By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
You see it all the time. Political “pundits” who proport to advise you on how to cast your vote. Even local newspapers get into the game. Media used to have a hard and fast rule about the news. The practice was don’t become a news story yourself. Journalists are responsible for documenting history. Doing that requires that the public have confidence in the integrity of your reporting. Casting lots in the public view will damage a reporting organization’s ability to fulfill the public trust and mission of a free press.
You have seen my messages and editorials about my stance on writing. To the best of my ability, I parse the information that appears as the Cherokee One Feather into two categories – factual news articles and opinion. You are reading an opinion piece now. I am expressing a belief that I own; not the staff of the One Feather, not the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, not you. Many of you may agree with my opinion, or maybe no one agrees with my opinion. As a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a loyal reader of the Cherokee One Feather, based on the Tribal Free Press Act, I have the privilege of expressing my thoughts, within the confines of specific ethical parameters, in the public forum that the Tribe established in law.
Regarding parameters, I am further bound by the Cherokee Code, the ethics policy of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the policies set forth by the One Feather Editorial Board, to confine my opinion comments within those guidelines. And if I am bound by them, you are too, because my editorial authority will not allow you to do anything that I wouldn’t do. Those guidelines make sure we, to the best of its ability, treat each other fairly and with respect. We apply these laws and policies equally in our print edition, website, and social media.
As a team and staff, we have had discussions on whether we should publish our political endorsements or recommendations for voters on specific candidates. We are just like you. We hear things. We see things. And we form opinions on who would be the best Principal Chief, Vice Chief, Tribal Council representative, or School Board member. We probably hear and see quite a bit more than you do. From fact to gossip, we get feedback from tribal leaders to the tribal member on the street. Especially during an election year, it doesn’t take long for any conversation on any subject to turn into a “Who do you think will win?” conversation.
But, because of the weight of our position as the Tribal free press, the importance of an endorsement from the One Feather would likely be significant in the eyes of the community. Either you would take our approval as verifying the integrity of the candidate (assuming you like the One Feather), or you would despise or discard the candidate (assuming you didn’t like the One Feather).
And that is the problem with media outlets becoming authorities for anything. Just because you, as a journalist, cover a story for a long time or get to know a candidate, does not mean that you are an expert in that field. And editors who allow their or their staff’s opinions on who to vote for are using a bully pulpit to attempt to sway your thoughts to match theirs, and it may not be for the reasons they state. When I see a media outlet endorse a candidate or candidates, I always question the motivation. Does the editor have some personal agenda that the candidate has promised to fulfill? Has that endorsement been bought? The editor and staff sold the people’s right to an unbiased and ethical free press to a candidate? Maybe not. But that could be the perception. And I was taught a golden rule in public relations; when it comes to media and public, perception is reality.
So, while I can’t speak for the One Feather as a newspaper, I will tell you some of the things we look for in a candidate, or at least some of the questions we ask and answer before we vote. I gave the Editorial Board the opportunity to share their thoughts with me on the subject.
Does this person express a strong commitment to the Tribal Free Press Act and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and back up that expression with action?
Does he or she support sustainable economic growth, protection of our natural resources, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians culture, history, language, traditions, children, and elders?
Does this person adhere to a personal code of transparency in private and public life?
Does he or she care about the community above personal gain?
Is this person a candidate of integrity, willing to focus on issues and accountability, rather than the shortcomings (alleged or documented) of their opponent?
Does the person have a solid background in business, management or leadership?
Is he or she of a strong moral character including honesty, integrity, empathy, and courage to make the right decision in the face of political opposition?
Can this person communicate well and thoughtfully regarding their stances on issues? It is crucial because they will need to represent the Tribe’s decision in Raleigh and DC.
Does he or she have a strong work ethic and a demonstrated sense of responsibility towards care for others? We must have elected officials that don’t mind working hard to learn the issues, help craft well-planned legislation, and help create systems and policies that make it easy for an enrolled member to navigate the many programs and services the tribe provides.
I often encourage you to vote. I still do with a caveat. If you are going to cast your vote randomly or allow it to be bought for short term gratification, please don’t vote. Your vote is valuable. Your children and your community deserve more from you than deciding a matter of this importance haphazardly. Don’t let the One Feather or any other media outlet convince you that they know better than you do who and how to cast your vote. Surely, we will do our best to give you access to the candidates so that you may make an informed decision on your own. But, the final decision is yours alone. Don’t get it wrong.