “This is one of the greatest examples of mainstream media hypocrisy I have ever witnessed.”
Under the Sunshine Law, meetings of public bodies are to be posted publicly 24 hours in advance of the meeting. Members debated about whether to postpone the vote given Faughn’s concerns and possible legal action by him.
“If we bow to that, we might as well just disband our organization,” argued member Phill Brooks, who was representing Missouri Digital News.
A motion to postpone the vote, brought by Brian Hauswirth of Missourinet, failed when only Bob Watson of the Jefferson City News Tribune and Hauswirth voted in favor of the delay.
Seven outlets, including the Post-Dispatch, voted to remove the Times. The Kansas City Star, the Missouri Digital News, the Jefferson City News Tribune, the Springfield News-Leader, the Columbia Daily Tribune and the Missouri School of Journalism also voted to kick out the publication.
St. Louis Public Radio and Missourinet abstained from voting. The Associated Press, KRCG-TV and representatives with The Missouri Times did not attend the meeting.
The terms of the vote stipulate that the Times vacate its fifth floor office space and parking spaces after the conclusion of the Legislature’s special session to consider discipline against Greitens. The Office of Administration and the Missouri Senate would be in charge of enforcing the vote, Keller said.